Get to know Chris Martin
1. How did you get into the wine industry?
I have always been interested in wine, and sat the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines and Spirits back in 2013. I was teaching business executives English at the time and took a week off work to sit the qualification. It was such a brilliant course that I decided that I wanted to move in to the wine industry. I began the Level 4 Diploma in Wines in 2015, while I was teaching MBA and BA business, and developed some informal wine modules for the university students. Eventually, an opening came up at WSET in the Business Development Team, I applied and in early 2016 started working for WSET. In 2018, I took over the newly formed Educator Training Programme team which I have been heading up since then.
2. How did WSET prepare you for a career in the wine industry?
The Level 3 inspired me and the Diploma gave me credibility within the industry. The WSET qualifications turbo-charged my career. It’s fair to say that without them I would not have been able to get into the industry.
3. Do you have a favourite wine or grape variety?
This is such a difficult question – but if I had to say, I’d go for Chenin Blanc for white and Nebbiolo for red. Chenin Blanc can be made in so many different styles from dry to sweet, unoaked to oak, early-drinking or age-worthy. It also grows all over the globe from Loire to South Africa and even Thailand! Nebbiolo might be less diverse in styles, but it is a powerful, demanding wine that makes you think.
4. Why do you think it’s important for people to learn more about wine?
Confidence. I have always been interested in wine, but before taking WSET qualifications didn’t know a lot. Friends would always hand me the wine list at restaurants, but the thing might as well have been written in ancient Greek! This is a situation many wine lovers have been in. The wine world is massive, but WSET makes it approachable, logical and systematic. I’ve seen how a Level 1 course instils confidence, then as you move up the levels, this confidence grows.
5. What do you enjoy most about teaching at WSET School London?
I teach all levels and even if I’ve taught a session 50 times, I still learn something new. The students we teach are from many different backgrounds, and I enjoy teaching both wine professionals and wine lovers. The students make the classes enjoyable and so much fun.
6. What are your favourite topics to teach?
At Diploma I teach the fortified units on Port and Madeira, and these are great fun. I also love teaching about German wines. Lots of people are intimidated by the German language and wine laws, but once you get your head around it, it actually makes sense.
7. Do you have any advice for people wishing to enter the drinks industry?
Education is key. I know I work at WSET, but even if I didn’t, I’d still think WSET qualifications are invaluable. When you look at jobs postings within the industry, most require Level 2 or above. So why not start now, if you want to move careers!
I would also recommend being open to different types of roles – most people think the wine industry is just filled with sommeliers and wine buyers, but there are lots of other jobs where your skills can be applied with a wine, spirits or sake focus. Think about how you can transfer your skills. I had been teaching for 11 years when I joined WSET, and these skills gave me a great foundation to become a wine educator.
8. What are your top tip(s) for passing WSET exams?
I always tell students that WSET courses are not just about the accumulation of facts, it is about the application of those facts. Knowing the yields in some obscure DOCG of Italy isn’t what WSET is about. Rather, it is knowing that if the yields are low or high how might this effect the final outcome in the wine.
Also, if you’re doing Level 3 or Level 4, make sure you read the question on the exam! Just because it asks about Champagne doesn’t mean you need to write everything you know about Champagne.
9. In your opinion, what is the future of the drinks industry?
I think the drinks industry will need to adapt to the changing world: from climate change to social issues. Climate change will mean that the industry will need to be more conscious about their use of water, packaging and shipping – to name just a few things. Consumers are also becoming more aware of sustainability, and companies that are on the forefront of this will have an advantage.
Similarly, with social issues such as diversity and inclusion. There is still a lot of do, but the the traditional stereotypical images of wine professionals is thankfully beginning to fade.
10. What is your dream job?
I’d love to have been a world class pianist travelling the world and giving concerts. Sadly I never practiced as much as I should have, and I doubt anyone will fly me out to far flung lands to listen to me perform chopsticks.
11. What is your proudest achievement?
I think it was taking the plunge to transfer careers to the drinks industry itself. It’s always scary taking the jump, but after doing the week intensive Level 3 course in 2013 I knew I wanted to go into the wine industry. It took a few years, but now I’m doing a job I absolutely love!