Francine Lubera of Baltimore, Maryland, recently earned her title of Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), an internationally recognized certification denoting a high level of wine knowledge and expertise. The Society of Wine Educators, a non-profit organization, founded in 1977, authorizes the certification, publishes the materials, and administrates the testing.
Francine had been interested in wine for years and became the “go to” person for choosing wines whenever entertaining clients or out with friends. She began to think about how to start a business within the wine industry. Believing that some formal training would be important to her credibility going forward, she decided to study for the CSW. As she said to me, “I had no idea what I was getting into!”
Individuals can study for the exam on their own or attend classes and use the 22 chapter Study Guide. Francine opted for a series of four half-day classes over the course of a month. The curriculum is intensive and includes such subjects as Physiology of Taste, Wine Composition & Chemistry, Faults, Viticulture & Enology, Labels, and Laws & Wine Regions.
When Francine felt that she was prepared, she registered and took the exam at a testing location in Rhode Island. The exam consists of 100 multiple choice questions that must be completed within one hour. A 75% or higher grade is required to pass and of those trying to pass the exam for the first time, only 55% succeed.
The cost of obtaining certification varies somewhat depending on whether one opts to take classes. At a minimum, to join SWE (which is required), purchase the study materials, attend classes, and register and sit for the exam, expect to invest about $750. In order to encourage more wine lovers and professionals to earn the CWS, SWE is making certification more available by offering free Webinars with membership and registration, and testing at Pearson VUE facilities for a fee.
Francine’s new business, Sofia Volo, was conceived to introduce the pleasurable experience of pairing wine with food for new and existing wine lovers and to take the snob out of wine tasting, one casual tasting party at a time. She customizes each tasting party to the host’s preferences, selecting wines, cheeses, or other appetizers to pair with the wines. Francine’s services include guiding guests through the tastings and pairings, a tasting glass for each guest to keep, wine notes, and even prizes for winners of wine trivia questions. Sofia Volo offers a unique party concept during which guests learn and have fun!