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Discussing Wine & Spirits Education with Debra Taylor, Select Brands

Many of us have dreams that we never pursue for a range of reasons, including fear of the unknown. Some of us are bold enough to break through and go for them. Approximately one year ago Debra Taylor, trade development manager for wine distributor Select Brands, took a decision to chase her dream. Now back from that journey, this is what she shared with us:

Chris Reckord (CR): Just over a year ago, you left our shores for the UK to pursue a Diploma in Wines & Spirits. On completion in a few months, you will now have the highest certification of its kind in Jamaica. What was that experience like for you?

Debra Taylor (DT): Doing the course was very much about self-actualisation, and I had to dig deep to stay the course. Thankfully, I had amazing support. The experience of pursuing the Wines & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 4 Diploma was educational, informative, amazing, character-building and one I would do over again if I got the chance. No, I’m not crazy, but during the year I was so caught up with trying to get through, it was a challenge to fully internalise all that I learned.

CR: How did spending time in the UK, one of the world’s largest wine consumption markets, influence how and what you drink?

DT: Spending time in the UK and having access to mostly European wines definitely influenced how and what I drink. It opened my mind, my world and my palate to a diverse range of styles, varietals and price points, most of which we don’t get to enjoy here — which is somewhat disappointing. The course took us through the major wine-producing countries and their regions, and I was able to drink some amazing wines that are truly best in their class. When doing the spirits unit I was delighted to be given some of our island’s well-known brands.

CR: With so many wine certification organisations available globally, why did you choose WSET?

DT: Indeed, there are many wine certifications available globally. I chose to study with the WSET as they were founded to serve the growing educational needs of the UK wines and spirits industry. The Trust is the foremost body for such education, and provides globally recognised education and certificate qualifications. The courses run from Levels 1-4 to give the wine and spirits professional training from a beginner at Level 1 through to the level of a master’s degree in wine at Level 4 — not to be confused with a Master of Wine as that is the equivalent of a PhD.


CR: What needs to be done for the Jamaican hospitality market to take wine and spirits education seriously ?

DT: It requires a multi-pronged approach. Hoteliers and restaurateurs need to realise the importance of the service they offer and the integral role it plays in enhancing guest/customer experience. Wait staff need to see that the service they offer is an essential part of this noble career. The qualification they need is available in Jamaica, as Select Brands is the authorised WSET programme provider and it is worth the investment in self. Staff need to be trained continually and continuously, and monitored to implement the training received. Great service is usually reflected in tips which normally form a big part of their income. Retailers too, need to see the true potential earnings from wines and spirits sales in stores, and dedicate the necessary resources to offer experiential shopping. If all stakeholders understood the true potential of the category, the harvest would be bountiful!

CR: You ended up teaching a regular wine class while in the UK. How did that materialise?

DT: It was divine intervention! God knows I needed to supplement my income and it was fortuitous that a classmate runs a wine school and needed a tutor. This further exposed me to more wines and in-depth details of countries/regions and gave me ideas for interesting and creative wine flights, tastings and classes.

CR: With all this new knowledge and experience, what will you do differently in executing your job?

DT: This new knowledge and experience have given me a solid platform from which to execute the 360-degree plan I have to get everyone of legal drinking age to drink wine! There is a wine for every palate, for every budget, for every drinking occasion and for any time of day!

CR: What are your thoughts on the local wine scene, having been out of it for a year ?

DT: The local wine scene is somewhat disappointing, yet very exciting! Somewhat disappointing, as I had hoped retail would have advanced a little bit in a year, and restaurateurs would have upped their offerings and service game. It is exciting because consumers that I speak with every day are thirsty for knowledge and want to be guided through the wine field…and when all sectors converge…it’s going to be epic!

CR: If you had a magic wand, what one thing would you do to improve business and/or affect the wine culture?

DT: Hmm… I would hypnotise the stakeholders in the industry so they could see, feel and live in the euphoric wine world that I envision, and that would motivate them to do the right thing! Some steps have already been mentioned and others I have to keep and harvest when the time is right.

CR: Any final thoughts?

DT: Yes, as an industry we collectively have to work together to raise our service level. With the charm and wit of our people, can you imagine the potential if we understood and offered great wine service? The best partner one needs to deliver on this is Select Brands. The time is now.