Should Wine Writers Be Certified?

Should Wine Writers Be Certified?

I came across a post the other day that piqued my curiosity. The author, who happened to be a professional wine writer, poked fun at mechanical harvesting. It wasn’t her rambling that bothered me so much as it was her lack of respect and knowledge about the subject. She tweeted pictures of Frenchmen using mechanical harvesters as she disparaged (and made fun of) those who used them, alluding to the fact that everyone knows hand harvesting produces a better product. And the kicker? One of her favorite producers mechanically harvests grapes and (I’m pretty sure) she doesn’t know it. How’s that for irony?

Alas, in wine circles such stories abound. Years ago, I would have fallen for her rant hook, line and sinker, but now with some experience and training under my belt I know better. Sure, in an ideal world, hand harvesting may be the way to go, but not everyone has that luxury.  Factors like labor availability and immigration issues, cost, vineyard topography, varieties, and weather conditions often force harvesting decisions. And in Bordeaux, many classified châteaux still harvest by machine. On the other side of the coin, you might be surprised to know that some winemakers prefer mechanical harvesting—and it is certainly a well accepted practice worldwide.

And in all honesty, who can scientifically guarantee wine picked by hand will produce a better quality product over those picked mechanically? If you have evidence to prove the former, let me know because I’ve been searching for this report for a while now. And if you claim you can blind taste a wine and tell me which red fruit was picked by machine or handpicked, I want to meet you. Wait, I’ll even up the ante—bring some spit bucket juice and I will drink it. Ok, I’m grossing myself out now and I’m so easily sidetracked—this post isn’t about mechanical harvesting, it’s about wine writers (pros and bloggers alike) gaining the knowledge they need to educate readers with accurate information.

Interestingly enough, wine writer experience and credentials are trending differently than they were twenty years ago. What I have found is that most of the traditional wine writers gained employment at newspapers and magazines with a journalism degree in their pocket. They had the passion to write about wine and were willing to learn about wine and viticulture along the way. Very few had formal wine certification (or hands on experience) prior to gainful employment.

Today’s wine writers are different animals. They may not be well known, nor hold positions at newspapers or magazines. Most of them don’t have degrees in journalism but many enter the field with wine certification, which, in my opinion, is a welcomed addition. They feverishly apply their knowledge by educating readers through blog posts, videos, social media and educational courses and many assert the need to improve their writing skills.

In all honesty, I think most readers would prefer to learn from those that were educated in a specialized field (wine) and those that have real hands on experience (at a restaurants, wineries, sales positions, winemaking and such) rather than learning from those that were taught to write prose (journalism) while learning about wine on the job.

Curiosity led me to find out how many of today’s wine writers hold credentials, so I polled my twitter followers. Forty out of sixty who responded hold certification spanning from CSS, CSW, WSET, MS, and MW programs, which is enlightening to see—and the majority of those forty fell into the “different animal” category. It seems evident that wine writer skill sets, experience and credentials are trending quite differently now.

Leading back to the question, “Should wine writers be certified?” That’s a good question. It seems to make sense for some industries. Think of physicians, lawyers, architects, nurses, accountants and teachers—even financial planners. I don’t trust anyone to manage my money, do you? Most finance guys I know wouldn’t trust 90 percent of the (non-certified) people in the field.

What about the food industry? They have programs like the CIA, master chef, and Le Cordon Bleu. Not all chefs obtain certification, some do. Then on the other side of the coin, we have celebrity chefs like Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain and Guy Fieri who built their reputation from working every position in the kitchen. Most of their knowledge isn’t learned from a book or certification—it is more about the blood and sweat they endured from hands on experience. How about food writers and critics? Should they be certified? I don’t think Michael Bauer has certification but he grew up in the business, working at his father’s meat market. In my opinion, the best food critics are those who have worked in the industry and have manned positions.

But what about the wine industry? Joel Butler, MW points out, “…the evidence I see when I look at various wine blogging sites indicates that a little “qualified education” may not be a bad idea for many.” So should we consider certification? It definitely makes sense for sommeliers, educators and … skreecchhh… (that’s me slamming on the breaks and backing up)…the magic word here is ~EDUCATORS~. Is it not the job of a wine writer to educate with accurate facts? Could writers (re)gain credibility by holding themselves accountable to the same standards they apply to others, such as teaching or financial planning which requires licensing? Or is this going too far?

Some say yes, it is going to far and point out that  wine writer certification is an unnecessary action because it would foster snobbery and would drive consumers away through unrecognizable prose and technical nonsense. But is this really true? Many bloggers who hold certification do an excellent job at describing and eliminating the technical jargon and journalism fluff. We are lucky to have so many good (certified) writers that really have their finger on the pulse to educate and entertain us…fine folks like:

Personally, I think it would be good if writers obtained certification—and I’ll throw in a “get some industry experience” into the mix. The problem we have right now is not so much a lack of enthusiasm, but rather a lack of experience and training. If wine writers could find a nice balance between certification and practical experience, I think this would be ideal. We should not mandate it, but I think those who take wine writing seriously should consider it.

After all, wine writers should have a good grasp of the topics they write about and finding a balance between education and hands on experience would build confidence and credibility. I credit much of my knowledge to education and hands on restaurant and winery experience.  I can attest the knowledge wine writers might gain using this method would help them expand their horizons and consider different angles and perspectives on many subjects. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect more from wine writers, do you?

