Would you like to learn more about wine in Italy, but you don’t know where to start?
Degustibuss is your answer.
Nowadays there are a lot of courses to help you understand wine (sometimes free courses). You should be careful though because when you chose a wine course, it is like laying the foundations of your house. Get it wrong, and over time cracks will appear.
You don’t learn about all the individual wines with a wine course, but a method of approach. The best way to learn about wine is to travel and taste, after learning the correct method from professionals.
Cristina Mercuri is the co-founder of Degustibuss – the Italian Wine Academy. It was founded in 2018.
Now, I want to give you more information about the academy and why it should be your starting point in Italy. In addition, I’ve put some questions to Cristina.
Are you ready?
Degustibuss: wine, beer and barman
Degustibuss is the academy where you can learn about wine, beer and how to become a barman.
The courses are conducted in many Italian cities (including Milan, Turin, and Rome) by 14 educators.
As regards wine, an online course has just been introduced (the next session will be in mid-September). It could be a good option if your time is limited.
Degustibuss offers a different approach when compared to the main Italian associations such as AIS. It’s more international, more business oriented, while AIS is more focussed on the sommelier role.
I can tell you that Degustibuss is quite in line with WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) philosophy. After the course, you will be able to manoeuvre yourself around the amazing world of wine with increased knowledge and confidence.
But now it’s time to interview Cristina Mercuri.
Let’s ask some questions of Cristina!
Cristina is a Wine Educator and a student of the Master of Wine. She is among the 10,000 people in the world in possession of the WSET Diploma, with a long experience in Italian and foreign wines and spirits.
Cristina usually carries out training activities for sommeliers, or for companies in the Wine & Spirits field. She also hosts Team Building activities in both Italian and English, in which the goal is to socialise and to open up to colleagues. Cristina is an expert in the management of tasting events where interaction with the public is essential.
1. Let’s break the ice, which wine can’t be missing from your cellar?
This question is very difficult, because it depends a lot on my mood, but I would say that Champagne can never be missing.
2. In 2015 you decided that the world of courts was not your thing anymore, so you moved on. You began to study wine and its dissemination. What led you to decide that you wanted to set up your own academy from scratch?
I was very impressed by the difference between the training in Italy and in the rest of the world. Unfortunately, Italy is the only country where it is believed that being a sommelier is a title of great depth, but we forget that this is just the basis of the training in this sector. Furthermore, I have seen very clearly how the academies that are already present in the market train learners with fairly superficial and above all merely descriptive notions. There was a lack of a word-level teaching, of a critical approach to the wine and of a deep knowledge of the real natural and human factors that determine the quality of a wine. They lacked universally recognised terms that form part of a unanimous language in the world of wine and that make a category.
I saw this serious gap and decided that it no longer suited me: I wanted to bring the knowledge of the world of wine to an accessible language, with earnest but not serious terms, with professionals of great depth who could finally train professionals in line with the international standards.
So, my academy includes sommelier courses (but set up as I say) and obviously the WSET courses (the most important institute in the world).
3. Degustibuss had to deal with more historic associations dedicated to sommeliers, such as AIS and FISAR. Your training offer, however, does not only concern the world of wine, it also deals with mixology and beer. We can say that Degustibuss is more business-oriented. So, what are the characteristics that make your training method different?
We may lack historicity, but we do not lack the professionalism and above all the profound didactic knowledge. In my opinion, when we talk about this sector, we must talk about Wine & Spirits. Here is why if the training is serious, of a high level and highly professionalising, it must be able to train all the professionals in the sector.
My training method is different: I set the courses in an Anglo-Saxon way (full time with more individual study and research, homework and constant supervision) with very in-depth programmes (think that we start talking about chemical formulas and physiology from the first level). This makes students understand why certain reactions happen, and how certain factors determine certain characteristics in the final product. Each level is selective, which means that in order to access the next level, the student must successfully pass a written test in both theory and practice of tasting.
There is a lot of wine science in my sommelier courses: a large part of viticulture and enology. But there is also a lot of business: how to make a wine list perform, what is the commercial positioning of a wine through the so-called blind deductive tasting, etc.
Furthermore, my method is inspired by WSET, and it invites trainees to continue their training (if they decide that their future is in the world of wine) through level 2 and 3, as a natural evolution of the training programme. International training becomes the natural declination of a course of study, since students understand that – in 2020 – training must be horizontal, universal and global.
