02/05/2006 - 22:00

Wine centre offers a personal experience

02/05/2006 - 22:00

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It seems Western Australians’ enthusiasm to discover more about wine extends far beyond the ability to merely drink the stuff.

Wine centre offers a personal experience

It seems Western Australians’ enthusiasm to discover more about wine extends far beyond the ability to merely drink the stuff.

In fact, knowing a little about the drop to be drunk appears to be an important part of the experience for the thousands who have attended courses at the WA Wine Education Centre.

As the centre rapidly approaches its 40th year as the prime wine educator in the state, it has shifted from its long-time home at the Claremont Showgrounds to new facilities in West Perth.

During those four decades, more than 20,000 people have swirled, sniffed, savoured and spat their way through a vast number of wine courses taught at the centre. That makes it the most prolific wine education facility of its type in Australia.

The centre’s primary wine educator, Rod Properjohn, is preparing to start term two classes. Mr Properjohn has been teaching people at the Wine Education Centre the varying subtleties of wine since 1976.

What began as a project to satisfy the great rush to wine in the 1970s quickly became an answer to the growing demand for people wanting to learn about wine.

That decade was characterised by a huge jump in domestic consumption of wine, and consumers’ desire to understand their wines better.

Before then, wine education had been an ad hoc and informal process of wine tastings in bottle shops and taverns.

This gradually gave way to wine education facilities staffed by wine professionals.

Wine styles may have changed a great deal since then but the basic principle for enjoying them hasn’t. And though the 25 to 40-year-old demographic makes up most of the student roster, the classes cater for all ages and levels of experience.

“The unique thing about the courses is that they have always attracted a stunningly diverse range of people,” Mr Properjohn says.

“You can have the top heart surgeon in Perth sitting next to a sanitation worker. And the weird thing is that it works.”

Mr Properjohn believes people’s desire not to be embarrassed when they go out and order wine – and the apparent lack of wine knowledge this may represent to co-workers, prospective clients or business partners – is a major reason why people enrol in the centre’s wine courses.

So what does this say about wine’s role and social function? Obviously, it is more than just a beverage that goes well with food.

“It is a status symbol and wine knowledge is seen as a social statement,” Mr Properjohn says. “Knowledge is power and so is wine knowledge.”

But it does seem like an odd concept. It is after all, grown men and women gathering together to be taught to appreciate something as simple as a drink. But if it were that simple, then the education centre wouldn’t exist at all.

And while it may not resemble the rigorous academic pursuits of a tertiary course, it still is an education process.

“We definitely take it seriously, there is an exam and a certificate as part of the course, and not everyone passes,” Mr Properjohn says.

The educational aspect of these courses may seem to mask the great irony of whole process – that wine appreciation is always a subjective experience where an individual’s determination of what a wine tastes and smells like is an indisputable right. One person may taste white truffles and leafy undergrowth, while another tasting the same wine might get strawberries and cinnamon.

“My approach to wine education has always been that no-one is ever wrong with wine; everything that they perceive to be in wine is correct, it is such a subjective experience,” Mr Properjohn says.

“It is not about telling people what to taste in wine, it’s about having someone there to guide them through the process.”

Regular wine education courses are available each term with additional specialised courses available periodically.

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