Connal Finlay Honoured at Annual WSET Awards
Connal Finlay has become one of only 460 people in the world this year to be awarded the coveted WSET Diploma from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is believed to be the youngest graduate to have ever achieved the accolade.
On Monday 23 January, over 500 of the most influential wine and spirits professionals in the world gathered at the historic Guildhall, City of London, to celebrate the annual Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Awards and Graduation. Hosted by WSET Honorary President Gérard Basset OBE, MS, MW and WSET Chief Executive Ian Harris, the leading global provider of wines and spirits qualifications presented 49 awards and prizes in recognition of the outstanding achievements of the candidates for the past academic year 2015/16. The occasion attracted attendance from industry leaders and long-standing WSET supporters including Jancis Robinson, Laura Jewell and Joe Fattorini.
Connal Finlay was honoured at the event as one of the year’s 460 WSET Diploma graduates during the annual graduate procession, marking his achievement as one of just over 9,000 people in the world to have ever held the accolade. Graduates and award winners hailed from as far as the UK, Canada, USA, China and Japan, representing the global reach and relevance of WSET qualifications.
The WSET Level 4 Diploma is WSET’s highest qualification and recognised globally as one of the most distinguished achievements in the sector. The course develops an in-depth knowledge of wines and spirits, from production, regions and styles, and the global trade in wines and spirits. The Diploma is also universally viewed as the stepping stone to the Master of Wine qualification. Upon successful completion graduates receive a WSET certificate and lapel pin, and are able to use the post-nominal DipWSET and associated WSET certified logo.
Connal was never destined to get into wine. After leaving high-school, and still not being entirely sure on what university course he wished to take, he decided to work on setting up a bakery. Whilst doing a few courses at the Le Cordon Bleu in Wellington, New Zealand he came across chefs who were astounded at his naturally refined palate. He was introduced to the WSET courses via a brochure from Jane Skilton MW who teaches the courses there. As an Auckland resident he went home and at just 18 applied to the New Zealand School of Food and Wine for the WSET Levels 1-3 three month course. He says, “I had never tried any wine before my first day so it was quite a whirlwind. But I quickly learnt about everything I needed to know. I found myself sunk into almost everything Jancis Robinson or Hugh Johnson had ever written, so the three months flew by. The hard work paid off as I gained the highest marks for all of the papers. It was an incredible experience learning about wine in such a fun atmosphere as well as in such a structured way.” Wanting to learn more, he started the WSET Diploma and at 21 is believed to be the youngest person to ever gain the certificate. 2016 has been the busiest year of Connal’s life. Since completing his WSET Diploma, he started a BSc in Chemistry and Biology at the University of Auckland with an eye towards aromatic/organoleptic sciences, he set up his first business, an importing business specialising in the wines from New York State. However, his biggest accomplishment by far, was creating his second business, The Cellar Store NZ, an online wine retail platform specialising in international wines for the NZ marketplace. Unlike other retail websites, it is also a platform filled with an ever expanding range of information on the top 120 grapes, countries, styles, and has masses of information on how wine is made, viticulture approaches, wine-word dictionary, a free online 'WINE 101' course, and more.
Ian Harris, WSET Chief Executive, said, “The academic year 2015/16 was WSET’s most successful to date, with a record 72,171 exams taken globally, an increase of 17% on the previous year, marking 14 consecutive years of growth. In the dynamic and ever changing world of wine and spirits, education is proving increasingly important, and through our qualifications and scholarships we are committed to nurturing talent to promote the future of the industry. We are so proud of all our graduates and scholarship winners and together hope to continue to inspire others towards deeper knowledge and achievement.”