4. Nowadays, the world is “full” of wine educators. Most people think they can teach as soon as they end a basic sommelier course (some don’t even do that). They don’t understand that they are only at the beginning of a long journey. But being a wine educator is serious and comes with responsibilities. What ‘peculiarities’ must your wine educators possess?
This topic gives me hives. Teaching without having the specific technical skills and without having taken special courses to become an educator means spreading false or approximate information on the market, which translates into a distorted, indifferent and very dangerous culture of wine.
I evaluate two aspects when selecting a resource or a collaborator: professionalism and attitude.
You can become a Degustibuss teacher only if you have a WSET certificate (possibly Diploma or Diploma Candidate, but I also evaluate level 3 WSET if I see that there are other skills). I am very happy to evaluate Oenologists, Agronomists or commercial managers as long as they possess at least a level 2 WSET.
This is for the professional aspect, but attitude-wise I evaluate the international experiences of candidates, and above all if they want to learn and grow with me.
The so called “I-know-it-all” who think they know everything will never be welcome in my academy.
Once we create a team, the hard work does not end: my teachers must be willing to carry out a continuous training process with me in order to learn how to transfer their skills to others.
Teaching is not automatic: there are specific techniques that can be acquired in special courses.
I took an Educator course in London many years ago, and since then my way of teaching has become much more effective: my students learn more and faster.
For this reason, my team periodically receives written assignments and personal feedback. We also do simulations, and I share documents and files selected by me weekly for them to study. My team is in constant training, and I am too.
5. The lockdown caused by Covid-19 has brought many changes in people’s lives. In particular, in the wine sector, it has brought more awareness of digital tools. In fact, Degustibuss immediately began online education. What feedback did you receive from the first students, and what are the limits compared to an offline course?
We were the first academy in Italy to offer the first and second level courses for sommeliers online. The lessons are live on Zoom. From the first day (May 5th if I’m not mistaken) to today, we have already trained about 100 people in Italy.
The formula is identical to that used in the classroom. The only thing that changes is that we ship the wines to the students’ homes.
We are all in front of the screen. Students learn from the teacher’s voice and slides. They can interact and ask questions (and I can guarantee you that they do a lot because they feel less shy when comfortable at home). They have to do homework and study hard because the exam is as difficult as the offline one.
The limits compared to in-person classes are that we cannot do some activities planned for the third level. The course includes lessons on pairing food and wine with real tasting tests, and lessons on defects (also with truly defective samples). In fact, the third level remains in the classroom.
6. You have shown that you are always willing to question yourself. You embrace changes and take opportunities from them. What could be the next innovation for your sommelier school?
Thanks, I surely am a very tenacious person, and I am willing to put myself out there, because I study a lot and I know that I can give a lot to this sector.
I am thinking about a couple of innovations for my school. One I can’t tell you about for now (but you’ll like it a lot) and one is expanding the availability of online courses.
7. You have won dinner in the only restaurant with an unlimited wine list. You can go there exclusively with a person who works in the wine world. Who would you invite and what will you uncork during the dinner?
Oh, just one person? Too bad I wanted to invite you and my mentor. You know that I am a Student of the Master of Wine, and that every student can benefit from the help of a mentor. My mentor Demetri Walters MW. He is a fantastic person, a Wine Educator who has been able make me understand the value of constancy and calm when deciding to face such a difficult path. The three of us would have a nice dinner.
What wines do we order? Well… here is my wish list:
1. Let’s start with a Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 2008, the perfect year for Champagne, and truly elegant.
2. We move down to South Africa to the full and tenacious Chenin Blanc Old Vines of Swartland, perhaps a Mullineux 2013.
3. We go back to the Old World, but keeping the acidity to go to Moselle with a Riesling. Maybe a J.J. Prüm Auslese from a few years ago.
4. We must return to my beloved country: France. I demand a Premier Cru from Chambolle-Musigny, perhaps by David Duband.
5. And then Sicily with Nerello Mascalese Contrada Rampante 2016.
Wine courses cover a lot of topics
I hope that you have a more clear overview of wine courses and I want to say a big thanks to Cristina Mercuri for her availability.
You can learn many aspects of wine from viticulture to the main grape varieties, or from wine regions to wine tasting.
What’s the topic you are most interested in?
Let me know by leaving a comment.