~Pamela Heiligenthal


About the Author:

Editor and co-founder of, Pamela is a sommelier and former restaurant manager and wine buyer with Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), Court of Master Sommeliers & Center for Wine Origins certification. She has contributed to or been quoted by various publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Sommelier Journal, Vegetarian Times, VIV Magazine, UC-Berkeley Astrobiology News, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, NPR and USA Today. True to her roots, she seeks varietal and appellation integrity and is always passionate about finding the next great bottle of wine.


  1. Stacy Woods January 13, 2011 at 6:53 AM - Reply

    Very thoughtful, as always, Pamela. Should wine writers have some sort of wine certification? Yes and no. Experience is equal to if not greater than certification. You can memorize all of the DOC in Italy to pass an exam but at the end of the day what do you really know about Italian wine? The blogs I read most frequently are informative and educational. I avoid the blogs that simply give me their opinion – educated or not. There is much misinformation about wine floating about on the internet – some of it put out there by “certified” folks. I guess at the end of the day I am looking at the journalistic integrity and experience of the wine writer rather than letters after his or her name.

  2. The Best Fine Wines » Should Wine Writers Be Certified? | Enobytes Wine Online January 13, 2011 at 7:18 AM - Reply

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  3. The Sediment Blog January 13, 2011 at 7:52 AM - Reply

    Doesn’t it depend upon the kind of wine writing they are doing? Take our own wine blog for example; the only thing we’d be certified is insane…

  4. Per-BKWine January 13, 2011 at 7:58 AM - Reply

    Excuse me for being blunt, but this is one of the silliest ideas I have heard about wine writing.

    There is no law against incompetence.

    At least not in writing.

    There are laws, so to speak, against incompetence in some other areas, like the medical profession. There are serious consequences for third parties in some professions, and that’s why they require certification or degrees. You cannot seriously mean that one should have laws against people saying stupid things?

    (And by the way, having one of the qualifications you cite is certainly not a guarantee against saying erroneous things or being mistaken about wine and wine technology.)

    I see not a single good argument (in your text or elsewhere) for such a thing.

    So what do you really mean? That if you are not an MW or have an WSET diploma, or have taken a sommelier study course or whatever, then you *should not be allowed* to write about wine?

    There would be better arguments for requiring certification of, say, grocers, or car sales men, or nannies.

    The bad ones will be weeded out, we can hope. Or at least, readers will tire of reading what they write.

    Please put some trust in the readers’ intelligence!

  5. Per-BKWine January 13, 2011 at 7:59 AM - Reply

    Or perhaps it was just a joke, was it?

  6. Randy Caparoso January 13, 2011 at 8:15 AM - Reply

    Interesting piece, Pamela. Obviously you answered your own question: as in the culinary world, “certification” (which could be a zillion things) is no guarantee of competence. In fact, many well respected chefs (from Charlie Trotter on down) began, and even flourished, as “seat of the pants” artisans.

    In the days when there were few wine publications (pre-World Wide Web, when dinosaurs walked the earth), wine writers came from the same traditional source: from schools of journalism. It used to be more important to know how to string words together first — the wine knowledge and experience part came later. I, myself, started off as a self-taught sommelier (since 1978) and newspaper/magazine wine columnist (since 1981). I studied philosophy, not journalism, in college, and my wine knowledge came from years of tasting, reading and, of course, walking the vineyards and wineries. Later on I took many of those wine exams (passing all of them), but my expertise came from my own diligence, not from outside benefactors. Nothing wrong with that for anyone, until someone else disagrees with what you have to say.

    Which is where the fundamental issue lies: like any craft or art, wine appreciation will never be something certifiable, and it inherently invites differences of opinion. We’ll all have to take the good with the bad. Although the bad (like someone who makes blanket statements about mechanical harvesters, or the idiotic restaurant critic you cited) will always be thorns on our sides, won’t they?

  7. Michael January 13, 2011 at 8:20 AM - Reply

    It seems as if it is the Popular thing to start a wine blog and go from there. Certification in a sense is necessary but how you define certification can vary so much. Does a certification mean that you are a sommelier? Does it mean that you went to winemaking school? Or does it mean that you have surrounded yourself by wines to such a point that you are able to provide readers with beneficial information? People like to see a certification next to a writers name but when it comes down to it, they really want a high quality of writing that provides them with something of use. I enjoyed reading this article and I enjoy reading many of the bloggers listed in this article. People have to give these “small guys” a chance because odds are they have something good to say (without having to pay for a subscription).


  8. AG Bryksa January 13, 2011 at 8:31 AM - Reply

    Great article Pamela. I came to realization that certification is something that I needed to do to validate my opinions and perspectives on wine before I could share it with others. I do agree that wine writers should be pursuing additional industry experience to help round out their perspectives and broaden their horizons. Thanks for the great perspective.

  9. Heather January 13, 2011 at 8:38 AM - Reply

    I think a little of both hands on training and classes would be a good thing. I don’t understand anyone that would agrue against. Good writeup.

  10. Stephen Bonner January 13, 2011 at 8:40 AM - Reply

    Interesting article. I guess if the average wine drinking consumer is reading a wine blog or article certification may not been alot to them. Some of the best “old school” writers such as Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke do not hold certification and are brillant writers. I’m not sure if Robert Parker has any certification? As a blogger and in the trade I’m interested in the writer’s background. Enjoyed the article and comments. Journalism is a strange animal!

  11. Randy Caparoso January 13, 2011 at 8:43 AM - Reply

    The most important thing is enthusiasm and due diligence, I believe. I, myself, welcome the observations of “amateur” writers because the perspectives tend to be very fresh, often compellingly original. Like “amateur” winemakers, who often go on to become our nation’s greatest winemakers (the list of those types of vintners goes on and on).

