Monday, May 14, 2012

Rant: Why Do You Call Yourself A CSW?

Pretentious twaddle?

On Twitter, you will find some wine people using the initials "CSW" (Certified Specialist of Wine) after their name. You can also find some wine blogs where that certification is given a very prominent position on the front page of their site. The certification sounds very impressive, providing an appearance of credibility, an assumed warranty of wine knowledge. But what does being a CSW actually entail? Should readers view this designation as a guarantee of reliability?

I am certainly in favor of wine writers attaining certifications, which I see as a way for writers to expand their own knowledge. I don't see it as a necessity but more a strong recommendation, a way to challenge yourself and expand your mind. I have received a few certifications myself, choosing certifications that allow me a more in-depth study of specific topics, such as Spanish wines, Champagne, Port and Sake. In addition, I believe certifications are merely an additional step in a greater learning process. There is always much more to learn and writers, in all fields, should continue to accumulate knowledge and experience.

The Society of Wine Educators is responsible for the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) certification, which consists of a self-study course and exam. There are no classes a person needs to attend, no instructor to guide your education. The exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and you have one hour to complete it. You only need to score at least 75% to receive your certification. Personally, I don't consider that to be a particularly difficult burden. It is all multiple choice and there is no tasting element. And 75% would usually be a "C" in any school course, passing but not particularly impressive.

The exam covers a wide range of topics, including: "Physiology of Taste, Wine Composition & Chemistry; Faults; Viticulture & Enology; Labels, Laws & Wine Regions; The U.S. Wine Industry; Wine's Contribution to Health; Wine Etiquette & Service; Food & Wine Pairing; and Responsible Beverage Alcohol Service." Wine Regions occupy the majority of questions, from 12 questions on France to 3 questions on South Africa.

Frankly, this wide extent of coverage should be considered more of a Generalist than a Specialist. So, the proper designation should be a CGW (Certified Generalist of Wine) rather than a CSW. You can't really be a specialist of all wine, as there is far too much information for any single person to know. And the small amount of questions for each wine region do not provide sufficient evidence of a specialized knowledge of that region. Thus, the CSW designation is not really accurate, and the general public is misled as to the true extent of the certification.

I also consider a CSW certification to be more of an introductory education, and not something indicative of advanced knowledge of wine. It is more of a wine overview than an immersive depth of understanding. So I don't understand a desire to use the initials after someone's name. In some respects, it seems like it could be a sign of insecurity, trying to convince people of your wine knowledge with some initials rather than showing your knowledge in your writing. For some, it might seem pretentious twaddle.

A PhD or JD after your name is indicative of a true achievement, of rigorous education and testing. For wine, a MW (Master of Wine), is also indicative of a similar effort and achievement, a worthy addition to one's name. But a CSW doesn't carry a similar cachet. Even if you are able to add the initials to your name, that doesn't mean you have to do so, or even should do so. Ask yourself why you use those initials and explore your motivation. Is it really necessary? I don't think so.


Jason Phelps said...


Good one today! I can't add anything because you covered my concerns better than I could.

For a time I thought I might want to pursue sommelier certification. Once you get to Level 2 it is very much a practical education and difficult. I joined the Boston Sommelier Society in order to learn more and participate in group tastings. Do you know what I found? The certification is less interesting to me now. It's interaction with the group, the tastings and educational seminars that are why I continue to be a member. I might not have a certification next to my name, but the experience education will be quite obvious when I open my mouth to speak. That's good enough for me!


Marie Payton said...

Richard, I always enjoy your articles but this one has me shaking my head a little bit. It makes me think of the joke 'What do you call the person who graduated last in medical school ... '

As someone who is learning about wine, I would love to see someone as knowledgeable as yourself write an article comparing the different certifications as well as other methods that folks have used to learn rather than an article that seems to attack this particular certification without the context of the others.

You have the most knowledge of sake of anyone I personally know but I think an article like this could lead someone to attack your Certified Sake Professional label, also a multiple choice test ...

