By Erin Norton
This is the first of a three part series discussing another side of the industry: Wine Professionals that don’t work at a winery. Over the next few months, I’ll discuss Wine Educators, Wine Writers and Sommeliers and their impact in the wine industry. These people often have a great impact on consumer perceptions and sales without having a hand in making the actual wine.
That’s not to say though that their opinion isn’t important though. They are very in tune with consumer trends and can communicate in a way that bridges the production-consumer gap.
First up, something that is close to our mission here at the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute is the role of Wine Educators. This group of people needs to be educated themselves. Similar to the background of individuals in the wine industry, backgrounds of Wine Educators vary greatly. Some studied viticulture and enology from the get-go, others have science backgrounds that were lured in by romance of wine (or various other reasons), and others worked in the industry for some time before obtaining any accreditation.
Luckily, there is a group here in the USA that is dedicated to training Wine Educators, aptly named “The Society of Wine Educators”. There is a range of material and levels of study you can do with this group also. They have many open webinars (online seminars) that can elevate anyone’s understanding (the next webinar is Saturday, November 3 titled “Let the Vine do its Job!” — An Introduction to Biodynamic Wine-Making). Or if you want to take it to the next level, there’s the Certified Specialist of Wine-CSW, and even further, the Certified Wine Educator-CWE.
First, let’s be clear, neither of these accreditations is necessary to be a Wine Educator. There are amazing grape/wine teachers out there that have never even heard of the Society of Wine Educators. But if you do run into someone with the CSW or CWE, you can be assured that they have a good knowledge base. So what is the difference between the two? The CSW is designed for someone that wants to increase their wine knowledge without necessarily applying it to teach people. The exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions that must be completed in 1 hour. Topics tested include viticulture, winemaking, specialty wine styles, detailed wine regions of the world and serving.
The CWE can only be attempted if you’ve passed the CSW. There are five parts to the examination: multiple choice exam, essay exam, varietal appellation identification tasting exam, faults and imbalances exam and the presentation skills demonstration. This particular certification is no small undertaking and comes with a hefty price tag. However, this program is designed to prepare people not just to teach about grapes/wine/wine regions, but also to fully understand the background into these topics. This is what truly makes an expert. It should be pointed out though that these particular educators are more geared towards consumers and people in the service industry, not necessarily grape/wine production.
Here at the MGWII we do both consumer education and production education. Several of our staff have obtained the CSW level and may continue on to the CWE in the future. In terms of production knowledge, we’ve obtained that mainly through experience. We are always continuing to learn ourselves at conferences, webinars and taking directed trainings from other universities. Wine Educators need to continually update their knowledge to be current with available equipment and products. This makes us life-long students who can translate that knowledge onto our burgeoning industry here in the Midwest.
Next time, I’ll discuss Wine Writers and their impact as well as what credentials they have.
http://winewitandwisdomswe.com – Society of Wine Educators Blog
http://www.societyofwineeducators.org/ - Society of Wine Educators site