    Like I said before, some of the most idiotic observations in both the wine and culinary world come from longtime journalists/”critics”, often with so-called “credentials.” The hat never makes the man — we know that, for sure — and certainly, never the auspices under which the writing is done (the dumbest writers work for the most widely distributed publications).

  12. The Sediment Blog January 13, 2011 at 8:55 AM - Reply

    Oh, Mr Caparoso, I think that WE must surely be responsible for “some of the most idiotic observations” in the wine world?

  13. Per-BKWine January 13, 2011 at 9:01 AM - Reply

    @ #9 Heather

    The article does not argue that a bit of education and hands on experience is a good thing.

    The argument is that wine writers *should* have a certification.

    That means that if you don’t have it, you are not permitted to write on wine and express your opinion.

    What’s the difference between that and censorship?

  14. Steve Heimoff January 13, 2011 at 9:04 AM - Reply

    I don’t have a journalism degree (BA philosophy, MA educational technology), and I don’t have any wine education credentials. Instead, I am self taught. But then, when I was coming up, there was nothing like the WSET. Maybe I would have done that if it was available. I think it’s a great idea for wine bloggers to train as hard as they can.

  15. Christopher Brown January 13, 2011 at 9:04 AM - Reply

    To start, I really enjoyed this article. I think that certification or, more realistically, credentials are necessary for wine writing. I believe the reader should be able to trust the writer to the fullest so their experience in reading the article is purely one of enjoyment and information. Writing for an experienced wine maker, having been a part of vintages myself, and taking course work in the field in college really expanded my understanding of production and by extrapolation tasting. I think when someone reads something on the internet they constantly have a skeptical attitude because they don’t know the accuracy of the information. If the writer qualifies themselves with credentials and the reader evaluates these and decides they are sufficient, then ultimately the reading experience will be better for the viewer. One last note, beyond credentials I think finding the writers who write in a style you love and taste in a way that expands your pallet and matches you interests in wine, may be as important as credentials. So if I was starting to read wine writings today, I would find writers with training and or experience, especially in the wine making process, writers who write in a manner that I enjoyed and I would taste what they taste to see if I agreed with their opinions. That way the next time my favorite writers agree on a great bottle of wine I would know it is a must have for my cellar and dinner table.


  16. Jo Diaz January 13, 2011 at 9:13 AM - Reply

    Should any critic be Certified? Sports, movies, books, wine, spirits, cigars, toys, fashion, etc…

    Those who have taken the time to understand their subject matter, are connected, and know what they’re talking about will prevail.

    Cream still rises to the top, even though it seems homogenized.

  17. Pietro Buttitta January 13, 2011 at 9:23 AM - Reply

    Seems to me that good writing certainly does not require certification but it does require the restraint to avoid tackling subjects that may be out of our scope. Certification adds something to the resume, but it is hard to say what. If you knew how many graduated culinary school students I let go from kitchens I worked in you would be a little skeptical of certifications as well. However, when I received my somm. certification, I was pretty damn impressed with everyone. As a winemaker it was pleasing to see some degree of technical knowledge held by all in addition to the broad picture – more than Alice Feiring seems to have anyway. Certification is good but not inclusive of excellence, and writing is a whole other discipline in conjunction with it.

    Randy is quite right that the hat does not make the person, but the hat may enable a writer to venture into the rain that stops the one without.

  18. Gary January 13, 2011 at 9:39 AM - Reply

    I am a wine lover, novice, if you will. In my opinion I believe that your article is asking if anyone should be able to write about the wine biz. The answer should be “YES”. Anyone should be able to post their thoughts and opinions about wine. There should however be a requirement for that person to include their training/experience when they say that hand harvesting is better than mechanical.

    Therefore, please back-up your smack if you wanna be heard.

  19. Ed Masciana January 13, 2011 at 9:46 AM - Reply

    I think you have a point, but not a great one. The first thing a wine writer should be able to do is WRITE. You can train as a wine person, but writers are born.

    I’ve published three books on wine and hundreds of articles and newsletters and don’t have one certification to my credit. I don’t need one. I now enough about wine, having studied it, made it, sold it and drunk it for over 40 years that I can write about it.

    All the certifications in the world doesn’t make an idiot a good writer. Just a wine savant.

  20. Kurt January 13, 2011 at 9:51 AM - Reply

    Just out of curiousity, would a degree from UC Davis or an equivalent accredited secondary academic institution count as certification. As a Davis alum, I feel someone with a research background may be better suited to comment on some aspects of winemaking than a sommolier certified writer would.

  21. Dale Cruse January 13, 2011 at 9:56 AM - Reply

    Should wine writers know more about wine? Of course. Should wine writers know more about writing? HELL YES. I’m not going to go so far as to insist on certification, but I personally know some wine writers who have wine credentials but can’t write their way out of a wet paper bag.

  22. Deborah Parker Wong, AIWS January 13, 2011 at 10:14 AM - Reply

    Achieving the WSET Diploma has made me a better wine writer hands down though I can’t see how further certification (the MW or MS) will improve my writing.
    In an effort to make a living, we wine writers often wear many hats and that’s when advanced certification can help improve the bottom line. @parkerwong

  23. Ryan Reichert January 13, 2011 at 10:38 AM - Reply

    Pamela – nice, thought provoking piece. Where to begin…

    I certainly agree that in terms of “wine education” a little bit of formal training does everyone (writer and reader) a world of good in most cases. That said, I’ve encountered plenty of certified people who I wouldn’t take wine advice from. Real life experience helps as well … and to Stacy’s point, knowing geography does not imply wine “understanding,” but similarly just having tasted tons of Italian wines makes you well versed in how they taste, but does little in taking the subject of wine beyond taste (or Italy for that matter). I think both need a healthy dose of passion (which enthusiasm is part of … you can be enthusiastic without being passionate, and still be ineffective in helping readers learn more about wine) to complement them. If someone is passionate about learning about wine and tasting wine, that will show in their writing.

