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Wine Education as Big Business

In an already crowded field of certifications for wine knowledge, add one more: the Parker & Zraly Wine Certification courtesy of Robert Parker and Kevin Zraly. While no doubt well intentioned and likely to be filled with good questions (Kevin Zraly is a renowned wine educator) it's hard not to see this as more than yet another revenue stream in the Robert Parker empire.

Did the world need another wine certification? I'd argue no, but who knows. Perhaps people will flock to this one, especially considering the barrier to entry is so low. The first set of eight exams costs $30 apiece, or $195 if purchased together. The second level single exam is $150, and we don't know what the third level exam will cost.

The first two levels of these exams are given entirely online which raises some interesting questions. While they are timed exams, they have no oversight. So there seems to be nothing stopping someone from taking one of these exams with a stack of books next to them to reference. Or more likely, the web version of the Oxford Companion to Wine. Undoubtedly, some people eager to have bragging rights will cheat.

Given that the third level includes a blind tasting exam with Parker and Zraly (and presumably costs more than the previous ones) we won't have a lot of Parker & Zraly Wine Experts™ running around who don't actually know anything about wine, but I'll bet there will be a lot of first and second level dilettantes who will be happy to take these exams pretty much in the same way that I took the last online traffic school I attended.

It also bears mentioning that the only people who can sign up for these exams at the moment are current subscribers to Parker's web site.

The current players in the world of wine certification include the Wine and Spirits Educational Trust, the Court of Master Sommeliers, and the Institute of Masters of Wine. Each of these certification programs involves much more time, energy, and money to earn the right to their particular title. In the case of the MW certification I've heard of people spending more than $10,000 and taking several years to get there.

It will be interesting to see how, where, and when people start showing up with the initials PZWA or PZWC after their names. Will Doug Frost, Ronn Wiegand, and Gerard Basset all complete the certification to retain their titles as the most certified wine professionals in the world? (Those three are the only individuals to hold both the Master Sommelier and Master of Wine titles).

More likely a lot of Parker disciples and subscribers will simply see this as an opportunity to test their knowledge for the fun of it. Which presumably is just what Parker and Zraly had in mind.

Comments (15)

Liz Pirnat wrote:
11.14.09 at 5:15 AM

I totally agree with you. We have enough different education programs and explaining the differences to trade and consumers is really a waste.

You forgot two programs, Society of Wine Educators for the CSW, CSS and CWE and there is the new French Wine Society (http://www.frenchwinesociety.org/) French Wine Enthusiast, French Wine Scholar (FSW), and master level for each region.

And for your average consumer, they have no interest in doing a certification course.

Alder wrote:
11.14.09 at 7:43 AM


Thanks for the comments. Perhaps to your point I always confuse WSET and SWE -- can't keep them straight.


Dylan wrote:
11.14.09 at 8:34 AM

I think the point about bragging rights would be a rare case. Not to mention, when it comes time to show off the knowledge which "earned" them that certificate, there won't be anything to show. Really, even at a low barrier to entry, it's not worth the time or money if you aren't taking it seriously.

Dr. Horowitz wrote:
11.14.09 at 9:10 AM

It's interesting to see how the Internet is changing the educational landscape. Thanks for the article.

Those are good books in your sidebar!

Arthur wrote:
11.14.09 at 9:44 AM

Didn't you wrote about this a year ago or so? I thought this program was under way...

Martin Silva wrote:
11.14.09 at 12:21 PM

I went to the Parker website and read the description. I think the program is appropriate for the serious wine consumer. Eight 50-question exams for their level 1 certification is a good demonstration for an entry level knowledge of wine - much more than what is required for a local wine certification at a local junior college (I live in Sonoma County). I really don't see this certification program as a threat or challenge to the Master Sommelier/Master of Wine programs - directed to industry professionals.

Alder wrote:
11.14.09 at 2:01 PM


No, clearly this certification is not designed to compete with the MS/MW world.

Alder wrote:
11.14.09 at 2:09 PM

Arthur, this has been around for some time, but I only heard of it recently.

ryan Opaz wrote:
11.15.09 at 5:24 AM

From what I remember of Kevin's presentation the first level in total will cost 800 dollars, and the second 1000+ both unsupervised, which means when you get the final level 2000(???)+/- dollars, what you will have spent is somewhere between 3000-??? dollars for a private tasting with Parker.

Seriously the audience was giggling when we heard about this, and in the end with Ablegrape at your side your just paying to have a chance to taste with Kevin and Parker alone. Which for some people is probably worth it.

Bill wrote:
11.15.09 at 2:41 PM

I considered doing the certification program just for grins--more to test my own knowledge than for any bragging rights. Then I discover the "system requirements": you must use Internet Explorer.

As a Mac user, this is disappointing. I could run IE in Windows via Parallels, but it's painfully slow even on a fast Mac. In this day and age of Mac/Linux/Windows cross-platform compatibility, why on earth would one choose IE as the only browser? At least Firefox works on all 3 platforms (and is more secure, to boot).

Oh well, at least I can cancel my ebob.com subscription without feeling I'm missing anything.

Carolyn Madson, CSW wrote:
11.16.09 at 10:34 AM

I am sorry but this sounds just a bit pissy to me. With 10% (approximately)of the drinking populace drinking 90% of the wine why would anyone want to diminish any opportunity to engage and provide an educational opportunity to anyone who would bother to bother?

Alder wrote:
11.16.09 at 10:38 AM

No need to apologize. There's nothing educational about this. They don't offer classes, only a test to get credentials.

Sunny wrote:
11.17.09 at 2:32 PM

I think this is alright, anything that promotes wine is the way to go and anyone who knows wine will autimatically know this at face value, so what the heck, let them have their fun and taste wine with a true wiine man and think them something that they are not.

tom hyland wrote:
11.18.09 at 2:59 PM


Thanks for pointing this out. I'm with you that this just seems to be a money-making guise for Parker and Zraly, but I guess there's no harm.

What I'd really love to see is some program in wine education include samples of various foodstuffs and the participant would have to describe why a particular wine works or doesn't work with those dishes. It seems to me that a lot of these programs get caught up with the techincal DNA of wine and don't examine its soul. Describing the rim variation on a red wine is meaningless in a consumer wine class, but if an instructor can talk about how the characteristics of a certain wine work with food... ah, that's what consumers want to know.

Justin wrote:
11.25.09 at 10:39 AM

I think this is a good thing for wine enthusiasts. Having to study for any type of exam, online or not, will help anyone achieve and retain more knowledge than they normally would. I am spending a lot of money on my wine education (for me at least) because I am using it to get ahead in the industry, but if someone does not have higher aspirations I think this could be a good tool to expand their knowledge.

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