My Journey Towards WSET DIPLOMA, PART 4 – D2 (PREVIOUS UNIT 1) – Wine Business

Before you start reading, take into account that I took my exam in March 2018 so some of the information about the Wine Business exam can be outdated.

After passing my wine-making, fortified, and spirits exams, it was time to prepare for the case study exam (previous Unit 1, not D2). Let’s dive deeper into what it was about and how I prepared for it.

In 2018, when I was taking my exams, the case study was part of Unit 1 – The Global Business of Alcoholic Beverages. I guess this would be the current D2 – Wine Business Unit, and I am not even sure if the case study is part of this unit 🤨

In order to pass the case study exam, we had to make sure we cover the areas of wine marketing, main market trends, level of sales and consumptions, the biggest brands and their latest market movements, social impact of wine consumption, industry structures, sales, basically everything that was related to the business of selling wine.

4 weeks before the exam date, we were given a case study brief. This brief gave us a high-level overview of the topic, including the main focus areas. It did not include specific questions though. This meant that we had to analyse what was in the brief and prepare as much knowledge and examples as possible to be able to cover any question thrown at us during the exam.

Here is the brief that we were given:

The South African wine industry

Wine production in South Africa started in the 17th century. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, the dessert wines of Constantia “seduced 18th and 19th century Europe at a time when names such as Lafite and Romanée-Conti were still in the making”.

Since South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, and the subsequent dismantling of the apartheid regime, the wine industry has seen many changes in production and trade structure. These have had a profound effect on South Africa’s ability to sell wine globally.

Despite much investment, significant improvements in viticultural and winemaking techniques and technical know-how, there has not been the expected surge in quality recognition globally. Indeed, to quote one industry source – “For some key, mature export markets, South Africa is not on the map – they still think there are lions on our streets!”

The topic seemed to be relatively simple and straightforward. We were asked to analyse the South African wine market, including its history, the changes that happened after 1994, current trends, and the forecast for the future. As soon as I started to look into the details of the SA market, I realized that this topic was huge and that 4 weeks to prepare for this exam was not a lot time.

I quickly realised that I needed to have a way to organise my findings. I decided to use a mind map to make sense of all the information I was finding. And about one week before the exam, I analysed all the information in the mind map, and I decided what I wanted to pay attention to and what I needed to remember for the exam. For example, I was pretty sure that we would be asked about the history of the South African wine industry, therefore, I wanted to make sure that I remembered the main events, including the dates when they happened. HERE you can find the mind map that I created as part of my preparations. You can see that I was trying to research the topic from different angles – history, changes in the market structure, alcohol consumption, viticulture and winemaking changes, marketing, main producers, and production stats. The big benefit of all of this was the chance to deeply research the South African wine industry. In the end, I transferred all the main bits of information onto post-it notes and I created a bit story map on my wall. I looked at it at least a couple of times a day for 3-4 days before the exam. This was my way to focus on the main parts and make sure I remember them.

Ok, so what questions did I get in the exam? Here they are:

a) Give an historical overview of the South African wine industry up to 1994. (25% weighting)
b) Discuss the changes that have occurred since 1994 in respect of grape growing, trade structure and export development. (40% weighting)
c) How successful is the South African wine industry today and what might the future hold? (35% weighting)

We were given 75 minutes to answer those questions. As you can see, every question had the weighting assigned. This was giving us an indication of how much effort we should put into each part. For example, I should have spent about 18 minutes writing about the history of the SA wine (25% of 75 minutes equals 18 minutes). And that was one of my mistakes, as answering this question took me about 25 minutes, and it resulted in writing less in questions B and C. We had to remember to include sources, quotes, and specific statistics in our answers (e.g. a quote from Jancis Robinson from her Purple Pages. We also had to include our own opinion. This was especially important in question C. There was no good or bad answer for this question, however, the answer had to be supported by facts and by the understanding of the current trends in South Africa and around the world.

Here are 2 other briefs from the previous exams. I hope they can give you a bit more understanding of what to expect.

Brief #1

Has the bubble burst for Cava?

Today there are 35,500 hectares of vineyard registered for the production of Cava, the vast majority being in Catalunya. Over the years the Cava industry has been active with innovations in the vineyard and cellar.

Cava exports grew strongly between 1980 and 2010. In many markets Cava came to hold a dominant position in the non Champagne sparkling wine sector. However, the meteoric rise in Prosecco sales in markets such as the USA and UK has exposed weaknesses in the Cava proposition. For instance, a large amount of Cava is heavily discounted and sold at bargain basement prices.

The Cava industry has been aware of the threat to its export sales and its image. A lot of soul- searching has gone on. There has been the well-publicised decision some producers to leave, or not join, the Denominación de Origen Cava, and there is scepticism surrounding the new designation Cava de Paraje Calificado.

Exam Questions #1

a) Outline the key factors in the vineyard and cellar that distinguish Cava from the world’s other traditional method sparkling wines. (15% weighting)

b) Account for the rapid growth in export sales of Cava between 1980 and 2010. (20% weighting)

c) Explain why Cava has come under pressure in several of its main export markets in recent years. (30% weighting)

d) Discuss the initiatives in production and marketing that have been taken to raise the quality profile of Cava. (35% weighting)

Brief #2

Alcohol and social responsibility

It is accepted that the excessive consumption of alcohol is damaging to individuals and society. Many governments feel it is appropriate to legislate and issue guidelines in this area and do so in different ways.

The drinks industry must comply with applicable legislation, but also has a vested interest in promoting the consumption of alcohol. Some might say that a tension exists here between ‘doing the right thing’ and the pursuit of profit. Indeed, it could be argued that the drinks industry – via organisations such as Drinkaware in the UK, Wine in Moderation in the EU, The Wine Institute in California and DrinkWise in Australia – has consciously embraced the concept of social responsibility as a way of preserving its autonomy through self-regulation and minimising government intervention.

There are ethical, social and public health arguments as to whether alcohol consumption should be regulated and, if so, to what extent and by whom.

Exam Questions #2

a) Why do governments seek to regulate alcohol consumption and/or promote sensible drinking? What methods do they use? (30% weighting)

b) What steps has the drinks industry taken to embrace social responsibility? What are their motives for doing this? (50% weighting)

c) In your opinion, should alcohol consumption be controlled? With whom does any responsibility lie? (20% weighting)

I must admit that initially I was very hesitant about this exam. However, after 4 weeks of deep research, I was happy I got to do the investigation.

Results

After about 3 months after the exam, I learned that I passed this exam with Distinction 🎉🍷

How are you preparing for the D2 exam?

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