Updated: Aug 25, 2022
As much as we enjoy learning about wine, studying at times can seem complicated when you consider all the different wine regions, grape varieties, and styles of wines in the world. However, there are a few helpful techniques that make studying more effective and entertaining.
Time Management is Crucial
Once you’ve decided and registered for a course of study, a critical next step
is to create a plan for managing your time and allocate study time into your daily life. Nowadays, there are multiple tools and apps to help. I like to block time in my digital calendar (i.e., Google or Outlook) and be somewhat ruthless about keeping the time dedicated to studying.
Another useful technique is to break up the total required time into smaller “chunks,” for example a book chapter, a country or region, etc., and reflect that in your weekly calendar (i.e., Southern France this Tuesday and Thursday from 6-7 pm). As much as technology can help, it is all about consistency and having the end goal in mind, which are particularly valuable in times when there are plenty of other things to do, such as summer.
Taste and Take Notes Every Chance You Get
One of the best ways to learn about a wine region or a grape variety – especially new ones or ones that you don’t drink often – is to combine the theory with tasting. There is nothing better than “learning while doing”, creating tasting notes, and comparing them to your textbook information. For example, tasting a Fiano di Avellino at home while learning about the climate and soils of Campania can be a fun learning experience. Choose the study methods that work best for you.
Find Your Learning Style
We all have different styles and preferred ways of learning and it’s important to know which method works best for you. Students can choose from a range of conventional tools such as flashcards, maps, and handwriting using pen and paper, to more ‘modern’ aids like mind maps, visualizations, and digital notetaking.
I’m very visual and the use of maps helps me significantly to understand the geography of a place – seeing the rivers, mountains, and geological formations. My preferred process is to start by reading to familiarize myself and understand the content.
Then, I move to active reading and/or notetaking where I summarize what’s most important in my own words. In essence, I create an outline with the key points on a topic or wine region.
Finally, as the exam gets closer, I go back to my outlines to memorize and apply the knowledge in different formats, whether that’s an essay, a short answer, or simply a multiple-choice question.
Another technique I like to use is acronyms (the more bizarre the better) to memorize tough to remember topics. I use this acronym for the ten Beaujolais Crus, Sometimes Japanese Canadians Marry French Canadians, Making Really Beautiful Children – St-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly, and Côte de Brouilly.
Avoid Getting Stuck
As much as we love learning about wine, there are times when it can be overwhelming to memorize so many facts or dedicate the time required for studying.
To avoid getting in a rut, try to make studying fun – imagine you’re virtually visiting the places, drinking the wine, and you're enjoying the food. Get a bottle from the wine region you’re learning, or simply take a small break to recharge and refocus, without losing the “momentum” you set up at the start (see above).
Also, a study group can help you stay motivated and energized. I’ve found that the experience of addressing complex topics like the impact of semi-carbonic maceration in Beaujolais production or the influence of barriques in Barolo is very productive when done with a group or study buddy.
Don't Forget Exam Day Prep
Exam day is approaching and you’ve done what it takes to prepare. The last step is to prepare for the test, which is not the same as learning the content. During the last few days, you should become very familiar with the details of the exam – the format (multiple choice, essay, etc.), length of time, logistics, etc. Go back to the learning objectives to fine-tune the areas and key concepts you should review and the time to allocate to each.
If possible, do a couple of dry runs under similar exam conditions – try taking a sample test at the same time as the test, minimize distractions and learn the “flow” similar to what you will experience. Not only will you be better prepared but will also have greater confidence and peace of mind as you enter the room on your exam day.