Interview with Diploma graduate Paula Pinilla

Paula works as a portfolio manager for Symposium Wines. She has many years of experience in the industry and has used WSET to solidify her knowledge. Read her experience and her advice

I saw Diploma as the cherry on the pie for my career

About Paula

Paula started in the wine industry very much by chance. She majored in Translation & Interpreting in her home country, Spain, and right after graduating, she was hired by the export department of one of the largest Spanish wine producers because of her language skills. That was her first experience with wine, 11 years ago, and ever since -except for three years- She has been in this industry, working either at a producer or at an importer.
She lived in China for 5 years before moving to Norway. Here she is now working as Portfolio Manager for Symposium Wines. In her free time she loves to spend time with her three cats and her plants, travel to exotic countries and she is also a certified spinning instructor.

What made you apply for WSET?

When I saw my professional path was clearly heading into the wine direction, I enrolled in level 3 in 2016 back in China to have a proper and deeper wine education that complemented my work experience so far. It gave me a very solid base that allowed me to perform in my role with more confidence. It definitely also expanded my job opportunities!

Why was it important for you to enroll for WSET level 4 – Diploma?

I saw Diploma as the cherry on the pie for my career, especially since, when I enrolled, I was new in Norway and my Norwegian was just basic. Apart from adding a value to my background that would help me settle in the workplace within the industry, the knowledge behind the course is something that every wine professional should have, be it through work experience, self-learning or through the WSET course, whose contents are very clearly structured and focused on the wine trade professional.

How long did it take you to complete the course? And how did you structure your time?

In total it took me three years (2019-2022), though this time includes a pause of about a year. It could be said that I dedicated about one year to do all the units except D3, one year to mentally prepare myself to study D3 and one year to actually study it. 😆

The smaller units were very approachable and while I was studying “on a schedule” I did not have the need to structure my time other than by allocating a number of hours a day to study. But! D3, wines of the world – on the other hand – required careful planning if I was to reach “the finish line”. I set myself into a lengthy plan of 10 months divided in several stages of reviewing: from a very comprehensive reading and note taking, to a reduced version of all the contents in a little box of physical flashcards. Each of this stage was carefully planned in an excel sheet where I had a specific amount of information that I had to cover every single “study day” for the 10 months. I of course also allocated some free time every day, much needed to charge the batteries and disconnect.


What did you appreciate the most from the course?

The best part of the course was to be able to taste so many different wines of the world together with my fellow classmates and with the study group a few of us made. The part where we discussed and exchanged our tasting notes and views was essential to build up our tasting skills and make tasting notes confidently. In addition, the lecturers line up we had during class days was an absolute delight. To be able to learn from several Masters of Wines and discuss wine with them with is something priceless. Especially Heidi, who, as responsible of the program in KA, was always there to answer my doubts and questions (and there were many!) in the most approachable way.
Last, but not least, the course gave me the opportunity to meet new people whom with to share this journey, not only in the classes but also during the private study time through social networks. Sharing this experience with others was a great support. I still keep in touch with a few of them and some have become great friends!


How does the course effect your life? Does it apply to your work?

It certainly does. My growth since I first started Diploma, and ever since level 3, has been enormous in terms of knowledge and confidence in my work. At the same time I have been able to establish myself professionally in Norway in a job where I put everything I learned to use on a daily basis. Diploma also gives a sense of security for the future.

Can you share a surprising lesson, or fact that you learned?

I surprisingly enjoyed my written assignment (research paper) very much. The topic being a trendy and controversial one (natural wine), I surprised myself diving into half a dozen different books plus an endless list of online sites… I learned that we, more often than not, take for granted where the wine comes from: the soil, and the importance of the soil’s health. It was a fascinating topic that opened my eyes in many aspects beyond wine.

Diploma is a comprehensive study, that requires a lot of private studying, what is a tip or advice you could share for future students?

Diploma is definitely a journey. At the end of it, there is a series of exams for which we have to prepare thoroughly and this must not be underestimated, especially when it comes to planning. But it should also be a joyful journey where one has as much fun as possible through the learning process: by attending tasting sessions and masterclasses, gathering together with your classmates, using friends to set you up in some blind tastings, share knowledge and study notes with classmates…. And, the most important: don’t limit yourself to just the contents of the course but read every possible source of information, from articles to books – both generic and more technical – that can complement the knowledge.
And definitely do not leave the studying for the last minute!

Read more interviews for the Diploma WSET level 4