In 2009 sommelier Miguel Angel Hernandez made the decision to move to London from Spain, taking up a position at The Ritz. Here he discusses how he made the transition from being a sommelier to co-founding More than Wines, a WSET course provider based in Valencia, Spain.
Tell us a little about yourself and your career path before you became a WSET educator…
After living in Spain all my life, working in Michelin starred restaurants and as an educator at the CdT Valencia Academy, I moved to London in 2009 to become a sommelier at The Ritz. When I started working here, I realised that my Spanish sommelier training was not that useful as it wasn’t recognised internationally. My Head Sommelier, Thomas Sorcinelli, advised me to start taking WSET courses. I took his advice and since then, thanks to the WSET methodology and standards I learnt, my wine knowledge has increased on a daily basis.
How did you come to set up More than Wines?
I set up the More than Wines academy with two friends from the wine trade. Our main goal was to introduce Spain to the exacting standards and outstanding quality of WSET education.
As the name of the academy suggests, we not only focus on wines but also sake and spirits. At the moment we are growing fast and have a team of five educators, and a multitude of satellites and partners across Spain from the Canary and Balearic Islands to La Coruña and Alicante.
What was it like to sit the first Level 3 Award in Spirits course at WSET School London?
Awesome! It was one of the best courses I’ve ever attended. The objectives, content, selection of samples, how it was delivered by the educators - Nicholas King and Hannah Lanfear- made it an outstanding experience for me. An experience I will share with my students in Spain.
Another big plan for us is offering courses online. These are perfect for people who cannot arrange time away from work for classroom learning, or for those who prefer to learn at their own pace.
How have your WSET spirits courses been received by distillers and bartenders?
It’s a little bit frustrating, to be honest. In Spain, wine education is traditionally viewed as training that must be carried out independently and spending money on courses is the norm. Spirits education is viewed slightly differently. Bartenders and other spirits professionals expect big spirits producers and distributors to provide education and training free of charge, paying them back with commercial deals.
We are working hard to let all drinks professionals know the huge difference that the right kind of spirits education can make in their workplace. With three progressive levels, WSET spirits education has a lot to offer them.
What differences have you noticed when delivering spirits courses in the different locations you cover?
Spain is a country of contrasts - a conglomerate of different autonomous regions, each with a very different philosophy, way of living and understanding of life. We have to adapt the way we deliver courses to ensure students get all the information required by WSET to use in their professional careers. While the need for training is global in Spain, specific needs depend on the location, for example, places more popular with tourists require a different approach.
What is your vision for the future of spirits education at More than Wines?
We envisage that spirits education will be the next big thing in the Spanish hospitality world. As drinks professionals realise that they need to set themselves apart from the competition, they’re seeing that excellence in education is the best way to do this. Also, managers and owners of retail outlets and venues often discover an increase in sales as their staff become more knowledgeable.
Another big plan for us is to offer courses online. These are perfect for people who cannot arrange time away from work for classroom learning, or for those who prefer to learn at their own pace. I studied the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines online some years ago, and it was a really good experience. The online classroom now is even better than it was then. WSET´s online team is doing a great job.
My Head Sommelier Thomas Sorcinelli, advised me to start taking WSET courses. I took his advice and since then, thanks to the methodology and standards I learnt, my wine knowledge has increased on a daily basis.
What has been the most challenging part of your WSET educator journey?
The most challenging part for me has been understanding that when you are delivering a Level 2 course, then the information you give to students has to keep within the boundaries of Level 2 knowledge, even if students sometimes ask more complex questions. While it’s important to keep to the curriculum during class, these questions enable us to have very interesting conversations after class, as students often share their fascinating journeys in the drinks industry with me.
What has been the most enjoyable aspect of being an educator?
The most enjoyable part has definitely been interacting with students and their feedback and kind words. They give you the strength to keep developing and improving as much as you can. They are very grateful that we bring quality education to where they are based.
On a personal level how has your relationship with WSET developed over the years?
My first course with WSET dates back to 2010 when I studied my WSET Level 1 Award in Wines. Since then, every time I return to WSET School London I feel challenged to ensure that my team and I are the best we can be.
What are you looking forward to most right now?
The most important things in my personal life right now are my newborn son and my wife. In my professional life, working with my partner Mario Lopez and our team, my focus is developing and growing More than Wines to become a reference point for outstanding wine, spirits and sake education and training in Spain.
If you are interested in pursuing a career in wine, spirits or sake, WSET qualifications offer a great foundation to build on and are trusted by the world’s most recognised drinks organisations. To find a course provider (in a classroom or online), click here.
Please note: if you are interested in online learning it’s worth getting in touch with your preferred local course provider to see if they are in the process of adopting online study options in response to COVID-19.