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Jason,
Certifications have their place, and some are better than others. But it is but one step in a larger process.. Experience matters plenty.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Marie:
I don't add the CSP initials to my twitter name. Plus, though the Sake cert is also multiple choice, it is not a self study course. It is 3 days of instructor led lessons, and a tasting of 90+ sakes. So you have limited study time before the exam. Yes, the exam could be more difficult and I don't claim it is especially difficult. But the limited time frame of he course does make it tougher.

Maybe I will write an article at some point on the various certs. I do recommend certification as a personal challenge but it needs to be kept in context.

Anonymous said...

As the person in charge of certifications and education for the Society of Wine Educators, I have to disagree with Richard, as much as I respect his opinion. The CSW is a rigorous program; only ~50% pass the exam and being able to call oneself a Certified Specialist of Wine is indeed something of which one should be proud (and hence, want to use the CSW postnominal). The Specialist (as opposed to Generalist) aspect came before my time, but given the level of knowledge we require of our candidates, I do think it is a valid title/label. Our programs are intentionally self-study to permit people to study at their own pace and at a lower cost than many other programs. We do test tasting skills at our higher-level, Certified Wine Educator certification, which has an even lower pass rate (~12% on the first try; most people require numerous tries, including some MW candidates).

Whether someone chooses to pursue formal wine education (and which program) is their personal decision, but certainly, the Society and its certification programs are highly valued and respected in the wine industry.

Tracy Ellen Kamens, Ed.D., DWS, CWE
Education & Certification Consultant
Society of Wine Educators

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Tracy:
Hope you are well. As you are in charge of certs & such, & I assume deriving income from such, then you have an incentive to defend it.

The 50% pass rate does not necessarily mean the test is difficult. It can also indicate that self study fails, that too many people don't study sufficiently on their own & would benefit from instructor led education.

I, and others, see the CSW as an introductory certification, the first level of a greater path. I can't see this as a specialist degree. It covers far too many topics, none really in great depth. Do 3 questions on South Africa prove you are a specialist on South Africa? The same can be said of each other topic. A person gains a comprehensive, general overview of the wine world. Like a jack of all trades, master of none.

Can someone really be a wine specialist if they have never tasted many wines? Technically, a person could attain the CSW and never have ever drank wine. Or only drink California wine. To me, that is indicative of more generalized knowledge and not specialized knowledge.

Take care

Fringe Wine said...


I understand your criticisms of the CSW as a true measure of expertise, but it seems a bit mean-spirited and unnecessary to then attack those who have taken the test, passed it and are proud enough of their achievement to use the initials after their name that their passing has entitled them to use.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have taken and passed the CSW exam and did briefly put the letters CSW after my name in my Twitter profile. I did this for about a week and just felt uncomfortable about it and stopped. It wasn't because I was ashamed of the title or thought that it was a worthless certification, but rather I stopped doing it for the same reason that I don't put the letters BA or EdM after my name, which I am also entitled to use as a result of the education that I've received. I just don't feel comfortable advertising that kind of stuff to a bunch of people I don't know. It's the same reason I don't have pictures of myself on my blog. It's private information to me, but I understand that it isn't to some people.

I also agree with Marie that it seems really disingenuous to write a piece like this and have "Certified Sake Professional" prominently displayed under your picture right on your website. I'm not really sure how that's all that much different from having the initials on your Twitter profile. You also make the point that the CSW is less strenuous than other degrees like JD or PhD, which it obviously is, and your argument to differentiate the CSP from the CSW is to point out that it is instructor led and takes place over three days, rather than being self-taught over an indefinite period of time. Even if we grant that those two criteria are sufficient to make the CSP more rigorous (which I don't, but don't have any good reasons for other than to say that I just reject the premises), is three days really sufficient to be considered a specialist in anything? To carry the advanced degree metaphor forward, would you feel comfortable if your cardiologist had only three days of cardiology training in medical school? Or if your personal injury lawyer only studied torts (or whatever) for three days? Yes, they're more complicated subjects and there's much more at stake, but I'm having a hard time thinking of anything I'd feel comfortable calling someone a specialist in if I knew that they had studied it for three days. I know that it took me longer than three days to read the CSW review materials and it took much longer than that to re-read certain parts and do the requisite studying so that I felt like I could pass the exam, and I'm not saying that the week it took me to study qualifies me to call myself a specialist, but I am saying that three days is certainly insufficient.

