When we heard about a new wine school opening up in Philadelphia, we had great expectations. Philly has become one of the greatest towns for wine education. What Am I Drinking?! is using a sophisticated website and has a brick-and-mortar facility in Bryn Mawr, a wealthy suburb. Plus, the owner’s bio states she is a wine industry veteran from California who had relocated to the East Coast to teach about wine. When the school opened in April 2017, it looked like it would be a huge hit.
Since opening, this wine school has built a following, albeit a small one. At this point, they do not offer sommelier certifications or professional training. The classes offered are reasonably priced 90-minute classes on various subjects: sparkling, natural wines, decoding wine lingo, and a class called “Ladies’ Night: Rosé.” All in all, What Am I Drinking?! isn’t the pinnacle of wine education, but that is not their goal. Instead, they offer a fun wine-centric night out.
Our Ranking of What Am I Drinking?!
With that in mind, you may wonder why we are giving What Am I Drinking?! the lowest grade ever at SOMM. The reason is quite simple: the owner violated the cardinal rule of the wine trade. Our industry has always been one of communal support and mutual success. People and companies which break that code are punished. During a wine tasting in late 2018 we attended, Serena Zelezny spent more time significant time throwing shade at members of the wine community. After that class, we followed up with former students and heard similar complaints.
One of the major reasons for the poor conduct we saw first-hand is likely because Serena Zelezny is not actually a part of the wine trade: she’s a marketing professional. Before living in Philadelphia, she lived and worked with her husband in Tucson, Arizona. She worked in public relations and taught marketing part-time. It was s profession she has over 20 years of experience in. In 2013, her husband accepted a job at Drexel University’s Lebow College Of Business (in Philadelphia), and they moved across the country.
In her LinkedIn profile, she states:
Equipped with years of experience working in wineries, wine bars, and as a wine journalist, and coursework at wine schools in California, she has passed advanced examinations with both the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and Society of Wine Educators.
We attempted to verify that claim, but we did not find any records of her working in the wine trade. The only records we have found are that by 2015, she started taking wine classes and had earned a low-level sommelier certification. In fact, she doesn’t mention any wine-related experience at all in her own bio (as of March 2019, see the screenshot above)
While we hope Serena Zelezny has success, we encourage her to adopt a more supportive and holistic approach to wine education. At that point, we will reconsider our rating.