    I pursued my certifications because I began my career in a region that wasn’t steeped in any sort of wine culture (NE Ohio). It was a huge help, and spurred me to begin writing, which I’ve always enjoyed doing. My first blog was meant to help me with my education. It was a selfish pursuit, but I never expected anything more from it.

    Now, with my website (Northwest Whites), I feel my goal is to educate people on a particular topic. I’m still “new” here for all intents & purposes, and I’ll continue to grow and learn as I taste more, meet more people, and travel. My credentials don’t help me with learning about local wines. My credentials make me a credible wine professional–but personal experience (which includes learning from others, even if not “certified”) will help make me a subject matter expert.

    I’ve found that I am often more concerned with the lack of education that you find in retail situations.

    I am a strong believer that if you’re working in a wine retail situation (seriously, and not just as a “job”) then you should have some amount of wine education. Certifications aren’t necessary, but I can’t tell you how much having a wide knowledge of the wine world has helped me in a selling/retail situation no matter where I go. In Oregon I’m becoming well-versed in PacNW wines, and I can talk inside and out about the wines produced by the winery I work for, but if a consumer doesn’t know about this area and I need to bridge the gap by starting with a region or wine they’re familiar with a wider education helps. Further, it proves to be an excellent way of building rapport with customers. As with your example of the writer who was bias against machine harvesting, it’s amazing the things that tasting room people say or make up.

    I think certifications are great and extremely useful (but then, I’m definitely biased). Practical experience is also very important, and where possible I would argue that this may substitute for professional certifications, however perhaps on a very regional basis (ie: sure, someone might know a ton about California wine after working in the industry for 15 years, but what good are they to tell me about Spain or France … two countries I would consider very important to the California wine industry’s success … if they’ve never made an effort to learn?). To be a wine educator you do need to have some basic understanding of wine beyond what you like and don’t like.

    So, to summarize:
    -Wine certifications can help writers to have more diverse understanding of wine.
    -Hands-on experience is great, though may be limiting.
    -Having wine certifications does not a) make good writers (though I do think good writing can be learned) or b) competent wine professionals
    -Passion (not JUST enthusiasm) will benefit both professional education and real life experience.
    -Retail professionals should absolutely have some type of wine education — certified or not.

  24. Beau Carufel January 13, 2011 at 11:01 AM - Reply

    I think the question is a two-parter..Should a wine writer be certified? I think so, because certification implies at least a basic level of knowledge and *can* give a bit of credibility if your name isn’t Heimoff, Laube, Yarrow, or Asimov.

    Does someone *need* to be certified to be a wine writer? Hell no. From personal experience, a lot of what I’ve learned about wine hasn’t come via my certification, but rather my practical experience tasting, selling, and researching wine. Even if I wasn’t a Somm, I think I’d still be very knowledgeable and hopefully able to write somewhat decently.

  25. Pat Thomson January 13, 2011 at 11:04 AM - Reply

    Good post. Helps motivate me to crack open and start memorizing that 250-page CSW Study Guide that I ordered two weeks ago. Anyone here in NYC want to start a study group with me?

  26. Ryan Reichert January 13, 2011 at 11:12 AM - Reply

    “a lot of what I’ve learned about wine hasn’t come via my certification, but rather my practical experience tasting, selling, and researching wine.”

    Beau – good point! Though I have to say that tasting IN a class situation like what the WSET or Somm programs offer is a huge difference from tasting on your own with no application/point of reference. I agree that I have learned a lot on my own, but that foundation is what made all that personal “study” worth something in my experience.

  27. […] Heiligenthal over at Enobytes contemplates wine writer […]

  28. The Grapevine January 13, 2011 at 12:22 PM - Reply

    A fantastic article that is generating a lot of good points. I believe that a wine writer being ‘certified’ definitely depends on the type of wine writer you are. If you are just writing general reviews of wines you are drinking…no cert necessary. Your opinion is just that. But if you are going in depth and speaking of winemaking techniques, differences in regions, etc, a certification surely gives you a higher level of knowledge to pull from.

    Hands-on experience is great as well, but it takes a lot of hands-on experience to match up with a certification. Same as with someone that has a college degree and someone that just worked during that time period…in my experience people pay a lot more attention to the person with the degree.

  29. Sam D. January 13, 2011 at 12:48 PM - Reply

    Your post presents an interesting question:

    “Is it not the job of a wine writer to educate with accurate facts?”

    I don’t think “education” necessarily has to be a job requirement for a blogger. If I want to learn about machine harvesting I can easily open up the “Oxford Companion to Wine.” Bloggers should add to the conversation by artfully telling stories and by exposing readers to new ideas and perspectives.

    I think the same question applies to my field of publicity. I have a few certifications (WSET Advanced & CSW). While the training has enhanced my appreciation of wine and my ability to relate to winemakers and journalists, communication and creativity is ultimately much more important.

  30. Wine Harlots January 13, 2011 at 1:15 PM - Reply

    Who’s doing the certifying, is really the pertinent question.
    And what is the value (economic or otherwise) of the certification?
    You’ve mentioned five wine credentialing organizations in your article – which one is the gold standard? (There is a difference in getting a degree from Yale vs. the University of Phoenix.)

