The International Wine Center (IWC) was founded in the Garment District in 1982. International Wine Center (IWC) is a wine school licensed by the New York State Education Department to provide professional training for individuals who hold or aspire to careers in wine and spirits.
Initially, the school tried to develop an independent curriculum. Instead, it became “a training ground for numerous members of the wine trade,” according to the New York Times (July 6, 1988). As a result, the school’s wine programming was never fully developed and was dismantled.
In 1994, IWC became the first organization in the U.S. to adopt the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) certifications. The original certificate offered was the “Higher Certificate in Wines and Spirits; Diploma in Wines and Spirits” By 2003, IWC became the U.S. Headquarters of WSET and the largest: More than 300 individuals have achieved the WSET Diploma in Wines & Spirits through the IWC.
The International Wine Center’s president, Mary Ewing-Mulligan MW, is the first woman in the U.S. to become a Master of Wine. Mary began her career at the Italian Trade Commission, educating consumers about Italy’s wines. She then worked in the private sector, holding a senior position at PepsiCo Wines & Spirit, before focusing on wine education. She joined the International Wine Center (IWC) in New York in 1984. Her brother (Neil Ewing) runs WSET programming in Philadelphia.
In the 1980s wine education encompassed imparting straightforward information (which was less accessible before the internet) and enabling experience. Many students were already wine enthusiasts and came to classes with some wine knowledge that they had acquired through reading or through peer learning in wine-tasting clubs and they were interested in tasting opportunities.
The concept of learning about wine to promote one’s career was non-existent, apart from university programs in viticulture and enology. Aspirational learning was limited to the desire to taste finer, more elite wines. That motivation changed with the emergence of post-nominals, particularly The Certified Wine Educator credential (CWE) of the Society of Wine Educators, which gave individuals an opportunity to prove what they know. But WSET, from 1994 in New York, was the first to provide a structure of learning and that was a dramatic change.Mary Ewing-Mulligan MW
Mary Ewing-Mulligan is also the best-selling “Wine for Dummies” book co-author.
Albert L. Hotchkin Jr, a business consultant-turned-restaurateur, founded the wine school. The school was located at 144 West 55th Street, on the second floor above Mr. Hotchin’s popular Tastings Wine Bar and Restaurant. The restaurant closed in 1998, and the school moved to West 29th St. Under his leadership, IWC became a site for wine industry events. In addition, it was the site of some of NYC’s first professional wine tastings.
Mr. Hotchkin passed away in 2003.
The school’s storied history and its famous wine director are important considerations. However, the school as it exists today is less exciting than it was in earlier times. The teaching staff is not as well-seasoned nor dynamic as they once were. The classroom is small, with fold-out plastic tables and fluorescent lighting. Classes are centered around PowerPoint presentations and an instructor, at times, reading from a manual.
Despite the lackluster programming, the IWC is the center of Wine & Spirit Education Trust programming in the United States. For that reason alone, this wine school is worthwhile attending.
Over the past few years, the International Wine Center has faced stiff competition against another WSET Affiliate, Fine Vintage LTD. For over 30 years, the IWC has monopolized WSET credentials in New York City. This made a lot of sense: IWC was the pioneering school to bring this wine accreditation to the United States.
However, as the quality of their programs faltered over the past decade, it seems that WSET America decided to introduce some competition into the field. While the importance of the IWC cannot be understated, it is very clear that anyone seeking a quality WSET education in New York should welcome this newfound competition.
Stuffy and dishevelled is not a good combination. This school may have been ahead of its time, but it seems to be treading water now. There is much better in NYC than this.