Are the CSW and WSET certifications helpful ways to find a job in the wine industry? | Ask Dr. Vinny | Wine SpectatorDear Dr. Vinny,
Is prepping for and taking the Certified Specialist of Wine exam a good idea for someone looking to get into the wine industry?
—Lucien, Shelton, Conn.
There are a lot of different wine certifications out there, like the Certified Specialist of Wine, or CSW, that you’re asking about. I can’t speak for all employers, but I think that wine classes like certification-prep courses are a great idea for anyone interested in wine, whether the end goal is a job or just greater appreciation. The CSW exam is no cakewalk, and many people don’t pass it on their first attempt, so that would certainly come with some bragging rights. “The CSW is a great first step for anyone interested in learning about wine and being able to ‘talk wine,’” Wine-industry recruiter Amy Gardner of Wine Talent told me.
Another popular certification is the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, or WSET. It’s a more rounded curriculum covering more than just wine, and many industry professionals carry WSET certs. For those more ambitious, there are the Master Sommelier and Master of Wine programs. The Master Sommelier certification is definitely geared toward people working in restaurants or similar settings, since it includes a strong service side, and a few hundred people can claim worldwide. (The documentary film Somm followed four MS candidates though their exam prep.) A more theoretical discipline is the Master of Wine, and there are currently only about 350 MWs in the world. It typically takes years of dedication to get either of these achievements, and members of both clubs usually end up in pretty high-level jobs.
If you’re trying to get into the wine business, relevant experience is key and, as Gardner points out, these types of certifications not only show commitment to wine, but classes and tasting groups can end up being invaluable networking tools. Be sure to capitalize on the connections you make there. Get business cards, and send thank-you notes like your mom and Dr. Vinny taught you.
Of course, you can get wine knowledge from taking classes at a local college, or even from an online wine course, like Wine Spectator School. Go to tastings, keep a journal, build up your confidence and vocabulary any way you know. Finally, Gardner recommends you always try to use your past experience to your advantage for a wine-industry job. “If you’re an accountant at a manufacturing company, try finding work as an accountant in the wine industry. If you’re in facilities, look for a facilities job in the wine industry. That is the easiest way to play to your strengths and be successful in the wine industry.” Good advice!