Jim Barker wants people to feel empowered after taking his classes. The president and founder of the Washington Wine Academy (WWA) has spent 13 years proving to locals that learning about wine can be fun. “It’s not uptight,” Barker said about DC’s premier wine education source. “We make it approachable. Whether they take a class or buy a bottle of wine, it’s just helping people to enjoy life a little more.”
Former Washington Post wine columnist Michael Franz joined forces with Barker in 1999 to create a quality education institution that offered affordable wine classes to the general public. WWA classes popped up around the Washington metropolitan area and soon, Barker was hosting large-scale events to gain more exposure.
The WWA Education Center is tucked away on South Eads Street in Arlington’s Crystal City, just around the corner from the non-profit’s wine shop. Barker opened the Crystal City Wine Shop in March and has made it his goal to make most of the wine served in class available for purchase at the store.
WWA offers 10 casual one-hour classes including introductions to wine, beer and whiskey, red and white wine classes, and regional classes focused on Italy, Spain, France, and Virginia. For $25, participants can taste four libations of their choice in a laid-back classroom environment.
“I’ve literally never met anyone who has regretted taking these classes because it helps them in so many aspects of their lives, ”said WWA Director of Education Alex Evans.” One of my friends took a class and said it was like the Rosetta Stone to understanding wine. Now it’s like second nature.”
This writer attended a white wine class recently and was lucky enough to have Evans lead it. The bubbly teacher kept us engaged with cheeky anecdotes like bemoaning her mother’s love of Yellow Tail and unpretentious suggestions for food pairings such as fried chicken and sparkling wine. We were encouraged to ask questions frequently and really delve into the tasting experience: What does the wine smell like? Is it full-bodied? Is there a lack of acidity? Why might that be?
Each section gave us a quick rundown of a white wine characteristic and then Evans put us to the test by letting us draw our own conclusions before providing her explanation. The Riesling, Albarino, Viognier and Linden Chardonnay were all strikingly different, providing a wide range of flavors for our collective palette. Complimentary cheese and fruit was available to participants, as well as a little booklet for us to take notes in.
For someone who grew up with oenophiles and expert entertainers as parents, Evans’ relatable tips for storing her wine in the coolest place possible in her small apartment – her coat closet – and admitting that some of the best wine she’d ever consumed was out of a red solo cup, were both humorous and refreshing.
WWA also offers specialty classes such as the upcoming “Bordeaux: Right Bank vs. Left Bank” on October 10 and “Sparkling Wine: From Prosecco to Champagne” on November 7. Beer lovers can sign up for the “Brewmaster Series,” which includes three fall classes that take an in-depth look at beers and their hops, malt and yeast components.
More serious wine lovers can take intermediate and advanced classes or even enter into a two-and-a-half year program to hold the diploma level qualification of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. From there, they can pursue the pinnacle of the academic wine world: the Master of Wine qualification.
But Barker and Evans said the majority of people who make it to diploma or MW level are in the wine industry.
“Most people who take our classes work in some completely unrelated field,” Evans said. “But they figure they drink wine every day so they should probably know a little bit more about it or they have to buy it for their clients or their bosses.”
Barker, who has a collection of vintage beer cans lining both the Education Center and the wine shop, hopes to one day offer beer certification classes at WWA. In the meantime, he hosts beer (and wine) themed events like Vintage Crystal’s Pups & Pilsners on September 23.
“You can bring your dog to the beer tent and be inside drinking beer with your dog,” he said about the dog-friendly outdoor beer festival. “It’s a unique event and a unique opportunity.”
Barker said there’s not a lot of red tape in his organization and he doesn’t have to get a lot of approval to try something new and different.
“Every day coming to work is fun,” he said. “I left here at 12:30 last night but I was back here in the morning with a smile because I like being in this business.”
And as for the classes, Evans said they’ve got something for everyone.
“Whatever your wine knowledge is, we can take it to the next level,” she said. “Whether you know nothing, whether you know a little bit, whether you know a lot – we have a class for you. No matter what, just come.”
Washington Wine Academy Education Center: 1201 South Eads St. Suite 400, Arlington, VA; 571-431-6713; www.washingtonwineacademy.org
Don’t limit yourself! Set your sights, and tastebuds, on some of these other wine class options in the area!
For a classy night out visit this wine bar and bistro. At just $40 a class you can attend on select Tuesdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. for small groups in their upstairs lounge. At each class you will explore the taste of five to six wines and small snacks prepared by the chef. This is a great class for beginners.
Vinoteca: 1940 11th St. NW, DC; 202-332-9463; www.vinotecadc.com
Capital Wine School
This is your ultimate school for wine education! From wine 101 to master classes you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about wine. They offer Introduction to Wine Basics which is a two hour class teaching you the foundations of wine knowledge such as the main styles of wine, serving wine, and how to taste. For a three-class series on wine introduction, take Wine Basics: Comparing grapes, regions, and styles. Essential (blind) Wine Tasting Skills is a two hour class, teaching you how to identify wine by its taste while tasting and discussing 12 different wines. Check the website for their other class listings.
Capital Wine School: 5207 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; 301-467-7927; www.capitalwineschool.com
Welcome to your wine adventure resource! GiraMondo is the venue to go to if you need to host a corporate event, seek out a wine speaker, and of course try out a workshop. They offer “Tasty Workshop” Packages such as honey, olive oil, tea, chocolate, and cheese. These are great for large groups of roundtable meetings and luncheons. For businesses try multiple corporate wine packages which include classes such as “Sipping Soiree,” a reception-style two hour tasting event to enjoy while mingling. For some social media integration try the “Sip and Twit” package where guests will tweet their thoughts about tastings. GiraMondo also holds one-on-one Wine Coaching events to personally educate you on wine basics and etiquette.
GiraMondo Wine: 11002 Veirs Mill Rd. Wheaton, MD; 301-841-7609; www.giramondowine.com
Bacchus Wine Cellar
For a quaint historical wine cellar with unique and rare selections head to the Bacchus Wine Cellar in Georgetown. Staff are passionate experts about wine. Basic tasting classes are offered Fridays and Saturdays from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Bacchus also hosts private events, be it an intimate party, work gathering, or fun occasion.
Bacchus Wine Cellar: 1635 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; 202-337-2003; www.bwcellar.com
Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits
For a liquor store with a staff who knows their wine check out Cleveland Park Wine and Liquors. They offer classes and tastings. Currently there are no classes scheduled but check the website for future classes and events updates. Past tastings have included Chilian Pinot Noir tasting and Vinifera Italian Wine Tastings in a welcoming, unpretentious environment.
Cleveland Park Wine: 3423 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; 202-363-4265; www.clevelandparkwine.com