In general I agree with your assessment of the CSW as an exam that covers generalities and which is probably overstating its case that those who pass the exam are actually "specialists" in wine, but I really don't see that it is necessary to question the motivations of and insult those who have taken and passed the exam and feel proud of that accomplishment. I remember being very proud when I graduated high school, even though I knew I would go on to college and beyond, but it didn't stop me from appreciating that accomplishment at that time. And even if I hadn't gone any further and had just received a high school degree, there's nothing wrong with being proud of that fact either. The things people choose to be proud of about themselves are their own business and it's just mean-spirited to take shots at them for it without any kind of provocation.

Richard Auffrey said...

If you "understand my criticisms of the CSW as a true measure of expertise," then why is it "mean-spirited" to question why people use the initials after their name? I think those initials can be misleading, so why shouldn't I question their use? Why be so defensive?

Though you claim you want that info private, it is listed on your public Blogger profile, though it does state " I am currently awaiting results on my CSW exam." It also lists your other certifications.

You are in error as I have never stated the CSP degree makes me a "specialist." It is not even part of the initials. Though the course certainly covered a more specialized topic than that of the CSW course. And included a tasting portion, which the CSW does not. I do believe it is a more challenging certification than CSW, but it is also easier than some of the higher wine certifications. You simply reject my premise without any real argument.

I don't understand though why you essentially agree the CSW is more about generalities and overstates its case to be a specialist, but want to defend people's use of those initials. If you agree the title itself is somewhat misleading, then why defend people who use it? Should we not desire accurate designations?

I have repeatedly stated I support certifications. And I don't see asking questions as being out of line. Some people seem to be too defensive on this issue. I just don't see CSW as being an accurate term. And though you seem to agree with that position, you continue to support people using it. That puzzles me.

Fringe Wine said...


You are of course correct about the use of the word "specialist" for the CSP. I looked at it several times on your site and misread it every time. My apologies for that.

My blogger profile is wildly out of date, as I suspect many people's profiles may be for sites like Blogger or Twitter. I set that up around when I first started the wine blog and haven't thought twice about it since. I had actually completely forgotten that it existed and have now removed that content completely. Professing that kind of information is something I had a change of heart about and apparently didn't do a thorough enough job of wiping it away everywhere.

There's a difference in desiring accurate designations and attacking people personally for their use of some of those designations. My main criticism has to do with your supposition that people using the CSW initials may be "insecure" or may be trying to cover up their ignorance with credentials rather than with actual content. There's no good reason to just automatically assume that of people who use the initials, and it feels mean-spirited to me that you automatically jump to that kind of a judgement. When I first took the exam I certainly thought that it carried more cachet and credibility than it turns out that it actually does and I used the initials because I was proud that I had passed the exam, not because of some deep character flaw.

We both agree that the CSW is perhaps not all that it purports to be, though I suspect that you believe that it is more deceitful and misleading than I do. Our principal disagreement, I think, is in how we respond to those who elect to use those initials after their name in public forums. Where you see insecurity and pretension, I see someone who probably spent a lot of time and effort studying for an exam and is proud of their accomplishment. You value their accomplishment less than they do and are taking great pains to point it out. I'm just saying that's mean.

Richard Auffrey said...

I am not sure you read my initial post properly, which is causing you to label me as mean. Why do you automatically assume that everyone who uses the CSW initials has noble motives? That seems a bit naive, ignorant of basic human nature.

My statements criticizing people using the initials were not absolutes or definitive. I stated that "in some respects" it "seems like it could" or "it might seem." That raises a possibility rather than stating those are definite explanations. And those possibilities are based on my interactions with some who use those initials. I did not state all who use the initials are pretentious or insecure. So your accusation against me is not truly warranted.

Jason Phelps said...


One of the enjoyable yet sometimes frustrating aspects of getting to know you has been your fearless asking of the difficult question. We've disagreed on several, and a few of my own questions and assertions, but I've never felt that you were working from a bad place. You don't need me to defend you, so I won't.

This was no slouch of a question and the debate that has followed has been interesting. If that is one of the goals, asking this question was a partial win.

