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Winner of the Develop Prize: Alex Preston

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Our graduation ceremony boasted a new award this year. The WSET Develop Prize, presented in collaboration between WSET and The Drinks Trust, recognises a student who has demonstrated their commitment to their educational progression within the drinks industry.

This year's winner, Alex Preston, is the co-owner of The Bottle Top, a small business based in Nottingham. She has worked in the drinks and hospitality industry for more than 15 years, gaining a number of accolades including being selected as the Top 100 Female entrepreneurs in the country. 

Alex recently passed the WSET Level 3 Award in Wine, and we caught up with her to learn more about her career journey into wine.

You can follow Alex on Instagram at @theprestonpatch.

How has your career path led you to completing the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines?

I have worked in the industry for more than 20 years at varying levels and have undertaken a vast amount of training in a variety of subjects. However, I have very little in the way of certifications to substantiate the work I have done so I felt it was time to brush up in the classroom and gain some more in-depth knowledge - and wine was the most exciting place for me to start. Wine is such a beautiful product and I find myself talking for hours to customers and other industry professionals about this wonderful drink. It has the potential to take you to so many places and meet so many brilliant people. After completing the WSET Levels 1 and 2 Awards in Wines, I just had the biggest appetite to move forward to the Level 3 Award in Wine. It has been just what I needed to boost my confidence.

Who or what inspired you to start learning about wine?

I have worked for many years in the industry and always felt a little inferior when it came to talking about wine confidently. In the course of my own business I would ask the fabulous people from our wine suppliers to host tastings at my bar and every event had such a lovely atmosphere. The customers and the wine professionals were the best people you could meet and I was in awe of their knowledge and stories that connected them to wine. When new products came in, it always felt like a present just for me. Meeting so many people from all over the world and hearing where wine has taken them is what inspired me to learn about wine. 

A person sitting on a sofa while paging through the Level 3 Award in Wines textbook.

What are the most valuable lessons you learnt while completing your qualification?

The most valuable lesson for me as a woman in the industry is that I very much do have a place here and I can stand up alongside the rest. Determination and hard work goes a long way but the people around you and those who support you are equally as important as the work you put in. Massive thank you to Katie at the Birmingham Wine School who has been the best supporter and teacher, and the lovely group of candidates who studied alongside me. 

How did you feel when you heard that you were being awarded this prize?

I was a little surprised and for a moment questioned if I deserved it. I still feel like everyone else in the room knows way more and has more experience than I do. Eventually, about the time I got my boots on the ground in London on the way to the award ceremony, I was absolutely thrilled. It was very much a "this is my life" moment. It's given me a little push to be surrounded by so much beauty in the Guildhall and so much talent from around the globe. I feel invigorated and brave enough  to continue what I'm doing and I'm very excited to see how I can capitalise on this and move my career forward. At my age it can be easy to think that it's too late to make moves.

Do you have any advice for people who are thinking about signing up for a WSET qualification?

Just do it. It's worth the investment and can open so many doors for you. When you do finally do it, jump in with both feet and make the most of it. it's not just studying; it can be a huge amount of pleasure and fun. It's a great excuse to eat wonderful food and drink lots of wine.

Any study tips for future students of our Level 3 Award in Wines?

Give yourself plenty of time. It's not easy alongside full-time jobs and other commitments so taking the time to absorb and apply your new knowledge is hugely important. For me the main thing was switching up learning styles. It doesn't have to be all books and maps. Go out for dinner and pour over the wine menu, host a wine tasting or mini masterclass with your friends and find fun and exciting ways to back up your classroom learning. If you don't have fun while doing it, you wont dedicate the time needed.

Will you be registering for the Level 4 Diploma in Wines any time soon?

At this point, completing the Diploma feels like a bit of a dream. I absolutely want to carry on learning and progressing my career. The Diploma could open so many opportunities for me to move along in my career and I'm a little jealous of those who are on that journey already. I'm looking for ways I may be able to fund this as it's a little out of my reach at the moment. But watch this space: I haven't given up on it just yet!

Ready to level up from the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines? Click here to find out more about our WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines.