I'd love to take a wine education program but all the institutions in my area charge an arm and a leg for the courses. What's the best way I can learn more in a cost-effective way?
– Enthusiast, Vancouver, BC
Having a wine certification is a bit like having a culinary degree. Is a certification required to become a wine professional? Absolutely not—like cooking or management, it is a field that is very much about what you know and what you can do. Can a wine certification open doors to career opportunities and is it a valuable credential? Absolutely.
The advantage of a formal program is that for many of us, when balancing work (especially in the restaurant industry), personal and family life, and professional development—professional development does not get the attention it deserves. Enrolling in a formal program has value not only in learning the material but also in carving a distinct time out of our lives for wine education.
But there are many ways to learn about wine. Mimi Martin, owner and director of Wine and Spirit Archive, a wine education center in Portland and Seattle says, “Um, how 'bout a library card? But seriously folks, the Andrea Robinson book, Great Wine Made Simple, offers a great way to teach yourself about wine at home (she walks you through several tastings). Set up the tastings with friends or family, because it's really helpful to taste in a group.” A group of young restaurant managers that I know started holding their own tastings on Thursday mornings. But, Martin adds, “The certification programs are totally worth it!”
Beyond self-teaching, look for community college wine programs such as Anne Arundel Community College’s Hospitality, Culinary and Tourism Institute. These publicly supported programs may be more reasonably priced than a private wine school. Finally, the last decade has brought us increasingly informative and often free (excluding the cost of wine) or low cost web courses, guided tastings, and even online certification courses.