Wine Education

Getting to know the Wine School
Alana Zerbe

Alana Zerbe

Director of Wine Education

After spending a decade adding letters to her last name — from J.D. to LL.M. to C.S.W. — Alana has finally found her home in Philadelphia, working as the Director of Wine Education. Her favorite place to be is in the classroom, teaching everything from Wine 101 to Advanced wine courses.

Keith Wallace

Keith Wallace

Executive Director

The story of the Wine School begins with Keith Wallace.  A man with deep convictions and even deeper knowledge, Keith has been the driving force behind all of the School’s classes and programs.

Keith’s background includes stints as a hard-hitting journalist, executive chef, and winemaker in California and Italy.  All of these life experiences have combined to make Keith one of the most unique and interesting educators in the wine industry.

To be honest, he probably would be insufferable if it wasn’t for his charisma and off-color humor.  More about Keith Wallace

Wine School 101

Now in our second decade of providing top-tier classes and programs to aspiring wine pros, the Wine School has become an institution in the food and beverage industry. Our influence is felt not only in Philadelphia, but in several of the top wine regions in the world. We are very proud that graduates have gone on to become winemakers, sommeliers, distributors, importers, and more.

Over the years, our passions have expanded beyond the wine glass. The School now offers beer, spirits, and cocktail classes led by the the top talents in the industry. One thing that has not changed: All of our classes are designed to be fun and educational.

We can mix a bit of fun with our classes because we have the bona fides to back it up. Our real mission in this world is to educate consumers and professionals without the pretentiousness normally found in the wine world. Based on the demand for our programs and courses, we expect to have that opportunity for a long time to come.

 

 

Corkscrewed?

Don’t Tread on my Corkscrew, Bro

Don’t Tread on my Corkscrew, Bro.

A cornerstone the Wine School’s mission is to protect the consumer against the dirty tricks and backroom deals that often go unnoticed in the wine trade. As is often pointed out, we exist in a multi-billion dollar industry dealing in controlled substances with very little oversight. Sound a bit bit nefarious? It can be. We aren’t afraid to stand up for the average consumer when their rights are being threatened, or to expose the cost-cutting shortcuts intended to dupe the American wine drinker.

Keith has written a series of exposés into the wine industry on the Daily Beast. He has spoken out against overzealous government meddling on the BBC and MS-NBC.  He has talked about manipulation of wine by big-name wineries on NPR. He has lobbied hard for the privatization of wine and spirits sales in Pennsylvania  He has also worked with the Speaker of the House in Harrisburg to insure that any legislation to abolish the PLCB would protect small businesses and wine consumers in the Commonwealth.

Needless to say, not everyone is happy with our turning over the apple carts. It also part of what makes the Wine School an authentic place: a willingness to be more than just fluff.

Making Philly Just a Bit Better

Making Philly Just a Bit Better

A fundamental part of the Wine School’s mission is not just protecting consumers, but also giving back  to the community. The good people of Philadelphia have been kind to us and fostered our growth.  We feel it’s only right to return the favor: Over the years, the Wine School has donated more than $50,000 in wine classes and events to Philadelphia’s charities and schools.

Wine School History

Before the School

Before the School

Before the Wine School opened in 2001, wine education had become marginalized. Philly’s only brick & mortar wine school –the highly regarded L’Ecole du Vin– had been closed for over a decade. The Restaurant School’s Wine Academy had closed, reopened, and then promptly closed again. At best, wine tasting was something done in the back rooms of restaurants.  The idea of a stand-alone private school with an independent curriculum for wine was nonexistent.  Most of the cooking schools in the city had closed a few years before.

No one was thinking of opening a wine school at the turn of the century, and that includes our founder, Keith Wallace.  In 2000, Keith  was consulting for a local winery, a job that included lectures on winemaking and harvesting.  Having never taught before, it was a nerve-wracking challenge for someone who was naturally shy and reserved.  He discovered something about himself when he stood in front of that classroom: he was a damn good teacher. People were drawn to his no-nonsense approach to teaching about wine.

W is for Winemaker

W is for Winemaker

At the time, Keith was at a crossroads in his career. Having graduated from the viticulture program at UC Davis a few  years back, he was also coming to terms with a secret he had been keeping: an accident years before had left him with epilepsy. He had a relatively minor form of the disease, but it made working in and around heavy machinery at a winery a growingly foolhardy idea.  His handicap was a well-kept secret until 2008, when a small newspaper, the Chestnut Hill Local, published a story about the accident.

Manayunk Dreaming

Manayunk

As he taught more and more classes, the idea of a wine school started to take shape. Keith researched the currently available wine courses in the region. He respected what he found, but felt they were too narrow in focus. So he built out the fundamentals of a wine curriculum. Knowing he would need an online presence to sell classes, he taught himself to build websites and purchased the domain www.winelust.com.  The owner of a coffee shop on Cotton Street in Manayunk offered to rent space for the Wine School.

Everything was set to open up a small little wine school, except for one small detail. What would it be named? At first, he thought of going edgy and naming it Wine Lust, as a play on “wine list” but (thankfully) thought better of it. After a few glasses of wine, he came up with the name Vinology, which was an improvement.

The Fairmount Years

The Fairmount Years

The School opened at 20th & Fairmount in 2005.  It was in a neighborhood still in transition: junk shops and decaying buildings dotted the block. A pizza joint, a hardware store, and a water ice shop were the only businesses that were still open. In short order, the Wine School attracted attention in both the local and national press for its pioneering course offerings.

By 2010, the neighborhood was thriving.  The Wine School had done its part by beautifying what was once a dark and unwelcoming block. The School drew students from within the City and surrounding suburbs who frequented the neighborhood’s new restaurants and curio shops. The School was thriving as well: In 2009 the Philly Beer School began, a passion project started by some of the School’s young guns who also happened to be beer geeks in their spare time. While the School’s ties within the neighborhood ran deep, the addition of the Beer School signaled the time had come to expand.

Rittenhouse, Part One

Rittenhouse, Part One

Thankfully the perfect space became available at just the right time: a beautiful mansion in Rittenhouse Square that had housed the publishing house for Wine Spectator in the 1970s. Keith packed up his collection of exquisite old bottles, foraged furniture, and the School’s original chalkboard — along with paintbrushes and power tools — to create the ideal setting for the Wine & Beer Schools of today.

Fast forward to today. Wine, Beer, and Food classes are a cornerstone of Philly’s cultural landscape. The School’s success created a culture of boozy education that includes top wine writers, critics, winemakers, and wine educators. Wine School alums have landed in the most lauded restaurants throughout the City, while the Wine School’s offerings have expanded to include a full spectrum of classes with professional certification.

Rittenhouse, Part Two

Rittenhouse, Part Two