As soon as I saw this post I was sure that if it caught a fire it was going to be a wild ride. I too share some of your concerns and because I don't have the same skill at asking difficult questions I have never asked it in my own channels.

The piece that is missing is perhaps a statement from you characterizing whether you feel as though you've come across enough folks with a CSW that weren't really functional with the knowledge for you to question the motivations of the seekers of it. Is that the case?

I've come across a few and it has saddened me, especially when those people were in a position or exposed to opportunities that I know I could rock 10 times as well without the acronym next to my name. Such is life. Too often form trumps function in this world and competition is about being in the right place or knowing the right people and not one's own inherent skill. I try to keep my head above that and reach for what is in front of me. I know I could prove my mettle in quite a few arenas against apparently more qualified challengers, and I can live with that.

To quote my friend Kid Rock, "you get what you put in, and people get what they deserve." Richard, you keep putting in and it will no doubt reward you. Everyone else, keep that in mind. The world settles things in strange ways sometimes.


Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Jason:
As I mentioned in my last comment, my concerns are based on some interactions with people using those initials. And I know I am not alone in my concerns as I have had this discussion in private with others too. It is good to know you have faced a similar circumstance at times.

I don't mind asking the tough questions, and my skin is thick enough to handle any criticisms for doing so. I think it is very important tha such questions get raised. It can be a path to improvement, to stimulating debate, to positive change. Thanks for your support.

Marie Payton said...

Looking forward to your future article about certifications and experience! You always make me think ...

Anonymous said...


I have to agree with you, but for different reasons. I took the CSW a few months ago, and thought the test was a piece of shit. Questions didn't make sense, tons of typos, everyone in the room was looking around and rolling there eyes. Im sticking to WSET.

Gotta stay anon, cause I work in the biz...

Anonymous said...


Thanks for bringing this topic up. I earned the CSW quite a few years ago and used to be quite proud of the designation. However, about a year ago I was asked to help coordinate a CSW exam myself. I took a look at the test and was outraged by the number of questions that just didn't make sense. It was like someone who didn't know much about wine wrote the test. Since that day, I have not used the initials CSW after my name. I do, however, proudly sport the WSET letters.

Anonymous said...

I think the part that you are mis-understanding or under-appreciating is that the CSW is not about knowing the answers to at least 75 of the 100 questions, but it is more about the vast amount of knowledge that one must have in order to be prepared for any of the possible questions. Someone must know much more about wine regions, laws, and production than just what is actually asked. Any test would be a breeze if you know what the questions were ahead of time.

Steve Morgan said...

I took the test not too long ago and had some concerns with many of the questions. They just weren't right. Two possible answers, no answers, couldn't understand what they were looking for. I sent four emails stating my concerns and never heard back from their "educational consultant" except once to say that she was in Spain.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the CSW's just one of many certifications - along with many other informal training opportunities - to expand, appreciate, and improve upon one's knowledge of wine, whether an armchair fan or a professional in the industry. In fact, it's quite common to seek multiple certifications or titles, as a way to challenge oneself academically or to edify their personal experience.

To me, the CSW (an exam offered by the Society of Wine Educators) is more of an encyclopedic venture, focusing on a survey of viti/viniculture. By no means should it (or any exam / accreditation) be the final step of one's wine-loving journey, especially since the subject's ever-changing and too unwieldy for most people to master in their lifetimes (unless you're a CWE or MS... and even then, what?).

I've taken the exam myself, passed, but I'm not a wine professional, so the idea of using the title's more nominal than it is a conspicuous credential I'd care to share on a business card or a Twitter handle. However, I think that your argument (that simply answering three questions about wine in South America doesn't make you a specialist in the field) seems likable, but I don't agree. The self-study exam (which is up to you to review it over three days, three weeks, three months, or however much time you need), is based on a text-heavy, 250-page study guide, broken down into about 25 units, with more than 6,000 facts, statistics, or pieces of knowledge that could possibly appear on the test.

To put this in perspective, the exam comes down to 100 randomly weighted, multiple-choice questions from each of the sections. Bluntly put, the CSW holds you accountable for this vast wealth of knowledge from the study guide, so if you don't know it, you're not going to pass. As Tracy mentioned, less than 55% of registered participants won't pass on the first try, including many who have years of experience on the floor or in sales.

