July 5, 2022
Karin Rockstad, WSET Educator, SWS, FWS, Albariño Ambassador, Certified Cava Educator
So, you work in wine, or you don't work in the field, but you really love wine? What's a wine certification/qualification? Do you need it, or is it just good to have? Valid questions.
Let's get one thing straight. You will never, ever know everything about wine. No one will; not me, not your local sommelier, not Jancis Robinson or Wine Spectator magazine, or any Master of Wine. Wine is alive, ever-changing, and very diverse. That's what makes it so fascinating, challenging, and fun! However, having a wine certification gives you a foundation, a platform to blast off from, and a common language to talk to other wine geeks about the subject since we all come from such varied backgrounds.
There are several certifications to choose from. If you work in restaurants, you may want to go the Court of Master Sommeliers route, which focuses on wine service. If you work in importation/distribution/retail or are a serious enthusiast, you may want to go the Wine and Spirit Education Trust route, which is broader in scope. In the end, they're branches of the same tree, so you'll get quality education in both. Hey, you might even want to really geek out and do both!
There are several "levels" to each branch, from basic to very advanced. Most people who work in the industry take certification courses to the intermediate level (CMS Certified or Advanced, or WSET 2 or 3). If you go further than that, you usually are an educator or an extremely serious enthusiast. Those going for Master of Wine or Master Sommelier qualifications are by far and away the cream of the crop and have spent many years or even decades in the field. This is not to be taken lightly. Even getting to CMS Advanced or WSET Diploma means a huge financial and time commitment.
There are other certifications through the Wine Scholar Guild and the Society of Wine Educators. If you would like to dig deeply into the wine of a specific country, try the WSG's Spanish, French, and Italian Wine Scholar certifications. If you're new to wine, try their "prep" courses to jump-start your learning (or prepare for a vacation to one of those countries). If you're really into specific French regions, try their "master level" courses, such as Loire, Bordeaux, etc. The WSG even has group trips to many winegrowing countries. Although less well known, the SWE's Certified Specialist of Wine offers a broad overview of the wine world. Many of these courses can be taken online, but I highly recommend attending in person. You'll learn much better, and faster, and of course, you'll get to taste wine during class!
So, to answer the question at the beginning of the post, "do you need a wine certification?" My answer is yes if you work in the trade. Again, WSET 2 or 3, and CMS Intro or Certified are the most common. If you wish to teach or you just can't get enough of wine, and your budget allows, keep going. These courses (and the wine) are not cheap. This hobby/passion/calling is about never-ending learning, so you'll be constantly taking classes, going to tastings, watching (and paying for) webinars, attending trade shows/expos, etc., not to mention traveling to winegrowing areas.
Is it worth it? Again, YES! Wine is captivating, intriguing, engrossing, bewitching, and any other adjective you can throw at it. How cool is that?
At Vine Lab, we offer WSET Levels 1, 2, and 3 in wine; WSG Spanish, French, and Italian Wine Scholar (and prep) courses; and a sake certification (but that's a whole separate post!). We also offer various other short courses throughout the year along with private tastings. Check out the website for more info and stay in touch with us through social media: #vinelabwine, #vinelabwineontour.
Hope to see you in class soon! Happy studying!