My path to becoming a Certified Specialist of Wine

By the end of 2013, I decided that I wanted to do something different with my Sommelier title. I always knew that I was not going to be a floor professional (for many reasons), but I love being a wine person so for the last four years I worked to introduce beginners and enthusiasts to the wine world.

While I had never taught before, it turned out to be natural for me. I received a lot of support from my colleague Manuel Ortega, who shared with me many teaching and public speaking techniques that helped me to become a better communicator.

I realized I wanted to become a formal wine educator, but the question was how? I spent days and days searching the Internet for different options -from the WSET to the CMS, and some others-, until I found the Society of Wine Educators. This was it!

However, in order to become a Certified Wine Educator I had to first become a Certified Specialist of Wine. Here is where my new wine path begins.

The Investment

I live in Venezuela. We have been going through a very difficult economic situation for a long time; this includes a control system for currency exchanges, meaning we cannot change Venezuelan currency into dollars (or any other currency).

I won’t go into details about the financial challenges, but my main concern at the time was whether this title would be worth it. Did it make sense to spend my savings on this?

Today I can say that yes, it was absolutely worth it and I have made it worth my while.

LTGST – Long Time Gonna Study This

I began reading and studying by myself, and then got the CSW Study Guide in March 2014. I also had the good fortune to take Miss Jane Nickle’s CSW online classes. This course is one of the greatest things to happen to me during my wine career. She is a passionate woman, full of knowledge, who loves teaching, and who shares her knowledge selflessly. I have learned so much from her.

The content of the book for the Certified Specialist of Wine is very complete. When I first read it, I felt very confident. I already had a Sommelier title, so I was pretty familiar with most of the information.  However, I had to pay a lot of attention on the sections dealing with the United State and Canada which were newer to me, and also on the more in depth information/details about the rest of countries.

I was very excited when the classes started.  By then, I had made my study plan. I had everything under control until I had to make my first quiz. I was not expecting it to be a written quiz. I read the question, I knew the answer, but I started to panic.  While I had studied English years earlier, I was out of practice. All my wine knowledge was pretty clear in Spanish, but I did not know how to translate it because of the technical terms. At that moment, I realized I had to make a double effort: relearn English and learn new information about the wide world of wine. I decided to register for an online English course (OpenEnglish.com).

LTGST is a mnemonic used by Miss Jane. While it means more than “Long Time Gonna Study This”, at that time, that is what it meant to me. It was going to be a long journey, but it turned out to be a wonderful one.

How to Study

You could just read. I read a lot. But the online classes were amazing. The way Miss Jane helped me to understand the content is priceless. Because of the language difference, I decided to take the course twice. I attended to all the classes and did every quiz. My friends and family say I am a nerd.  I don’t agree, I’m just a person oriented to excellence and I wanted to do this the best way possible.

I dedicate a lot of time studying. I memorized many things but focused on really understand why things were the way they were. Mnemonic became part of my study methods, and LTGST moved on to mean Location, Terroir, Grapes, Style, and Terminology.

I wrote hundreds of flash cards. I put the entire workbook content onto my computer, and also created my own questions based on my readings. I used the document to write out the answers as many times as necessary. By the end of my study process I had 121 pages in Word (Calibri 9). Maybe I am a nerd :S

I remember reading a couple of blogs which said you just needed to read the book and that would be enough to pass the test. I don’t think that’s true. In fact, I think everything depends on your wine knowledge when you start. I personally recommend this certification for those who are already in the wine industry, and have also undergone some formal study like the CMS (Level 1 or 2) or the WSET (Level  1 or 2).

It also depends on how serious you take this.  I was aiming for the title of Wine Specialist, so my goal was (and it is) to honor this title. For me, it was not only about passing the test,  it was about becoming a better professional, capable of sharing more knowledge with my students and wine enthusiast, as well as having the base to become a formal Wine Educator.

The Test

I took the test in a Pearson’s Center in Montevideo, Uruguay, on December 9th, 2014. I went there because there is no Pearson’s Center in Venezuela. The process was pretty easy. From the outset, I had aimed for a score of 98 points. Of course I really wanted 100, but I knew it was almost impossible.

I first answered the questions I was one hundred percent sure of. I then counted the questions I was not totally sure of, as well as those I thought I could not answer. There were 18. My thought was “it looks like I have already passed the test”. That calmed me down. My heart was beating so fast.

During the second round I was more relaxed. I spent more time reading the questions and their options, realizing I knew most of the answers. For the third round, I only had three questions left. One I knew the answer to, but due to a language mistake I picked the wrong one (it was about New Zealand), another one about the Chianti Sub-Zones (I knew the seven sub-zones, so I was probably already too tired and picked the wrong one), and one about Croatia. I had no clue about that one.

Society of Wine Educators Cover LetterMy final score was 97 points. I am so proud of myself. I did not get 98 (my goal) because of language confusion, but that was ok. I now have my title of Certified Specialist of Wine, my first step to becoming a Wine Educator.

I am now a very happy bilingual CSW graduate, and carry my title with pride!

ElizabethSociety of Wine Educators Certificate