Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Interview with Jessica Bell of the Midwest Wine School

Your teacher, Jessica Bell, and her husband, among the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

If you're starting to read Chicago Pinot, and other wine blogs, or deciding you want to finally learn how to dissect that wine list, maybe taking a wine class should go on your to-do list. Chicago wine stores often feature one night classes that provide a basic overview. But if you are looking for a more thorough treatment, or researching a career in food and wine service, consider the Midwest Wine School and the classes taught by Jessica Bell.

Jessica began her wine school in Milwaukee, in 2006, and will visit Chicago on Sundays to teach her intermediate and advanced classes. Her curriculum is based on the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, which was created in Great Britain, and is taught in over forty countries and has been translated into thirteen languages.

Jessica is WSET certified, and has passed all the diploma exams. She has also passed challenging examinations sponsored by the American Sommelier Association and the Spanish Union of Winetasters based in Madrid. After leaving the fast-paced world of investment banking in the early 1990's, she worked at a Spanish winery, as a sommelier for The Modern, an acclaimed New York City restaurant, ("many eighteen hour days!") and has contributed wine and lifestyle features for the Milwaukee ABC station WISN.

She described to me the differences between her Intermediate and Advanced classes: "The intermediate class (nine weeks) is more grape oriented, I focus on about ten of the most common grape varietals and their main characteristics. It's designed for students who already have a strong interest in wine, OR those already working in the retail or service industries. This class concludes with a fifty question multiple choice test which is very manageable if you read and study the book and class materials."

The advanced class (sixteen weeks) requires much more self discipline: "It's recommended that you study four hours for every two spent in class. We focus more on individual regions instead of grapes. Also, we spend time focusing on current market trends, because the wine world is always changing. The final exam combines multiple choice, short answers to analytical questions (example: If your restaurant is out of a customer's first choice for a bottle, what would you recommend and why?) and a fifteen minute blind tasting."

Jessica's graduates have come from a variety of industries. "I have seen a number of career switchers; one is a former professor who is now the Online Marketing Manager for Terlato Vineyards. A nurse who took my course is now working for a distributor. Several others have opened wine stores, and I have heard from several servers who express more confidence in handling difficult customers."

The Midwest Wine School begins February 8 at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute at 361 West Chestnut. Please email Jessica at jessica@midwestwineschool.com or call 414-326-7736 for more information.


Gretchen said...

I will be drinking Chateau-neuf-du-pape tonight!

Chicago Pinot said...

I love CdPs too, Gretchen! But I can only splurge a few times a year for them. Fortunately, the Rhone as a whole offers very good value compared to other regions.

Askawinemaker said...

We seem to run in the same circles... I just finished posting a series of videos with Jessica and winemaker Fred Scherrer taken at C House last week. They went through an interesting run of topics.
http://www.youtube.com/user/askawinemaker - search for Jessica Bell.



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