You are! If you have ever explained a wine to a customer, or conducted some staff training, then you are a Wine Educator. While most of the early members of a group called the Society of Wine Educators taught classes on their own, or in conjunction with a community college, the information was the key. It was soon agreed, however, that even with less formality, when a retailer conducts in-store tastings, a distributor comes to your store to do the same, a public relations person promotes certain wines, or a wine writer explains wine to his readers, everyone qualifies as a ‘Wine Educator.’
The Society of Wine Educators began more than 30 years ago, with about 100 charter members. Today, the Society of Wine Educators has almost 3,000 members from all over the world, and in all facets of the wine business.
The highlight of the year is the annual conference. Members say it is ‘like going to wine camp.’ Even people who are not in the business, but who simply love wine, come to the conferences. They almost always take place in cities that are near wine regions, for optional pre- or post- conference tours. While there are more conferences held on the West Coast, the most recent one, this past summer, was in Washington, DC, where a group visited Barboursville Vineyard, a major Virginia winery, at the end of the conference. One of the most interesting visits awhile ago, was to the Okanagan Valley, when the conference was held in British Columbia.
At the main part of this year’s 3-day conference, the opening lunch had a Champagne tasting with 6 different styles of non-vintage (or ‘multi-vintage’) Champagnes, where differences regarding blends and the use of reserve wines were explained. This session alone would benefit a retailer who is helping a customer select a Champagne.
France was well represented with sessions on the MÃ©doc, a Chateau Lagrange vertical, the Cote d’Or of Burgundy, and a comparison of Chateauneuf-du-Papes. There was also a seminar on dry Rieslings with examples from Germany and Austria, a tasting demonstrating the intricacies of blending Portuguese grapes, wine regions of Spain, Amarone’s new DOCG classification, wines of Tuscany, and the wines of southern Italy, all conducted by notable speakers, many of whom flew to the U.S. to speak at the conference.
The Southern Hemisphere was showcased with a session on South Africa’s Chenin Blanc grape and also its distinctive red blends, as well as wines of New Zealand, and the range of Malbecs in Argentina.
From the U.S., the 320 attendees got to taste Pinot Noir in different sub-appellations of the Willamette Valley, top American sparkling wines, wines from Washington State, and wines from Napa and Sonoma.
There were also sessions on Bourbon and Scotch whiskies, as well as two different sessions on SakÃ©s.
Much of the Society of Wine Educators’ activities center on Certification. Successful candidates can put specific letters after their names (‘post-nominals.’) The Society offers Study Guides, review sessions and testing to obtain these. Presently, there are three levels being offered. The first is CSW, or Certified Specialist of Wine. You, as a retailer, would have little trouble passing this test, since you work with so much of the information it covers. The second is CWE, or Certified Wine Educator. This test has both multiple choice and brief essay questions, plus two blind tastings ‘ one on wine identification, and one on wine faults. A brief demonstration of teaching skills is also part of this level. Recently, the Society added CSS, or Certified Specialist of Spirits. This covers types of distillation and distilled products from around the world. A level on Hospitality is being developed.
Add in networking, and seeing friends from across the country. Disclaimer: I have been to almost every conference, and have gotten more out of it than I can ever give. For more information, go to www.societyofwineeducators.org.