“So, did you take sommelier classes?”
That’s a question I get a lot. The answer is no, I didn’t take “sommelier classes.” In fact, sommelier classes don’t really exist. What do exist are several independent organizations that “certify” wine professionals and sommeliers for exorbitant fees that can exceed the cost of two years of full-time community college all to be certified in…. booze. Fucking booze. And virtually every program has protocols in place where you can’t naturally test into whatever level is suitable for you, instead requiring advancement through the levels and the payment of each level’s fees, even if professional and personal experience and natural ability doesn’t necessitate it.
In the end, what do you get out of certification? I’m not certain. You can definitely learn a lot of good information, but you can also learn that information by reading books and tasting a lot of wine. You can learn the wine industry’s dictated vocabulary and writing style and become part of the industry hegemony, but do you really want to do that? You might also be able to get really good at blind tasting wine and identifying region, vintage and varietal, but that’s nothing more than a classy parlor trick. Do you want to be a trained monkey amusing millionaires on the Santa Monica Pier that is modern fine-dining?
I wouldn’t say that wine certification programs don’t offer some value in the same way I wouldn’t say that Amway doesn’t sell same some useful products. A lot can be gained by the programs but just as much or more can be gained by independent personal and professional development. I can’t tell you the number of “Certified Sommeliers” and “WSET Advanced” people I’ve met who are surprised that Aligote is a white Burgundy grape and that Garnacha (Grenache) is Spanish, not French.
I also don’t mean to disparage anybody who has taken wine courses and gotten value, pleasure and use from them. I think that’s fantastic and, again, they can have value. I’m merely questioning the structure of the program and the true motives of the administrating bodies.
If a certifying organization aspired to any legitimacy, it would offer its exams and coursework as two separate entities. Anyone could take the examinations for a basic administrative fee and if they passed, they passed–no coursework required. The organizations could then offer adjunct coursework to assist those who wanted or required additional training to pass the examinations. That’s how the SAT, California State Bar and Advanced Placement tests operate and it works well. Some of them all but require a training course (State Bar) some of them don’t at all (SAT) but all of them can be taken and (theoretically) passed without coursework that takes time and a whole lot of money. As it stands right now, the CMS/WSET/MW is essentially the same as if the Educational Testing Service mandated expensive Princeton Review courses before being allowed to take their tests and then collected some or all of the proceeds from the course providers. Sounds pretty much like bullshit when you look at it that way, doesn’t it?
Now wasn’t that a narrowly focused rant?