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Tastings, Wine Industry

Barriers to Entry: Putting Our Money Where Our Mouths Are

One of the most frustrating things for me as someone trying to enter the wine industry are the numerous barriers to entry. I experienced these barriers first hand when I began to study for the CSW exam. First, they want you to fork over $145 for the 250 page study guide. If that is not enough, they also charge you $190 for the exam itself. Now, this is all assuming you are a member of the Society of Wine Educators. What?! You’re not a member?!  Well, you better add on an additional $110 for the aforementioned items. This is, of course, if you purchase these two items separately and not at the same time ( they give you a little break if you do it in a bundle). Not to mention, that if you want the member discount you have hand over $250/year for a professional membership. I was not lucky enough to have a large distribution company cover my tab or give me a sizable discount. 

Let’s do a little math. Because I was unsure of when I wanted to take the exam, I purchased the exam and study guide separately. I bought the study guide before I was a member, but later became a member to get a break on the exam fee and to get access to the online study materials. And the total is…. $185 (non-member study guide) + $250 (professional membership) + $190 (member exam fee) = $625. And we haven’t even begun to add in the fact that I have to travel four hours and stay in a hotel overnight, because they only have a few testing locations around the country. I am scared to even add those into the equation, let alone tell my wife how much I have spent.

Excuse me one minute….(blorch).

Sorry. This is actually the first time I have tallied up the amount of money I have spent on obtaining a wine certification and I have to admit, I feel a bit queasy right now. $625 for a 100 question, 1 hour exam! This is as close to robbery as I think one can come without being hauled off to the county courthouse. While I hope that this certification has the potential to open up some doors, I may simply be wishing that the $625 I have spent did not simply go to waste. This is also only for the CSW exam, we haven’t even considered the other exams available to become “certified” within the wine industry. So you want to be a sommelier? Bam! $495 please. And by the way, this covers only the Introductory course (Level 1) through the Court of Master Sommeliers. The next step, the Certified Sommelier Exam will cost you another $295 bones. The Foundation course through the Wine Spirits Education Trust will set you back roughly $220. The intermediate course will set you back another $560. Oh, and by the way, this is assuming you are taking the courses and exams in LONDON.

And here in lies my final frustration. How on earth am I supposed to afford all of this wine I’m supposed to be tasting? Sure, I work, and I work quite a bit. Nonetheless, I find myself unable to spend $50 on a bottle of wine – I have student loans after all. While my understanding of wine is passable and ever-growing, where I am really lacking is in what everyone seems to agree is the most important element: TASTE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this, but when I reach deep into my pockets to purchase some finer wine to expand my palate I come up with a hand full of lint. What’s a guy to do? I would love to go to more tastings put on by those pushy distributors but how can I when they are few and far between and I spend the majority of my early evening at work – gotta make the bucks so I can by that pricey wine to expand my palate ya know?

So we want to make wine more accessible to a larger number of people? Why don’t we start to break down some of these barriers to entry? Sure there are tasting classes at different restaurants and wineries that are sometimes free or cost a fraction of the price. But they only cover so much and are usually conducted by pushy sales reps. Has anyone ever thought of conducting classes pro bono? What if we created theoretical courses and then courses that included wine tastings where the cost of the wine was divided by the number of participants. The instructor taught one class a month or even once a quarter for free in order to…gasp…get people interested in wine with a smaller barrier of entry. At least this way we are not paying for both the wine and the instructor’s time.

I would love to vent some more, but I have to get ready to go to work so I can pay off my debt for the recent exam I signed up for.


3 thoughts on “Barriers to Entry: Putting Our Money Where Our Mouths Are

  1. I went though, and passed, the CSW exam process. Let me know if you have any questions. You can also check out a few posts about it on my site. Good luck!

    Posted by Colorado Wine Press | February 11, 2011, 6:16 pm
    • Nice posts on your website. They were very helpful. It’s good to hear that the wine academy was pretty useful. I read through the study guide some time back and have been working my way through the online guide lately. I take the exam in about 2 weeks and still have quite a bit of studying to do. Any other tips or things I should know about the exam?

      Posted by Phil Handke | February 12, 2011, 9:15 am
      • Just keep reading! If you have access to the online academy, make sure to go through all of the quizzes and practice exam. A good portion of the questions on the exam were also in the academy. Also, when you take the exam, mark questions that you are unsure of and come back to them at the end. It will give you even more confidence when you get to the end and there are only 15-20 (or however many it may be) questions that you need to really think about, because that means you already answered 75 correctly!

        Posted by Colorado Wine Press | February 12, 2011, 1:22 pm

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