    There is a bias against the autodidact, but is that really an informed opinion? Knowledge is knowledge no matter where it comes from, I much rather read good writing from the uncredentialed than shoddy writing from an author with a string of faux credentials.

  31. nSquib January 13, 2011 at 2:09 PM - Reply

    In my experience, certification doesn’t necessarily mean a thing, whether with reference to people who sell, serve, or write about wine or to chefs. I’ve known many people with wine certification whose depth of knowledge was shallow at best and who constantly lied directly to customers and managers/owners to cover themselves, just as I’ve known many hacks with a degree from CIA or FCI, etc.

    Certification is also out of reach for many wine professionals because of the great cost involved. For example, the CMS now requires the Introductory Course as a prerequisite to the Certified Sommelier Exam, as opposed to being able to take the Certified Sommelier Exam on its own (as it used to be), which brings the cost of certification up to $800. WSET is even worse – Advanced Certification (the equivalent of CMS Certified Sommelier) is $1200. Quite a racket, not even mentioning the cost of something like a degree in Viticulture from UC Davis.

    The most important thing when it comes to writing or talking about wine I feel is education, which can be gleaned through experience, classes, or can easily be self-taught. Anyone can write about wine; it’s up to the reader to determine if the writing is well done and informative, just as in any discipline. I think if you can’t tell the difference between the information you’re going to gather from a “Cougar Juice” blog and from Jancis Robinson’s site, that’s on you.

  32. MacDaddy Marc January 13, 2011 at 2:15 PM - Reply


    I suggest you read the article again before you inaccurately describe what Pamela was saying in the article, to another one of our readers (Heather) Your take was accurate. BK Wine we only started to discuss this subject matter after having a Wine Director at a $150 plate steakhouse not pour any wine out of a second bottle we were planning to have during a fourth or fifth course after we asked that it be opened and allowed to breath a little. That experience and reading some articles where major mistakes were made while describing the inherent aroma qualities of Syrah. “Personally, I think wine writers should obtain certification—and I’ll throw in a “get some industry experience” into the mix. The problem we have right now is not so much a lack of enthusiasm, but rather a lack of experience and training.” is what Pamela wrote. We do not now, nor will we ever, advocate censorship. I knew this piece would ruffle some feathers and I am sure that was her motivation secondary to the shoddy service being perpetrated at Fine dining establishments. It seems from your comments this one hit a little too close to home for your comfort zone. I am the co-founder of Enobytes and hold no wine certifications or culinary degrees so somehow somewhere I really think you missed the point. But regardless, we really appreciate the comments. Those comments will probably get others to re-read the article and for that we say thanks.

  33. Wine Curmudgeon January 13, 2011 at 2:43 PM - Reply

    This is a joke, right? An early April Fools gag? So Parker can’t be a wine writer? Berger can’t be? What’s next, certification for restaurant reviews? Movie reviews? We have to toss Pauline Kael out because she was never certified?

    Or maybe we should just certify all writing, right?

  34. Per-BKWine January 13, 2011 at 3:06 PM - Reply

    MacDaddy Marc,

    Well, maybe you should read it once again yourself. I have. And I still get the same sense out of it.

    The basic idea in the text is that “wine writers should have a certification”. I do not see what I have “inaccurately described”. Please let me know.

    There are a few important words in this but you “should” know better since I guess you are native English speaker.

    The first word is “certification”, that means some type of official diploma and/or recognition of that you fulfil certain criteria.

    The second word is “should” which implies that it is a requirement.

    Saying that someone is required to go through an examination by an official body to write about wine is absurd, and not far from censorship.

    There is one small line which attenuates the discourse: “We should not mandate it” but that is just mention in passing. The whole piece points to that the author really would like it to be *required*. Perhaps I am mistaken. But in that case, perhaps the author did not pen her thoughts very well?

    Now, I am certainly a very ardent supporter of that people who write about wine are better off knowing a bit about wine. There are faaaar to many bloggers as well as print journalists (!) who display a disappointing lack of understanding of what they write about. (There area also many who are extremely competent!) But from that to draw the conclusion that wine writes “should” be required to have a “certification” is not intelligent.

    If you as an editor publish an article with the gist that “wine writers should be required to have a certification” when in reality what you want to say is “it would be nice if more wine writers were more competent and knew more about wine, and perhaps they can achieve that by going on a course or getting some practical experience”, then perhaps you *should* consider how you edit your articles. Or perhaps you are just keen to publish provocative texts to create a lot of debate?

    (In parenthesis, in no way did I sense my vinous “feathers ruffled”. Not at all. I am quite on the safe side there. What did get my attention was that a journalist/blogger advocates *requiring* (“should”) “certification” for her peers. And yes, that is not a far step from censorship (or corporativism if you prefer): “What, you don’t have a WSET/MW/CSW/…? Then you are not competent to write on wine!”)

    That then most commentators have read “certification should be required” as meaning “it would be nice if writers knew a bit more” is another matter.

    Anyway, I hope I’ve made my point clear:

    No, wine writers should not be required to have a certification.

    Yes, it would be nice if more wine writers knew a bit more about wine.

  35. Marlene Rossman January 13, 2011 at 4:13 PM - Reply

    Certified or certifiable?
    Perhaps you should ask the question to Robert M. Parker or Stephen Tanzer?

  36. Heidi Stine January 13, 2011 at 4:25 PM - Reply

    Certification would certainly enhance a writer’s credibility, but so would other things like being a respected winemaker. And wine certification doesn’t make one a writer. Readers need to find sources they can trust.

  37. Rebecca Gibb January 13, 2011 at 4:52 PM - Reply

    Interesting argument. Yes, of course it helps if you know your subject matter and that’s why I’m studying for the MW but I know plenty of MWs and qualified wine people who think just because they are experts in their field they should write about it. The two don’t necessarily go together.

