To Certify or Not to Certify? That is the Question.

by Miki, This Is The Life Winer

The Traveling Winers’ 1st Wine Bloggers Conference!

For six days in July, I felt like I was in a whirlwind.  Elizabeth (The Hippy Winer), Tom Joe (Hops r’ Better Winer) and I (This is the Life Winer) were attending the Wine Bloggers Conference in Buellton, California.  This was our first time to attend this meeting.  As I can only speak for myself, I am here to tell you that it was a very fun, collegial and educational event.  There was opportunity after opportunity to attend multiple parties, taste hundreds of wines, network with colleagues in the blogging space and learn on a multitude of topics.  One such topic was “Wine Certifications: Which is Right For You?”.


As you hopefully know by now, I love wine.  I enjoy the mystery that comes with every bottle and every glass.  I enjoy putting my nose deep in the glass, opening my nostrils and taking in the deepest breath simply to see what awaits me.  I enjoy taking that anticipated sip, swirling it around in my mouth making sure it hits all sides and trying to match the flavors with past experiences of food, spice and earth.  All that said, I feel inadequate in my self-educated state as it relates to wine, and thirst for a deeper understanding of the fruit, the vine and the juice.  So enter the session on wine certification.


Why am I writing this blog?

I am writing this blog for two specific reasons.  One is to provide some education to you, the reader, in the event that you are also curious about this topic.  The second reason is to somehow try and hold myself accountable for making a decision on the best certification for me and to commit publicly to undertaking this educational challenge.  This is something I have wanted to do for some time but have not made the commitment.


The certification programs

There are several certifying organizations and within each program are a number of levels.  Each organization has a different slant to its education, both in the information taught and the method of teaching.  Although there are numerous certifying organizations throughout the world, this educational session only focused on three of them, the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust), SWE (Society of Wine Educators) and the CMS (Court of Masters Sommeliers).  Here is a quick review:



  • Has 5 levels of which the first 3 are not pre-requisites for each other.  In other words, you can jump in at any level as long as you can pass the test at the end.  However, for levels 4 and 5 you must pass the previous level to enroll.
  • Are taught by an Approved Programme Provider (APP) around the world.
  • The learning environment is usually face-to-face therefore requires travel to the providers’ place of business, but may also be offered via distance learning by some instructors.
  • Focuses on the wine and spirits industry regarding production (viticulture and vinification), regions, styles, business and tasting methodology.



  • Offers the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and the Certified Wine Educator (CWE).
  • The CSW is a prerequisite for enrolling in the CWE.
  • Both are self-study courses with accompanying exams.
  • CSW covered topics are 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.
  • CWE covered topics are theory, blind tastings, and a formal wine topic presentation.



  • Focuses on beverage knowledge and service in hotels and restaurants.
  • Offers 4 levels – Level 1 – Introductory Sommelier, Level 2 – Certified Sommelier, Level 3 – Advanced Sommelier, Level 4 – Master Sommelier
  • Level 1 – review of the world’s wine producing regions, elements of wine service, the CMS Deductive Tasting Method (grid).
  • Level 2 – Blind tasting utilizing the Deductive Tasting Method (grid), theory examination, demonstration of CMS Service Standards. (Prerequisite – Level 1)
  • Level 3 – Practical restaurant and wine service and salesmanship, written theory examination on advanced Sommelier knowledge, blind tasting utilizing the Deductive Tasting Method (grid). (Prerequisite – Level 1 & 2; invitation by The Court)
  • Level 4 – Same as above but at the highest level.  (Prerequisite – Level 1 & 2 & 3; invitation by The Court)


My decision and commitment

So here I go, making that commitment.  After having attended the session at The Wine Bloggers Conference, completing my own research online and speaking with several new-found colleagues in the industry, I have decided to enroll in the WSET Level 1 Award in Wine.  The cost is $250, is a one-day session on a Sunday and is offered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a quick plane flight from Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Just with any new and challenging endeavor, sometimes all you need to do is quit talking about it and “just do it”!  So here I go.  Will shoot for October 26th.  Will keep you posted.




Miki “This is the Life” Winer


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