Deciding if I should take the class to be a Certified Specialist of Wine. Has anyone done this and it has helped them?
a) Never heard of "CSW." WSET, yes. MW, yes. MS, yes. CSW, no.
b) "Has is helped them" to do what???
The classes and certificate are offered by The Society of Wine Educators. http://www.societyofwineeducators.org/
Helped them? In their personal enjoyment of wine? In their careers in the wine industry?
It may be helpful if your goal is to teach wine classes, but even then, many brilliant wine
educators have learned through other types of wine classes. There are various levels of
certification. Get more info from the organization and by talking to others in the wine industry
and then make a decision based on your goals.
I've taken the CSW exam, and prepared for it through home study, using the study guide the SWE sends you when you register for the exam. (But more helpful than the study guide was the fact that I had already done Advanced Certificate with WSET, which is a much more substantive exam.) I'm not aware of any official CSW course, although various wine schools do offer classes with the aim of preparing you for the exam.
As far as the exam itself is concerned, I frankly lost all respect for it as soon as I took it. Absurdly easy, I thought. At least a quarter of the questions had to do with where appellations are located (e.g., of the following four, which is the northern Rhone appellation?). Sure, it's important to know such things, but it's a very superficial kind of wine knowledge, not beyond the scope of, say, the average Wine Spectator subscriber. I scored 94% on the exam, and it frankly ticked me off to think that I actually got six wrong!
But like a lot of people who have taken the exam, I had cards printed up with "CSW" after my name. It's a nice-sounding credential, and can't hurt if you're trying to break into or advance within the wine business. But I can't help feeling a tiny twinge of embarrassment whenever I give one of those cards out.
Thank you so much for the response. I am in the wine business already. I would be using it to enhance the fact that I run wine dinners and can teach classes if I get it and charge more $.
I am still debating.....on taking the class though since it is a lot of money for the 3 months.
I doubt it would make much of a difference to your "street cred" for wine dinners. Obviously an MW or MS could/would help out vis-a-vis your overall career, but that's a different issue. Then again, I spent 35+ years in the trade with none of that nonsense, but that was -- I readily admit -- a different era, and were I to start in the trade today, I'd definitely start with WSET and go or an MW.
Especially if you're in the business already, I think you could forgo the classes and just prepare for the exam using the study guide at home. (Just curious, where were you planning to take these classes?) Also very helpful---if you join the Society of Wine Educators (and membership gives you a discount on the exam, which pretty much pays for the membership), you can access the "SWE Wine Academy," an online course with self-tests at the end of every unit. (And these self tests contain questions that are very similar if not identical to questions on the actual exam.) Keep retaking the self tests until you score 100% on them, and you'll do fine on the actual exam.
But I agree with Zin, if you're after substantive wine education and not just a credential to put down on paper, I'd start with WSET classes.
I'm not in the wine industry, but I've been thinking about doing something with what I love (fooling around in the wine world) after retiring from my current "day job." So, I put my figurative toe in the water with the WSET Intermediate exam (passed it "with Distinction"), and then moved on to the CSW (passed it as well). I didn't take CSW prep classes (some were available in Cleveland, Ohio) and didn't need them--the study guide was enough (but be careful with the SWE Wine Academy exams: some questions have different "right" answers from the CSW exam).
Has it helped? As others have asked: "helped with what?" For me, studying the guides provided considerable factually accurate information. Frankly, I was tired of hearing inaccuarate pronouncements from many "I-learned-from-experience-lay-experts." These folk probably had richer tasting experiences than I, but their incomplete/inaccurate statements about the particulars of wine turned me off--and caused me to question their expertise. I'm still at my day-job (with no cards with CSW after my name), but I'm comfortable with a knowledge level that I believe surpasses the average Wine Spectator subscriber (I'm one of those as well).
So, to me, the right question is NOT "what can I do with the certificate?" but rather "what can I learn from the process?" I'm satisfied with the level of learning associated with the WSET and SWE.
If you are studying for the CSW (or WSET, or ASA, or IWG, or ISG) or any wine certification, check out the free study tools (quizzes, flashcards, tons of into) at www.BubblyProfessor.com. It's not my website, so I'm not trying to publicize myself or anything....just really good tools and info. I used the SWE Study Guide plus the flashcards on BubblyProfessor.com and passed with a 97 after three months of study. I'm in the wine sales industry, and the certification has helped me a lot (plus, my employer requires it...). Cheers, everyone! Stacy