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Wine Education – It's Time for YOU to Take a Class!

by  Greg B. C. Shaw on July 31, 2011
Wine Education – It's Time for YOU to Take a Class!

From online classes to a Wine Boot Camp™, wine education now offers numerous options for all budgets and experience levels.

Learning about wine can be one of the most enjoyable or most intimidating experiences for wine lovers, but at some point almost every wine drinker wants to know more about what’s in the glass. While sampling wines is seen as part of the pleasure, having to learn a long list of complex terms (that include processes, wine regions and varieties) can make the thought of joining a class seem overwhelming. And the wine itself isn’t the only complex part of seeking wine education - it’s also sorting through all of the options available to learn about wine and trying to decide when and what to join. The variety of options should, however, be seen as a positive for wine lovers, and taking a course or two will increase your enjoyment of wine and give you confidence with one of the world’s favorite beverages.

America, Raise Your Glass!
America is a wine-drinking nation, which still surprises a lot of people. In fact, in 2010, the United States became the largest consumer of wine in the world, and even in a down economy, wine consumption in this country is increasing annually. The increase in wine consumption is part of the reason for an increased interest in more learning about wine. The wine industry has responded by providing numerous locations and formats for learning, ranging from short two-hour seminars to intensive 30-week certificates and beyond.

The Culinary Institute of America
One of the most respected names in hospitality education is the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Students enrolled in degree programs (both Bachelors and Associates degrees are offered), at the CIA will learn about all aspects of the food-service side of the hospitality industry related to culinary arts management, the baking arts, and wine and beverage management. But you don’t have to be culinary arts major to benefit from classes at the CIA. The CIA offers several types of wine programs under the “Enthusiasts” title that include short two-hour classes, continuing education courses  that range in length from two to five days and a full 30-week, intensive wine and beverage certificate program.

The CIA has campuses in New York’s Hudson River Valley and in California’s Napa Valley, as well as in Texas and Singapore. Both the California and New York locations are near several wineries, which can make taking a two-hour weekend class part of a great wine-escape weekend.

Crystal McAluye, coordinator of Professional Wine Studies at the CIA in California, says that the course offerings are for all types of students, even those with no prior wine education. However, for those wanting to read a little before attending a class, she suggests visiting the CIA Pro Chef website. Additionally, the Decanter website offers online quizzes to whet the appetite for more wine learning.

Online Offerings from Wine Spectator
If you’re not visiting New York or California in the near future but still want to increase your wine knowledge, the Wine Spectator School offers online education. Wine Spectator is a name immediately familiar to wine drinkers and its online school has 10 classes to help you regardless of your level of expertise. Gloria Maroti Frazee, Director of Video and Education for the magazine, says, “Each course incorporates online components (text, images, videos and quizzes), with offline components [such as] downloadable study guides, work sheets and tastings with step-by-step guides, tasting journals and tasting mats.” These are excellent online offerings that can be accessed anywhere. Once you’ve learned a particular course, you can share your knowledge with friends at your own private tasting.

The classes offered by the Wine Spectator School are also affordable. Classes are part of the online membership of Wine Spectator (joining at the basic level does not include the magazine subscription), which is very reasonable at only $7.95 a month or $49.95 a year. In addition to the courses, the online membership entitles you to several exclusive wine articles from Wine Spectator magazine. If you’re wondering how an online course can give you that “experiential” component so necessary for wine, the classes with Wine Spectator School give full lists of wine to buy so that aromas and tastes are very real.

Ratchet It Up in Boot Camp!
Affairs of the Vine is a versatile company involved in hosting several wine events that are excellent ways to celebrate your new found wine knowledge.  For those who are really serious, Affairs of the Vine also offers Wine Boot Camp™, an all-day experience that might leave you tired, but certainly not thirsty. According to Barbara Drady, the very personable Chief Wine Evangelist and CEO of Affairs of the Vine, this is the “fastest track” to a complete knowledge of how grapes go from the vine to the bottle. Not only will you experience some of the most beautiful, out-of-the way wineries found in California wine country, you’ll also finish the day with a wealth of knowledge and your own bottle of wine that you bottled yourself! Wine Boot Camp™ is a twelve-hour, hands-on, vineyard to cellar experience that caters to complete wine novices and actual winemakers working in the industry.  Drady says that because of the diverse make-up of the course, you can learn from the instructors and each other. She also emphasizes that the most valuable resource Affairs of the Vine’s Wine Boot Camp ™ offers is people. Because camp sizes are limited to thirty people, you’ll have ample time to develop bonds with industry professionals. If you have a question later, you simply call them up or email them. It’s your own personal connection to the wine world.

With all of the experiential emphasis of Wine Boot Camp™ and the events that Affairs of the Vine hosts (such as the Pinot Noir Summit reviewed in a past article on The Culinary Scoop, March 5, 2011), one might get the impression that Drady was against technology.  Quite the contrary.  She says it’s important to use the Internet as a powerful reference for information. In addition, such services as Twitter are wonderful for following your favorite winery or winemaker. Technology certainly has its place, even in the very hands-on, experiential world of wine education. If you’re planning a vacation to California wine country, be sure to book your Wine Boot Camp™ day in advance – the spots sell out quickly.

Learning about wine can happen in any location and at almost any level of experience. The most important part, however, is to take the first step and join a class, attend a wine event, or dive right into a boot camp. Wine classes are social experiences and regardless of the option(s) you take, your enjoyment of wine will increase.

The following are websites for you to reference when looking for a class or school that works for you.

Affairs of the Vine

Affairs of the Vine Wine Boot Camp™

Culinary Institute of America

Culinary Institute of America Pro Chef


Pinot Noir Summit (Affairs of the Vine)

University of California, Davis Extension Wine Courses

Wine Spectator

Wine Spectator School

Greg B. C. Shaw

Greg B. C. Shaw

Dr. Greg Shaw is an assistant professor with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration at California State University, Sacramento, and the co-author of a book chapter, Tourism in A Bottle: The California Winescape. full bio


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