Turning Wine Passion into Profession

The real scoop on becoming a Certified Specialist of Wine.


Once the purview of wine professionals, restaurant staff, and the geekiest of vinous geeks, in the last decade wine certifications have opened up to almost all levels of interest and knowledge. The big three in the U.S. are the Court of Master Sommeliers (focusing on wine knowledge and service), the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (or WSET, focused on the world of wine production and business), and the Society of Wine Educators (or SWE, concentrating on general wine knowledge and the ability to educate others in those topics). Most offer classes in major U.S. metro areas that are specifically geared to passing the certification exams.
While many might consider the pursuit of a wine certification to be going overboard, those in love with wine “get it.” They know that few other topics encompass so much depth about so many topics, including geography, chemistry, agriculture, art, history, and law (not to mention the complex aesthetic and sensual pleasures it gives us).
So you don’t have to be looking for a job in the wine industry to consider obtaining a wine certification; in fact, preparing and testing for the Society of Wine Educators’ Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) accreditation is one of the best ways to up your knowledge about all aspects of your favorite beverage. While it’s not inexpensive, it’s well worth the investment.
Here are a few tips that helped me pass (and, more importantly, get the most bang for the buck out of the process). These are in addition to the staples of taking straight SWE classes and reading their study guide (you didn’t think you were going to get out of that, did you?):
Indulge your passion.
The CSW is one of the few areas where your borderline-obsession with wine can and should be fully indulged. The more you get jazzed up about the chemistry, history, and geography of wine, the more fascinating you will find the details of the CSW material. While the certification understandably places emphasis on the geography and regional laws of fine wine, it also provides an excellent overview of wine’s production methods, major grape varieties, chemistry, and even practical aspects of storing and serving wine. In other words, it’s a geek’s wine dream.
Don’t ignore the part that goes into your mouth.
While the CSW exam does not include a tasting portion, studying about wine without tasting it is like trying to learn how to ski by reading about it while sitting in an easy chair. To get the most out of it, you need to connect the results of all of that knowledge with the end product. What better excuse would you have to seek out regions and styles of wines that are new to you than studying them? Nothing quite drives home esoteric topics like German quality and ripeness levels than tasting them for yourself and (literally) digesting the results of that knowledge.
Good luck, study hard, and enjoy the ride. And don’t forget to pop some corks after cracking open the books!
Snooth Editorial Says: What do you think? Will you turn your passion for wine into something more this year? Here is a list of schools and programs that you may wish to consider. Let us know if we missed any! 
The non-profit’s CSW program is above described. The following certificate programs are also available: 
Certified Wine Educator (CWE) Program
Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS) Program
Hospitality/Beverage Specialist Certificate
Become a formidable wine person. Based in the UK with locations worldwide and online, the WSET allows students to start with the very basics and work their way toward master status. Begin with a Foundations course. Graduate several years later with a Diploma.
Become a true-blue somm at your favorite restaurant. Fundamentals courses (72 hours) precede a 192 hours-long course resulting in a diploma.
This is serious business. Five years of wine industry experience is required prior to application. Students must pass through four rigorous levels of study to achieve Master Somm (MS) status. 
This is the wine lover’s Holy Grail. To date, just 312 people have achieved Master of Wine (MW) status. Roughly three years of self-directed study are required. The exam includes a blind tasting, four papers on theory, and one 10,000-word research paper. Are you up for the challenge?

Mentioned in this article


  • Love my CSW and the new study guide looks fantastic!

    Jan 21, 2015 at 5:52 PM

  • Taking courses with The International Wine Guild as an enthusiast. It has most definitely increased my enjoyment of wine! And drinking wine is part of the program😃

    Jan 22, 2015 at 7:54 AM

  • Snooth User: Tiakittie
    1041141 89

    Avoid the ISG at all costs!!...I am still trying to get a refund for my diploma course tuition! It never ran and I can't reach anyone...not even the President!! So I am starting over with WSET...will be doing my level 3 this fall.

    Jan 22, 2015 at 11:02 AM

  • Becoming a CSW was enjoyable, tough and rewarding. I didn't realize how well respected the post-nominal was until a well known MS/MW/CWE told me that it was the equivalent to WSET level 3. And yes, the manual makes for a wonderful reference tool - if it's still in one piece after all that studying! I wholeheartedly recommend the program to anyone who really wants to go nerdy about wine, whether for personal or professional reasons.

    Jan 23, 2015 at 12:44 PM

  • Snooth User: MonBon
    1802061 13

    Great article! San Francisco Wine School offers an amazing prep course for CSW, both online and in San Francisco. Both programs have wine tasting components that really help students prepare for the rigorous exam. The prep course is the brain child of Master Sommelier David Glancy, who currently sits on the board of directors for the Society of Wine Educators, so he knows his stuff! Check them out here: http://www.sfwineschool.com or they are also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sfwineschool

    Jan 26, 2015 at 1:59 PM

  • Thanks, all!

    Jan 26, 2015 at 3:02 PM

  • Snooth User: DM94523
    77883 116

    If you truly want to turn your passion into a profession, you can become a Wine Ambassador with Boisset Wine Living and start your own career (or expand your hobby) in the wine business. Becoming a recognized member of the trade opens up a wealth of opportunities to both enhance and share your knowledge. Check out the Lifestyle link at http://www.boissetwineliving.com/de... for more information!

    Jan 26, 2015 at 3:47 PM

  • Nice wrap up! Napa Valley Wine Academy offers both a 4-day Intensive CSW Exam-Prep course as well as WSET Levels 1-3. They also just added the Italian Wine Professional program to their courses. Check them out at http://napavalleywineacademy.com - they also offer CSW and WSET in Tampa Florida at Bern's Epicurean Hotel! Their instructors include Master Sommeliers, Masters of Wine, Certified Wine Educators, and Diploma holders from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.
    their Facebook page is here https://www.facebook.com/NapaValley...

    Jan 27, 2015 at 7:38 PM

  • Snooth User: fjmuto
    749521 23

    Where is a good place for a wine lover to start? I really wine andall of the components that go ino making a fine wine.I want to share my knowledge of wine with those who do not understand the excellence of wine and would rather drink beer, YUK! I have become an amateur wine afficionado! I am really interested in the CWE program.

    Jan 29, 2015 at 7:33 PM

  • If you are interested in the CWE, you should start with the CSW! SWE offers excellent online classes (I took their online class and passed with a score of 92) and other resources as well. All the info may be found on the SWE website.

    Jan 30, 2015 at 8:50 AM

  • Snooth User: Jtincknell
    Hand of Snooth
    37646 30

    Do you have the basic pricing on the cost of the various programs?

    May 04, 2015 at 9:11 PM

  • If you really want to learn the hand-on winemaking and also travel to the old world wine country of Spain while you make your own wine look here http://www.bestofspain.com.au/ultim...
    I recommend it 100%. I learnt more in the 3 weeks there than in a whole year at Uni.

    May 04, 2015 at 10:59 PM

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