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.