Does passing the exam make you a specialist? I guess that's fairly debatable (and may seem silly to you), though I'd argue because of the rigorous preparation needed to pass, the amount of time required to study, and the critical thinking skills needed to interpret some the more difficult questions and precisely nuanced answers does warrant some recognition for those who successfully score 75% or above.

So let's be fair, Richard. If anyone's willing to dedicate their time and efforts to something that increases their knowledge or experience of wine, then it's worth acknowledgement. Why don't we let those who pass it decide whether using the post-nominal title's appropriate or not in context of their personal or professional goals and within the community of their own peers? I personally have no objections to someone using the CSW title, since it gives me some indication that the person has a fundamental knowledge that the majority of wine lovers don't.

Thanks for the discussion.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I don't think you should be too hung on the name. I don't think a "specialist of wine" is anymore misleading than a "Juris Doctor", which is not a doctorate degree but rather the entry qualification of a lawyer. Proper doctorate in law is JSD or SJD.

People in the industry would know what CSW is and regarded it as such.

As for passing rate, you shouldn't be too hung up on that either because the Pass for MW is a "mere" 65% (I wonder whether you know that). That however is the hardest 65% to get. One of the MW's said that it was more difficult than the Bar Exam.

So I think what you should focus on is the exam itself. It is normal to have several layers of qualification and it doesn't take a PhD in any area to claim oneself to be a profession.

Anonymous said...

There are so many accreditations available to us these days, in all fields. Criticizing one or the other based on the semantics of the acronym is missing the point. While the organizations that organize and host these exams are certainly making money (and why shouldn't they?), the exams and accreditations are goals that wine professionals, service industry professionals, and lay persons recognize and strive for to some extent or another. Passing ANY of these exams requires some amount of preparation, and in order to do well on the exam, one must expect all subjects to be covered. They are carrots for lovers of wine and/or wine professionalsa to aspire to. They motivate one to study the field, and to learn more about their chosen profession / avocation. It's a win-win. The more people know about wine, the better off the entire wine industry is. end of story. On a more practical level, if you are in the wine business in any way, the accreditations tell prospective employers that you have attained a certain amount of knowledge in your field, and that you take your field seriously. kudos to all who spend the time studying for all of these exams. pat yourself on the back. use the title if you choose. and keep on studying for the next one. no one can ever know everything there is to know about anything, but admitting ignorance is the first step to wisdom. cheers.

Kate & Jason Brandt said...

So which one IS the best certificate/degree of wine to get? Which one will be recognized within the wine industry? Is there one that is accredited? I was thinking of the CSW because I love wine and wanted to further my hobby and possibly do wine education in restaurants or work at a vineyard. I am a military spouse, so I would like to take this hobby with me at our different duty stations.

Thank you for your advice!

Anonymous said...

I found this thread because i read a resto review by a semi-pro journo with CSW after their name and was curious what has this person of poor taste and judgement had studied. Have to fully agree with Richard, worth doing the course no doubt but it's a misleadingly named memory exercise and the use of the letters is nothing more than pretentious twaddle.

Anonymous said...

I am graduate of Harvard Business School. I would never put MBA after my name as it would look pretentious to me. I am considering the CSW. If I am able to pass the exam, I will probably use the CSW after my name as its both fun and sends a signal that I care about wine enough to study it. For those who aren't Ivy grads, or maybe not even college grads.... put the CSW after your name. It tells me you care.

Anonymous said...

This article sounds as if it came from someone who failed his CSW exam. LOL!

Bob Becker said...

I know of only five legitimate certifications one can achieve:

Master Somm - 4 levels
Master of Wine - no levels
Certified Wine Educator - 2 Levels
WSET - 2 levels
CWP - 2 Levels

The Master Somm route is primarily for someone who wants to work in the restaurant business. A substantial portion of the Master Somm program
deals with Table service, mixed drinks and Spirits. You also must no cigars?? It's a great program but if you have no interest or plans to
work in restaurants you will invest a lot of time and energy studying things you will never use. I am a second level Somm and would not recommend this
program unless your in the restaurant business. T

Master of Wine is a fantastic certification but it takes a person on average 5 to 10 years to pass the tests involved. You even have to write a dissertation!!
This cert requires a total life commitment while studying
and years of intensive study. There are only 303 MW's in the world!! They invite 100 people each year to test and the fail rate is 90%. This blogger
says that having the MW behind your name is a "worthy addition but CSW does not have a similar cachet" That's like saying having Medic
behind your name does not have the cachet that MD does.

