Whether looking at my site (here), my Facebook or Twitter/X pages, I always get the same question: “What the heck is a CWAS?” While the answer is simple – it’s a California Wine Appellation Specialist® – the meaning is actually a little more complex.
While it’s not unusual to have a certification for a particular region, this is the only certification I’ve seen that’s exclusively California-focused. For instance, WSG, or Wine Scholar Guild, has several location-specific certifications, including French, Spanish, and Italian Wine Scholar awards. Between you and me, I should probably take the Italian Wine Scholar course because Italy is nuts.
California Wine Appellation Specialist®.
I took this course online at home from David Glancy’s San Francisco Wine School (SFWS) about nine years ago. Why?
In the early 2000s, I went to Paso Robles for the first time with some friends. While I’d been to Temecula several times when I both lived in Cali and when The Wineaux Guy™ and I visited, this was my first trip to anything north of Los Angeles. No, it wasn’t Napa, but that was okay.
I completely fell in love. And except for a couple of years – specifically the “virus that will not be named” years – I’ve been back at least once a year, either with a group of friends, my buddy Debbie, or The Wineaux Guy™. And occasionally by myself, which was more fun than you’d expect. Solo travel is a thing!
After a few trips to California wine country (just about all of them), I saw that SFWS had a course on California wines, wineries, and AVAs. I was instantly intrigued, and I told them to take my money. The class was online – although I had the in-person option – and I was good to go.
So What’s Changed?
Since I passed the final exam, there have been about 27 new AVAs/sub-AVAs added to the California list. This includes the 11 districts of Paso Robles.
Actually, passing the original CWAS examination gave me the motivation to continue keeping myself current on all things California. Naturally, I’ve expanded my interests to Oregon and Washington – even Arizona! – but California is my base. I can go to any California “wine country” in a few hours’ drive or an hour’s flight if I want to go to the northern areas and don’t feel like making such a long drive.
While taking the online course, I also purchased the wines to be tasted. And I learned how the different terroirs/AVAs affected the tastes and textures of the wines. It was still fairly early in my wine education, and shortly afterward, I was able to complete the requirements for the Guild of Sommeliers certification. I became a Somm!
That being said, I’m a Somm in name only. Although I’ve had a couple of job offers – even a recent one despite my advanced age – I decided to continue on the path of wine business and learning rather than wine service. As I’ve gotten older, I’m less patient with people, and I figure that dumping a decanter of an awesome wine onto an unruly “Karen” type customer would mean an immediate end to my wine service career.
The wine industry of California has a $73 Billion economic impact. Not a typo. The total impact of the entire US wine industry is $170.5 Billion. There are more wineries in California than there are in the rest of the United States combined. California is a juggernaut.
As I’ve gotten older, I’m less patient with people, and I figure that dumping a decanter of an awesome wine onto an unruly “Karen” type customer would mean an immediate end to my wine service career.
California’s environment is conducive to just about every variety of wine grown worldwide. California wines have made their own impact, and ever since the Judgment of Paris, (RIP Steven Spurrier), their fame has skyrocketed. California has everything from desert to ocean to mountains as well as “normal” growing areas, all suitable for growing grapevines. In fact, one of the best Albariños (Cadre Sea Queen) I’ve had came from Edna Valley in the San Luis Obispo Coast AVA. In fact, because I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the origin of the label, I declared that it was one of the best I’d had because of the trademark briny minerality which even some Rias Biaxas wines lack. It’s pretty great, to tell the truth.
And because California is right next door to us here in Nevada (literally and figuratively speaking), I felt that I needed to learn as much as possible.
The CWAS course was quite comprehensive, and I’ve come to appreciate the head start that it gave me in my wine education pursuit.
So What’s Next?
Well, there was stuff in the “strawberry lemonade” that I wasn’t prepared for until I took two huge swigs.
It began with a morning meeting at the Bellagio with Sommeliers from the Guild. The topic was Spanish Wines. We tasted a LOT of wines. Everything from Albariño to Rioja. From Cava to Garnacha. And more!
After the morning meeting, I stopped for lunch, and along with whatever food I had, I ordered a strawberry lemonade. The weather was warm, and that sounded so refreshing. Well, there was stuff in the “strawberry lemonade” that I wasn’t prepared for until I took two huge swigs.
When I went to take my monitored online CSW exam, I was less than focused. And missed by just a couple of points. I’ve been in the dumps ever since, although I’ve since passed my WSETII with no problems and with distinction.
Since I’m now teaching wine classes, having my certification from the Society of Wine Educators is more important than ever because, despite my other awards, it’s the one that gives me the most credibility as a wine educator. It’s all in the name!
Click here for a great information sheet: American Viticultural Areas of California