It was the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw who wrote  “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches” in his 1903 play Man and Superman.
Clearly the wine merchant finds the otherwise welcome diktat by Shaw something of a quandary when applied to the demands of modern wine assessment. Drink the stuff or talk about it tends to cover a good percentage of the subject I find. If you are not to teach people about wine, as Shaw would clearly wish, then consuming it appears to be the only remaining option. Looks good on face value, but the consequences can get messy in my experience. So I have decided that, with the notable exception of the wine merchant and perhaps the undertaker, practising rather than preaching is in general, still a good thing. However, my preoccupation with the issue has occupied me recently following an invitation to run a series of wine courses at a local cookery school.  Happy as I am to rattle on to any passing stranger, I found that settling down to condense mountains of technical information and regurgitate considerable experience gleaned at the business end of a wine glass, is not the simple task I first envisaged.
I took to the web to find out how other professionals have approached the job. There are many wine courses on offer in principal cities up and down the country. The home counties, unsurprisingly, tend to put up a comprehensive show. Many courses are dominated by notable wine merchants, whilst others are held by Masters of Wine (MW’s) or eager consultants the length and breadth of Britain. Larger on-line wine merchants run rolling programmes across the country, stopping off at suitable catchment areas to target the selected demographic.  There is no common theme, no right or wrong, but most appear genuinely helpful in one way or another.
We did have recourse to such education in Norwich for many years, originally under the banner of The Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and latterly via the Eastern Counties Wine and Spirit Association (ECWSA).  One larger than life figure who straddled some twenty-six years of wine education in East Anglia, working under the auspices of both bodies, has recently retired from the fray. His name is Frank Leatherdale. Now Frank will not necessarily be known to the same majority who recognise a local chef, or new gastro-pub, but his importance in the trade is none the less for that. Over a quarter of a century he has informed and encouraged countless professionals and private individuals alike with his abiding passion that is forever wine. I came across Frank in the late nineties studying on one of his many courses to gain my WSET diploma. If I remember correctly I started the initial courses at City College in Norwich. The course later graduated to a small room in a church hall where Frank’s overhead projection capabilities would shine a celluloid map of France onto a wall, with the Loire valley in the centre, Bordeaux playing across the sink whilst Alsace undulated across the picture rail. We had yet to reach the age of power point presentation in Frank’s lessons. Nevertheless the quality of Frank’s delivery never needed too much technology and although it sometimes felt a little like the briefing in a b/w second world-war movie, I was later to discover that this may not have been mere co-incidence. You see Frank had already retired from an equally laudable career as Squadron Leader in the RAF, previously navigating numerous successful bombing raids across Germany in the 1940’s. Later, in peacetime he was elected to run the officer’s mess at a local RAF base, and his journey into the world of wine took its first faltering steps.  After that he held a series of posts in the world of food and beverages. Initially joining Colmans in Norwich, Frank eventually moving across to Greene King brewery and finally to their wine department – formerly known as Thomas Peatling and later to become Peatling and Cawldron. A formidable off-license chain across East Anglia which I am sure many will remember.
Frank was, then and now, a passionate wine lover. He has forgotten more than many of us will absorb and talks knowingly of wine whenever we meet. As you will have calculated Frank is no spring chicken, yet our most recent conversation could have emanated from a cutting edge television programme. “Got to be careful with Spanish wines, they have become over-hyped” or “Some of the best wines today are coming out of Australia, not bulk produce from the south east, but from the cooler, more central regions” and finally “Not happy with the slow increase in alcohol, it masks too many of the fruit flavours”. Whilst talking at length about his favourite white wine, his beloved dry German Rieslings, Frank clearly missed the delicious irony that he had spent the best part of his former career often bombing the living daylights out of the very vineyards he now loves. Typical of Frank I thought, dutiful in all his undertakings.
In the world of wine education Frank will be a very hard act to follow, although I think I’ve managed to get my power point sorted at least.

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