    However, i think this is a rather damning assessment of wine writers. Most of my fellow writers/journos are very knowledgeable and this comes across in their writing. Admittedly some aren’t and they shall remain nameless. Editors and readers should be discerning enough to sort the wheat from the chaff…

  38. John January 13, 2011 at 5:12 PM - Reply

    If I am paying someone to educate me, they should have some sort of certification – as an educator. That the educator should have in-depth knowledge about the subject the are teaching seems a given.

    But… I’ve been studying and tasting wine in depth for over 30 years. I’ve run a high-end wine store. I’ve been making, researching, and consulting on wine professionally for over 24 years. I engage with my colleagues and read specialist publications to extend my knowledge.

    I read “general interest” wine writing because I find it entertaining. Sometimes I am entertained by the quality of the writing. Sometimes I am entertained by the complete incompetence of the “writer” – even ones with lots of letters after their names.

    OK so I represent a vanishingly small fraction of the people reading wine writing. But it is as true for everyone as it is for me: just as an educator is first and foremost a teacher, a wine writer must first and foremost be a good writer. No amount of “certification” is going to make anyone a better writer.

  39. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 5:12 PM - Reply

    Per-BKWine, thanks for the comments, but I think you misinterpreted my sentiment. What I’m saying is that it would be in the best interest for wine writers to have specialized knowledge, and IMHO, the best way to attack this is to have a good balance between education and hands on training.

    Of course, there is no law against incompetence. But do you prefer to read incompetent articles or articles that are accurate? I’m not mandating a law, and specifically called that out in the article. And I’m certainly not comparing wine writers to medical professionals. That would be comparing apples to oranges.

    …and I’m not sure where you got the idea I was proposing no certification = no writing.

    But I do agree with you that even the educated make mistakes. We are all human, for goodness sake.


  40. Rhiannon January 13, 2011 at 5:24 PM - Reply

    I myself grew up on vineyards and in wineries. My grandparents were contract growers and thus established and maintained Alot of the hunter valleys best known and reputable wineries. I have this and 6 years experience working at a winery doing lab, warehouse, mostly cellar door, managing wine clubs, marketing etc and doing Alot of food and wine dinners. Im only 24. When I left the wine industry I missed it so I started my own blog. Iwineo as in the link I provided. Im an amateur writer but Im no wine industry amateur. However my experience is why I have something decent to write about. I agree with what you’ve said for the most part. But a blog is for opinions. So each to their own. But you are completely right about Mechanical harvesting. It is rougher on the vines but it can save a crop if bad weather is coming. Also – I prefer less fingers in my wine!

  41. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 5:47 PM - Reply

    Per-BKWine, I think we are in opposite corners with the term “certification”. Everyone seems to allude to the fact this means full blown MS, MW, WSET diploma. That’s not what I mean. Heck, you can take the MS level 1 intro somm course and exam, which is a two-day educational course. Recipients who pass the exam receive an official Court of Master Sommeliers “Certificate” to certify they passed the course. It requires **a lot of self-study prep** AND **career experience** before hand, but the certification course itself is two days.

    …and no, asking wine writers to have a solid understanding of the subject they write about and getting certified through one of the many programs available to them (ahem, the prior example) is not asking too much. I’m standing my ground.


  42. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 5:56 PM - Reply

    @Stacy Woods I agree with you 100% regarding experience being equal to certification. We can read all the books (and take all of the classes) we want, memorize the facts, but at the end of the day it’s about having enough experience to educate the reader and wine customer. Well said! ~Pamela

  43. Rhiannon ( pookie_monster ) January 13, 2011 at 5:58 PM - Reply

    I disagree somewhat about sending wine writers to school. It would probably make someone who really doesn’t know the practicality of what they are preaching more pretentious and wanky. There are always going go be naive people who don’t get it. I know wine makers who went to prestigious universities to learn their trade and did really well yet they still make terrible wine , so sending someone to school might not make a difference. I agree that hands on experience helps. Really wine is a passion and a flair and if someone wants to spread their word – the more the Merrier- cheers

  44. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 6:00 PM - Reply

    @The Sediment Blog – certified insane? Are you in the MW program? (Sorry, my attempt at humor sucks).

  45. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 6:03 PM - Reply

    @Randy Caparoso point well taken.

  46. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 6:16 PM - Reply

    @Michael I think you hit it on the nail. In my own words, it’s not about a wine writer receiving prestigious certification, (who cares about framed diplomas on walls!!!) it’s about a writer reaching that level where they feel confident and comfortable to report on subjects accurately while educating readers with high quality writing. Writers have to figure out their audience and determine what certification seems appropriate. Sommelier? Winemaker? Etc. It’s up to them.

  47. Lisa Shara Hall January 13, 2011 at 6:27 PM - Reply

    I mostly agree. I think too many bloggers and writers make glaring errors in print. I don’t think a certification is necessary, for who will certify? I don’t want to censor anyone, but I get very frustrated when mistakes or misunderstandings happen in print. One needs UNDERSTANDING, not just book learning or a like of a subject to be able to write about it. It is very hard to quantify and qualify understanding.

  48. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 6:33 PM - Reply

    @AG Bryksa as stated on the previous comment, it’s about finding that balance between certification and hands on experience to feel comfortable speaking about a subject with confidence and accuracy. Go kick some butt!


