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  • Writer's pictureAllison Sheardy

Back to Napa

Last month, I was back in the Napa Valley for the first time in over a year. It was surreal to be in a place that I know so well and yet notice the changes -- the fire damage from the fall 2020 fires was remarkable, right there along the Silverado Trail. Restaurants and wineries had come and gone, and the masked visitors were a constant reminder of the year we've all had.

I moved out of California in the spring of 2020, just as COVID was becoming a thing. I was lucky enough to be able to quarantine with my family in Texas before relocating to Minnesota last summer for a new job (my current gig). My departure from California was rather abrupt and riddled with emotions that took me awhile to fully reconcile, so my recent Napa visit was weirdly emotional on top of everything else. Oh, that 'everything else' being my final WSET Diploma exams. So no, this was not a pleasure trip, although I made sure to sneak in some fun.

I'll be doing a lengthy post (or maybe a mini-series) about my full WSET journey at some point here, but to quickly summarize -- the WSET Diploma in Wines consists of five units -- viticulture and enology, the business of wine, fortified wines, sparkling wines, a research paper, and still wines of the world, also known as 'the beast' -- this last unit covers any wines and wine regions not covered in the fortified and sparkling units. Each unit involves an exam and most include some sort of tasting. The beast is comprised of two days, one spent writing five essays and one spent blind tasting 12 wines.

I started my Diploma journey in the spring of 2018 and have completed all but the final unit. My final exam was originally scheduled for May 202, but all WSET exams globally were cancelled due to COVID. October 2020 was my next opportunity, but I was in the middle of closing on my house and helping start up a new winery, so that was never going to happen. January saw more COVID related delays, which brought me to May 2021. Honestly, I'm grateful for how things worked out -- in one of those mystical circumstances, the delays all happened for a reason. I ended up working with a fantastic zoom study group throughout the spring and took some extra tasting workshops, meaning I was ultimately more prepared for the exam than if I'd tested earlier. It was a grueling few days (you have to hand write all of the essays so everyone had cramped hands by the end) but I left feeling like I had done the bets I could possibly do. It takes 12 weeks to get results (soooo cruel! Seven more to go...) and I keep talking myself in and out of feeling confident, but at this point there is nothing to do but wait and find out if I have finally completed my WSET Diploma!

A vineyard view from my drive.


The trip wasn't all exams and stress though. I was able to finally meet my zoom study group in person and we shared a few lovely meals together. I had lunch with an old friend and it was one of the most soothing experiences of the year for me so far. I made it to Hog Island Oyster, sat on the patio with a glass (or two) of local rosé and had a dozen oysters -- something sadly missing from Midwestern life. I took a long drive through the Valley and soaked in the sunshine and the views. The vineyards were lush and green, a stark difference to our Minnesota vines, which hadn't even seen bud break at that point. I had a lovely tasting at Honig Vineyard and Winery with the study group and finally got to taste some Trois Noix wines (highly recommend the rosé of Pinot Noir). The trip was a bit nostalgic, but by the end I was happy to be heading home to my little house and my pets and get back to real life.

Treasures from Hog Island Oyster Bar at Oxbow Market.

The perfect Napa sunset; when wine nerds unite; the tasting menu at Honig.


Currently listening to: Jessica by the Allman Brothers Band, on repeat

Currently drinking: 2019 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc


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