The WSET, Wine & spirits Trust is a world wide organization that is well known and respected in Europe but has little recognition in the USA.
They have two levels of Certification and they offer study guides to prepare. It would cost you over a $1000 to take the WSET tests. These also deal
substantially with food & wine pairing. I am a level I in the WSET program and it is much easier to acquire this cert then the CSW.

The Culinary Institute of America offers a two level program called Certified Wine Professional. This is an excellent program but is EXPENSIVE. I am a level
one CWP and it cost me nearly $700 to take this test. And...this program is Tough! Tests are very challenging.

The Society of Wine Educators has the two level wine program. CSW and CWE. I agree with the blogger that the title "CERTIFIED SPECIALIST OF WINE" is a
bit grandiose based on what it takes to acquire the cert. Only a 100 question test but this test is far far from easy. I studied using their guides for three months and
was still struggled to pass this. You must pass the CSW test before
you can take the CWE. I recently took the CWE and FAILED miserably! I am scheduled to take it again in January. There are a few Master somm's that also have the
CWE certification. If this were a hoky program as the blogger suggests I doubt seriously that Master Somm's would participate. This program is not cheap either.

To Take both levels costs about $500. They offer an excellent on line wine academy to study from and also offer study guides that are excellent. They also offer wine
maps of every region of the world that are very detailed. They also offer a one day seminar to prepare you for the CWE test. They also have an annual national conference where they offer numerous classes that are excellent.
I wish that when I started out 12 years ago pursuing certifications, I'd gone the Society of Wine
Educators route.

Renie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Renie said...

Because I, too, am a blogger and love wine, I decided that in order for me to up the credibility factor, I needed to get some certifications. While it always helps to study and learn, there's more to it in my unique situation. I am an African American woman *of some age* who realizes that nobody's going to listen to anything I have to say unless I have an alphabet soup of initials behind my name. It really doesn't matter if the tests are hard, easy, silly, or serious or the certifications world-class or "meaningless"; the fact is, like living together, my knowledge doesn't mean anything without the piece of paper.

Unlike several of the commentators here, I have to deal with certain perceptions and societal issues in this field that they may not. That's not a whine - it is what it is.{{shoulder shrug}} So I'm going to get as many of those initials after my name as I can and will be sporting them "loud and proud" on my site. I already know my s**t. This is my way of making sure that others know I know it, too. And the very first one starts with the CSW.

winewrangler said...

I think you are right about the CSW post nominal, as a certification with no tasting element either in training or exam is unusual. Although the French Wine Scholar exam has no tasting but the course has lots and it is a tough exam to pass. J personally use AIWS after my name as it demonstrates that I passed my WSET level 4 Diploma. BTW @Bob Becker there are 5 levels of WSET certificates with the top 3 allowing post nominals. I occasionally use CS as well (Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers) but only if relevant. I chose not to use WSET after my name when I passed my level 3 advanced (levels 1 and 2 have no post nominals!!) but respect those that do as it is a fairly demanding exam. I do sometimes feel a bit self conscious about using them and don't want to be accused of self aggrandisement! It's useful to let other professionals know your level of certification, without having to explicitly say it to them. There Are a few 'consultants' and 'educators ' that I have come across with no formal education and organisations like WSET at least offer peace of mind to customers. Their successful candidates can be found on their website! As for the CSW, these things are only as good as their level of respect within the industry. I haven't seen the exam but anyone expanding their knowledge should be encouraged, and the decision to use post nominals is a personal one. Are you genuinely proud of your achievement or are you try to impress others to feel better about yourself?

Anonymous said...