  49. Jade January 13, 2011 at 6:48 PM - Reply

    I think that this applies to pretty much any field in the age of blogging and tweeting. Blogs and websites abound in nearly every subject and to the uneducated reader, it is hard to tell the Certified Sommelier’s blog from the one which you described above. I actually thought about this last year while reading a blog rant on how it is ridiculous to charge more for wine at a restaurant than at a grocery store. This gentleman had no idea that hours of tasting, costing, inventory, and thought go into a wine list; that not every restaurant is trying to steal all of your money, and that many struggle to stay open. His first review focused on a small, family-owned restaurant and he knocked them for their wine portions and cost. I wanted to tell him that the hundreds (if not thousands) of people who read his blog may not ever eat there and that his opinion actually affects people’s lives (side note: blogger has no education/background in wine and i have never been to the restaurant). Anyhow; I would be more than happy to see more writers have any industry experience and/or education.

  50. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 6:48 PM - Reply

    @Stephen Bonner – the way I look at it, certification should be transparent to the reader. Meaning that (you are right) readers should not care about wine writer certs they hold, they (readers) should simply have the confidence that what they are reading is accurate and informative. Hugh and Oz – agreed. Robert Parker – as far as I know he has no certs–Graduated from my Alma mater, University of Maryland, College Park, with a major in history and a minor in art history, then a law degree before focusing full time on wine in ’84.

  51. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 6:52 PM - Reply

    @Steve Heimoff right on! Thanks for the comment. ~Pamela

  52. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 7:00 PM - Reply

    @Christopher Brown I think you hit it on the nail regarding skeptical reader attitudes. Readers have to trust the source.

    …and thanks for adding the “writer style” factor. Readers have to match pallets and interests. Well stated. ~Pamela

  53. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 7:04 PM - Reply

    @Jo Diaz makes sense for some, others not. But as stated previously, it’s really the wine writers due diligence to figure out that balance between certification versus hands on experience to report accurately and confidently. Do you agree?

  54. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 7:16 PM - Reply

    Pietro Buttitta man, you hit it on the nail big time. Restraint to avoid tackling subjects that are beyond comprehension is definitely in the limelight. As for culinary school students, I know the drill too well. I live with an ex-executive chef and worked restaurants for many years. Do you know how many (culinary school graduates) we auditioned for line cook positions that couldn’t pass the slice and dice onion task? This is why I keep hammering home that certification in addition to HANDS ON experience is so important. Some may have the diploma (wall candy) but when it comes down to delivering, can they deliver the goods? ~Pamela

  55. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 7:21 PM - Reply

    @Gary agreed – every blogger should include an “about” page to include experience and credentials.

  56. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 7:35 PM - Reply

    @Ed Masciana – where do I start? Great writers are born, but the rest of us have to practice, practice, practice. Congrats on your wildly successful book publications. ~Pamela

  57. Joel Butler MW January 13, 2011 at 7:35 PM - Reply

    Pamela–funny, I just responded to Frank H w/out having read your column. So… I will just enter here what I sent him. I had no idea you would quote me, so don’t be surprised by my comment here. Should wine writers be certified…? (my response)

    “Insane? Nuts? Arrogant? Ignorant? —–Seriously, however, no. It wouldn’t work, so why even try? In our society, the notion of being “qualified” to write or opine on a subject no longer exists, as it does to some degree in Europe and elsewhere. Being educated about that which you speak of doesn’t seem to matter much here. If wine were a “hard” subject like biology or even a semi-squishy one like Economics, the public might be more cautious about who they listen to or read. It’s not- just as with film reviewers, those who the public pays attention to (or literally pays!) are the cream that rises due to solid study/knowledge gained from experience or in school. Being certified would not make much difference, except from writer’s POV. The public only sees that the writer has a reputation and credibility, based upon who he writes for, and whether his own publication (s) are given credence in the marketplace. Of course, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

  58. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 7:45 PM - Reply

    Joel, so does that mean our society has officially “dumbed” it down in terms of the average blogger (and reader) and credentials are only achieved via a major publication? I digress and respectfully disagree.

  59. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 7:49 PM - Reply

    @Kurt – “Would UC Davis or an equivalent accredited secondary academic institution count as certification”

    Absolutely. Its all in good training. ~Pamlea

  60. Sandy January 13, 2011 at 7:49 PM - Reply

    I loved the article! Thank you. Speaking only for myself, I do not claim to be a wine expert, enologist or anything. I can honestly say that my best lessons and teachers have been the “unspoken ones”.. I have learned more about wine from walking the vineyards with Alicia Rojas, who bottles my wine as she explains the whys, hows, wheres I have.. from bugs, to soil, to sun, to temperature, irrigation, etc. Every time we go out regardless of the season there is one more thing I learn. From the enologist who allows me to be in the lab with him and has me try different mostos after grapes have been crushed and patiently explains everything. From the field people who explain the nuances of the weather, when to pick, temperature, their own idiosyncrasies when it comes to wine…

    Everyone has something to share and teach to wine lovers around the world, expert or not, grape picker or wine maker… In my book, everyone has some wonderful little wine jewel they can share with the world and I am for sure, one eager student.


  61. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 7:56 PM - Reply

    @Dale Cruse hallelujah man!

  62. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 8:00 PM - Reply

    thanks for your comments Ryan. ~Pamela

  63. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 8:03 PM - Reply

    Thanks for your comments @Beau Carufel. I think a balance of real-time experience balanced with certification is a good way to go.

  64. project [fermented] January 13, 2011 at 8:19 PM - Reply

    Credentials are good things but, not the only thing. As I was told as a child, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty to really understand the essence of a subject.

    In reading this post, I began thinking of both the first amendment and the nature of democracy. In the US, our first amendment offers press the ability to express their opinions as they wish. Good or bad.

