Interview: founders of Joval School of Wine, launching tomorrow, discuss program’s trade-education specificity

April 8, 2024
By Cody Profaca

Joval School of Wines, Australia’s latest approved WSET Awards in Wine provider operated by distributor Joval Wines (Red + White and Mezzanine), is aspiring to become the go-to wine educator for Australia’s wine trade by specifically tailoring its program to the hospitality industry. 

Drinks Trade sat down with Joval School of Wine founders and educators, Matt Dunne and Hilary Fordham, to discuss the new program and what it hopes to add to Australia’s existing wine education landscape. 

Drinks Trade: Can you give a brief overview of what Joval School of Wine is all about?

Matt Dunne: We provide WSET Award in wines accreditation, Levels 1-3 across all states. WSET is a globally recognised qualification ….our edge is we can schedule courses at a time that is suitable for our customers and their staff. We ensure the content is relevant and can then take that content and apply it in a practical, hands- on way.

Hilary Fordham: We’re open to all wine enthusiasts who are eager to learn but as wine distributors with a rich history of almost 50 years  our focus is on the trade element.

We have excellent relationships with much of the wine trade (with) myself a Joval Wines stalwart of 3 decades down in here in Melbourne and Matt in Sydney with his extensive sommelier background.

DT: What do you feel is most lacking in current WSET Wine courses?

HF: I wouldn’t say there is anything lacking in the current offering….as mentioned, it’s a structured, globally recognised course that is regularly updated (for example) when wine laws change. I would say that with the industry disruption caused by the pandemic, and many workers leaving hospitality, there is an opportunity to educate staff coming back to the industry along with newcomers and I don’t think anyone has been focussed on that.     

The key message is that we are flexible. We can fit in with our customer’s requirements. Most providers schedule courses at weekends or evenings which tend to be 

times when floor staff are working. JSOW have the flexibility to schedule courses in hospitality downtimes (typically Monday and Tuesdays), condensing the Level 2 course for instance into 3 days rather than spreading it out over a number of weeks.       

MD:  We also have access to great vineyards, like Ghostgum in the Mornington Peninsula where we can take groups and apply the learnings from the classroom with practical experience in the vineyard and winery.     

DT: Given Australia’s wine industry is in a bit of a tough place at the moment, do you feel it is a bit of a difficult time to be launching Joval School of Wine? Or do you feel better education could be part of the solution?

MD: no doubt it’s a tough market…  selling wine is challenging and competition is fierce but there is always room for learning and education.

HF: absolutely, the current environment is as challenging as we’ve seen it and many of our restaurant partners are doing it tough. I feel however that there is a real thirst for wine knowledge which exploded during COVID when people expanded on their interests during lockdowns. Diners eating out nowadays anticipate that restaurant staff will have wine knowledge. Our mission is to show our customers that wine education is an investment rather than a cost

DT: Do you feel as though education is more expected/important for wine trade than for workers in other alcohol sectors?

MD: WSET have recently introduced a beer qualification. There is also a WSET award in spirits and a WSET award in sake. All are strong offerings but I would say  the WSET award in wines garners the most interest by a country mile as it appeals equally to wine professionals and all wine lovers.

HF: Wine is particularly fragmented when compared to the other alcoholic beverage categories. Take for instance spirits which is dominated by big brands (EG Jim Beam, Smirnoff vodka), names that are very familiar to the consumer. With the wine category however, apart from a few big name Champagne Houses there are literally thousands of individual wine brands available in store or online and it’s impossible for the average customer to grasp a deep understanding of more than a handful.

So yes, education and knowledge are particularly important for the wine category. Educated and knowledgeable staff are better placed to upsell to the customer/diner and to elevate the overall experience. It’s very difficult for venues to hand sell high priced bottles if their staff lack the necessary wine confidence required to do so.

For more information and to keep track of upcoming Joval School of Wine announcements, visit

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