The Oenophiliac

Bringing you stories from the world of wine and beer.

West London Wine School – Harpers Article

Full length version of my Harpers article. 23/3/12 issue.

After the collapse of First Quench Retailing back in 2009, former head of wine & spirit training, Jimmy Smith, saw an advert in Decanter giving people the opportunity to run their own wine school franchise via Local Wine Schools, a WSET approved programme provide. A couple of months later The West London Wine School was born.

Hailing from Lincolnshire, Jimmy’s passion for wine began whilst working for a local Italian restaurant. Wine suppliers, Enotria, came to conduct a tasting of Italian wines from the restaurants range. Smith says “I was thoroughly impressed with the depth of knowledge and information behind a label. From history, geography, biology, chemistry, politics, to the fact that it’s wonderfully social really engaged me.” He continues “I was poached by the local wine shop manager (Wine Rack) and still to this day he is my mentor in the world of wine.” It was here that Jimmy took and passed his WSET level 2 and 3 certificates, both by 19, at that time one of the youngest in the UK.

After completing his studies at Newcastle University, his love for wine saw him brought back into Wine Rack, eventually managing a flagship store in Ealing, West London. At 23 he began teaching WSET courses for Wine Rack staff around the country. Two years later he moved up to head office as the head of training.

WLWS opened in December 2009 at The Wine Cellars, Fulham, London, the UK’s first purpose built wine storage facility. Currently the school has two dedicated teachers, level 2 and special events tutor Quentin Sadler and intermediate, Saturday course tutor Cherie Agnew. They have also taken on trainee tutor Colleen Rafferty.


WLWS has a wide selection of courses available for all levels, including WSET levels 2 and 3. Other courses on offer are a series of one day and evening sessions ranging from beer tastings, Sherry & tapas plus fine wine. Newcomers to wine can indulge themselves with introductory 4 or 8 week courses.

Local Wine Schools has 10 fulltime franchises around the UK with another two for Saturday tastings in Bristol and Edinburgh. Apart from branding and structure of the shorter courses WLWS operates independently from the others. The school has the freedom to add courses and events plus build up partnerships with other wine organisations from around the world. Currently the school works with L’Ecole du Vin, Bordeaux. This collaboration has helped with marketing from leaflets production and maps as well as funding for winemaker dinner incentives. The school is now looking at developing a partnership with Inter Rhone.

Future plans for the school include increased fine wine, beer, and spirit tastings. Running courses across London and introducing wine tours. This spring the school will begin production of their own wine channel. The channel will be branded differently but linked to the school. More recently Local Wine Schools began to work with French restaurant chain, Café Rouge. They will be offering French wine tasting evenings at local Café Rouge restaurants.

In the two and a half years since doors opened the school has seen itself become the largest out of all the franchises.

In the first year of business the school’s student figures were 100% over target. During the second year of trade, WLWS achieved the same level of growth. Now into their third year Jimmy predicts a 50% increase.

One of the reasons behind this growth is down to how Smith and his staff run their lessons. They are fun, relaxed, very clear and informative. All three teachers interact well with their students. Pop quizzes are put out there. Students respond with friendly, humorous banter. The teacher’s aide and don’t stifle the students. In short, they are very good at what they do.

This is echoed in the schools pass rates with WSET level 2 at 98% and WSET level 3 at 78%.

The student body isn’t solely made up of trade professional either. 65% of level 2 students are members of the general public with no affiliation to the wine trade, this figure is increasing. Level 3 students on the other hand are dictated by wine trade personnel at 75%, and stable.

One success story is Emma Carter, a WSET level 3 student. She initially signed up for an introductory course at the school. Such was the impact on her she has now changed, not just her job but, her career. From a passing interest in wine Emma has gone from lawyer at Sky to now working for Diageo, all down to the high quality, fun teaching style at WLWS. Last year Emma was also a judge at the schools Wines of the Year Awards along with Financial Times Business Magazine Columnist, Simon Woods.

The school has been listed by Timeout, Decanter wine and Jancis Robinson as one of the best places to learn about wine in London.

*Lucy Shaw, Journalist, The Drinks Business commented “I would highly recommend this course – Jimmy makes wine fun, engaging and accessible. Whilst his knowledge is sky-high, he’s able to weave humour into his class, bringing the different regions to life and making you thirsty to learn more about the wonderful world of wine.” WSET Advanced Course August 2010.

*Quote taken from WLWS website testimonials.

Because of the success of the school as it stands now, plans are in place by venue owners, Big Yellow Storage, to increase the size of the classroom.

This is a well run wine school with a group of enthusiastic teachers eager to pass on their knowledge. As Quentin says “I like to give enough information to make it interesting.”

Story by MeEnjoy!

Courtesy of Harpers Wine & Spirit Trades Review

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