Paso Vineyard Hammersky

California Wine Appellation Specialist – So What?

I suppose that it was inevitable that someone would question the wisdom/worth/use of a California Wine Appellation Specialist designation.  When a snide comment was sent my way recently, I did not immediately jump on it and send back a snarling, heated reply.  Instead of trying to explain to one person why I felt that this was valuable for my wine career, I thought I’d share it here.  This is my bully pulpit! Besides, I had the feeling that this one person wasn’t really interested in knowing why anyway.

I first learned of the CWAS certification last year and thought that it was probably a pretty neat idea.  When I learned a little more about it, I felt that it could possibly be valuable for my future in wine. When I found that it was now an online offering, I jumped at the opportunity and signed up for the class.

“It’s California,” I said to myself. “How hard could it be?”

It was pretty damn challenging as it turned out.  “This was a walk in the park,” said no CWAS student. Ever.

Of course we studied the history of the commonly known wine countries – Napa and Sonoma.  We also covered the Central Coast with Paso Robles, Monterey, and Santa Barbara as the stars, of course. But then there were all of those other regions and the seemingly infinite numbers of AVAs (American Viticultural Area) in the state, with even more to come.  Keeping everything straight was a challenge, because the course not only included knowing the larger AVAs, but also the sub-AVAs, how they were nested, how the climate, geology, and topography contribute to the style/quality of wines grown and made, the economic impact, the characteristics of the wines…

And it goes on. Easy? Not even.

But what *good* is the CWAS credential?  Well, I don’t know how others will use it, but I will share with you a little of my plans.

First of all, California is my favorite wine region. Period. While it’s no secret that the Central Coast and Paso Robles are my favorites, I’ve been able to experience the wines from just about every region first hand, even those in Southern California.  Yes, there are wineries and wine regions in Southern California, too.

Because of this and because of my plans to eventually earn my Certified Wine Educator credential, my focus will be primarily on California, particularly the Central Coast. That means that beginning now, everything that happens in the California AVAs is my responsibility to learn, know, and prepare to disseminate.  That will mean a lot more travel on my part (after this year which is sucking tuition and exam money from my always-complaining budget), and preparing to spend times in those places I had barely touched in the past.  It means that after this year and making the entire wine world a part of my psyche, I can fully concentrate on the wines of California and be able to share the particular traits of each region with students.

I’ve been a presenter and trainer for over 20 years, and this credential is the first of several that will allow me to transition my considerable experience and skill into the realm which I love – wine.

My California wine notebooks and binders are growing as I create more indexes and add more information and observations.  Tasting notes, new AVAs, changes in wineries, owners, and styles of wine are slowly turning into an encyclopedia of California wine.  Regions that were unknown to me before the course now have their own indexed area of AVAs, wineries, maps, and tasting notes.  My library of wine books is growing with several new California titles being recent additions. I scour the TTB pages for any and all updates on proposed, rejected, or approved AVAs, labels, and all other adult-beverage oriented regulation processes.

With the enthusiasm over the growth of and growing respect for Paso Robles, I’m particularly excited. Let’s face it; I was on the front line of the Paso Robles cheerleading squad years ago when their wines were being given, at best, a wink and a sneer. Of course, my being a cheerleader would have been useless had not the moneyed and respected wine media not discovered the rapidly growing quality that Paso has been producing.

The phenomenon that is Santa Barbara was also old news to me, long before Sideways. I had visited the region many years before and had enjoyed the wines, although I was very much a noob and didn’t know what I was drinking.  I certainly do now, and can tell you which varietals are thriving in each of the AVAs in the Santa Barbara area. I know my stuff.

The Wineaux Guy™ and I will be foregoing the Paso Robles Wine Festival this year (based more on my vacation availability from The Day Job™ than anything else), but plan to visit the Temecula area right after I pass my Sommelier exam at the end of May.

What? Is there even a question?

It’s been a few years since we’ve visited Temecula, and it’s the first step in my California wine immersion – to be continued later this year and far into next year.  For instance, the Wine Bloggers Conference will be in Santa Barbara this summer, and how can I not visit all things Central Coast while I’m there?

I recently joined the French Wine Society for the specific purpose of learning as much about those wines as I possibly can because the best wines in California originated in the motherland of wine, France.

Cabernet? Check.

Chardonnay? Check.

Merlot? Check.

Sauvignon Blanc? Check.

And it goes on.  My rationale is that learning about California wines can be done in a vacuum if you don’t know the origins of the wines from which they sprang.  And, for the great majority of the California wines, France is it.

So there you have it.  My new CWAS certification is one that I take very seriously and will be a part of the considerable wine arsenal that I’m building for myself.

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