I'm an attorney who has passed two state bar exams the first try. I also just passed my CSW on the first go-round. The breadth and depth of what you're required to learn for the CSW is every bit as difficult and substantial as for either bar exam that I took--and I wasn't taking cupcake states, either.

Folks who pass should definitely be proud of their achievement! Not shamed with this kind of wine snobbery that so scars the industry...

Craig Felde said...

It seems that you are guilty of a particular arrogance yourself. If a designation is earned, and that designation is widely accepted in the industry or discipline, than using the post-nominals is fine. You think that this particular certification isn't as rigorous as others. Fine, that is your opinion, but those post-nominals you flash around make me think you are just a snob, feeling your qualifications are somehow better. Bunk. You are a blogger, nothing more, nothing less, and it seems you tout your own qualifications to help you with readership of your blog, so don't tell the woman form SWE that she is being self serving defending her organization's certs. I don't think you are mean, just helplessly arrogant. I am not ashamed or self concious about my achievements, even though I would like to have some humility when I cite them. The Rev. Craig S. Felde M.Div. PgDTheo.

Cesar X. Chavez said...

I've been in the wine business for 40 years now. I started by working retail, then was a sales rep for a wholesale import company. Worked in management, owned my own wine shop and also in the last 15 years started a wine distributorship that is still going on today. I was one of the 1st ten Americans to sit for the MW exam in 1989 and did not pass the theoretical part after 3 attempts, but did pass the practical. Passing an exam for certification has always been rather subjective because the entity that creates the test is picking questions according to their preferences of knowledge. I certainly could setup my own test questions and could almost guarantee many MW's or CWE's would fail the 1st time out. That's because I have my own criteria of what I consider important information for being certified as an expert or specialist. I've never seen questions on any wine certifications about hands-on experience regarding retail, wholesale or the import day-to-day business. I know several MW's and CWE's personally and I can attest that most of them do not know how to sell a bottle of wine to a customer. After all, what actually keeps the wine business going? Sales of course, you couldn't really have much to write about if no wines were sold.
Cesar X. Chavez said...

Do you know the requirements for Master of Wine? Not just anyone can achieve such a lofty goal. You have to blindly taste over 30 wines and tell them year, vineyard, grape, etc., AND YOU CANT MISS ANY! So, to compare this designation with that of a CSW is unfair and ridiculous. I have neither of these credentials and probably never will. I believe however, that one must give credit where credit is due. If you have no initials after your name, guess what. They likely know more than you and they are educating themselves. It's a great place to start and go from there. Perhaps somellier (sp). But even that designation does not compare with Master of Wine of which there are less than 30 in the entire US. So, get over yourselves. God, I need a beer.

Reel Grapes said...

When I took the CSW in 2012, I methodically broke the 250-page manual into about 175 gFlashcard sets of 60 to 70 wine details each (took about three months to accomplish this, day and night). That's over 10,000 bits of information you're accountable for before taking the exam.

It's not that that anyone signs up for the exam thinking that, let's say, only ten recurring questions will be on the topic of wine chemistry or that it all comes down to 3 familiar questions about South Africa (it's not that simple or easy). The intimidating uncertainty lies in the fact, that out of 10,000 bits of information that can be quite carefully synthesized into SWE's randomly issued set of 100 complex multiple choice questions, you had better know the book cover-to-cover or you won't pass (hence, the low 50% success rate).

Wine knowledge is blissfully immeasurable. The CSW study guide's not an Oxford Companion, but it's quite comprehensive and detailed. If you take the exam and pass, "specialist" seems like a pretty justifiable post-nominal, given the fact that most exam takers study 6 to 18 months in preparation for something that all comes down to 100 questions that could pull from, combine, and require you to make insanely deductive choices about any of those 10,000 specialty details at any given time.

The test measures your accountability for the entire guide; you're not given a crib sheet in advance pointing to 3 to 5 possible questions about each particular topic. In reality, you could be asked to evaluate and make a critical decision based on hundreds of details about a particular topic -- that's by design to weed out the slackers.

It seems this blogger doesn't shine the light and the vast complexity of what's required to pass this exam. My advice to him? Do your homework; everyone else who passed the CSW did theirs, too, and should be celebrated - not criticized - for the phenomenal effort.