Course correction | WSET restarts in mainland China

School is back. China’s WSET representative office announced on its WeChat account today that its 90-plus local partners can restart their classes.

Classes were suspended in January 2021, with WSET stating that “due to administrative issues, we have put our activities in China temporarily on hold. We have also recommended that WSET course providers in China pause all their WSET-related activities, including all courses and exams.”

A year later, in January 2022, WSET Global announced it had received approval in China to establish a Shanghai office as an overseas non-government organization and thus pave the way to eventually resume courses. The office is led by Yang Weihua (Willa Yang), former head of Wine Australia’s China program.

WSET first offered courses in China in 2006. (Fun fact: I took the first level-one class by ASC Fine Wines that year. It was also the last WSET class I ever took.)

For much of the past decade, China has been a top-three market for WSET. During its 50th anniversary, WSET reported a record 108,557 candidates for the 2018/2019 academic term, with 18,206 from China, second only to the UK. During the COVID-struck 2019/2020 term, China remained a top-three market.

China’s wine market as a whole has been struggling: imports of bottled wine continue to fall while local production has seen sharp drops over the past half-dozen years, even as quality has steadily increased, although some of that decrease can be attributed to more accurate reporting. At the same time, niches such as spirits and craft beer have had much greater appeal with consumers.

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