    With democracy, two key things come to mind, the need for competition and the freedom of the people to choose.

    In the end, if the goal is to educate then a certification should prove both helpful and enlightening though, not necessary. Either way, the final product will be judged in time and those with the superior knowledge and creative ability to share it (via certification / blood, sweat & tears / or other) should prevail.

  65. Weston January 13, 2011 at 9:17 PM - Reply

    Im going to say “No” because you cant stop people, but I think this is where well thought out wine awards for content on a blog does add. I mean how many jouralist articles have you read where they did’t even do the proper research themselves AND the editor let it fly.


  66. Adam Huss January 13, 2011 at 9:22 PM - Reply

    having read (at a certain point skimmed) the bazillion comments that outstretch your wisely provocative article by at least a yard, the bigger question to me is: if we’re all writing about wine, who’s left to read about it? it’s as daunting as it is exciting to think how many content producers (is that too crass a term?) are out out there producing wine content. you ought to create a certification for someone who reads all the websites of every commentator on this article. i, for one, am grateful to each of you. you are all a part of my on-going education.

  67. Clive January 13, 2011 at 9:23 PM - Reply

    I think No is the answer here. You require no certification to make wine. You just need some money and the desire to do it. Why should people who write about wine need more vetting than those making it? Certification looks great on a resume. It can certainly provide you with a well rounded education. I think can also further serve to continue making wine unapproachable. This is a problem that wine already suffers from in the eyes of the average consumer. Is there a place for average Janes and Joes who enjoy wine, appreciate it but maybe beyond that they don’t have a whole lot of expertise, is there a place for them? Do you have to have a trained or sophisticated palate to enjoy wine? I say you don’t. Do you have to have a trained or sophisticated palate to write about how you enjoy wine? Nope. I say nope.

  68. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 9:50 PM - Reply

    Interesting take @Sam D. especially when it comes to communication and creativity.

  69. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 9:57 PM - Reply

    @Wine Harlots point well taken.

  70. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 9:59 PM - Reply

    @nSquib Thanks for bringing up the self-taught aspect. This is definitely doable but I think many are not disciplined enough to go this route. BTW, I love the “Cougar Juice” reference.

  71. Kurt January 13, 2011 at 10:10 PM - Reply

    Clive: The fact is that you can get a degree from a REAL university in (shudder) wine making. We have to take classes in analytical chemistry. Yes you do not need an enology degree to make very good wine, but it helps. I’m just a little annoyed at the cork dorks out there that don’t value the academic, as opposed to trivia, degrees that winemakers have.

  72. TX WineKnow January 13, 2011 at 10:12 PM - Reply

    Before I read this article, I read a lot of peoples blogs about wine, now I’m compelled to make this statement. I don’t want to sound too much like Mark Zuckerberg but these comments and responses have made me realize how many kids I play with on the playground want to make sure they know what clique they belong to including it’s ranking compared to you and your friends plus the added fact of finding out how many arrived on the little buses (no disrespect they should be applauded for trying). Now all you kids collect your wine bottles and go home.

  73. Kurt January 13, 2011 at 10:36 PM - Reply

    Hey TX: Yes i’m in a clique. And can I analyze those bottles for cork taint before they take them home? And, again just out of curiousity, does sommolier certification include actually knowing what TriChloroAnisole is?

  74. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 11:07 PM - Reply

    @Wine Curmudgeon It’s about writers reaching their comfort zone to write with authority and high quality writing. If you got it, you got it. If you don’t, you have to figure out your audience and determine what certification and hands on experience seems appropriate. Isn’t everyone responsible for identifying their competencies and weaknesses to drive opportunities and growth? ~Pamela

  75. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 11:08 PM - Reply

    excellent point @Heidi Stine.

  76. enobytes January 13, 2011 at 11:15 PM - Reply

    @Lisa Shara Hall – Understanding beyond book learning is key. Thanks for your comments Lisa.

  77. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by alawine, W. R. Tish, Richard Shaffer, enobytes wine online, enobytes wine online and others. enobytes wine online said: @oenoblog YES! It's about combined edu/experience – essentially finding the right balance to fit writer needs […]

  78. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Elina Shatkin, Jenn Garbee, Nicole Williams and others. Nicole Williams said: Should Wine Writers Be Certified?: Good review…. Enobytes is an non-profit organization created to advance the… […]

  79. Alfonso Cevola January 14, 2011 at 5:29 AM - Reply

    Writing a wine blog for 5 years now, but in the wine world for most of my adult life. I really cannot say having a CSW has made me a more qualified writer or wine professional. Actually it was more like all the trials (and errors) that taught me. Nothing against academic pursuits, but I think folks who write about wine (or anything) would also be well served to take journalism or writing classes.

    In this new world, Twittering and Facebooking and blogging have been a good way to network. Where I seem to get my inspiration (and material) is on the ground. In the restaurants, retail stores, in the vineyards. Inotherwords, life. The great teacher.

    A trainer drummed this quote into me, “Just because you’re certified, doesn’t mean you’re qualified.” It stuck.

    Saying that, there are scores of qualified (and certified) folks in the wine biz who train and entertain many of us on an ongoing basis, in print and in the flesh. And to all you folks out there, thank you.

  80. Tish January 14, 2011 at 5:50 AM - Reply

    The vigorous comments here should be seen as a positive: a lot of people apparently care about the issue of wine writers’ qualifications. I think Alfonso has penned a fitting endnote. In the free market of ideas, qualified writers — credentialed or not — will be the ones who survive and get read.

    Pamela, I give you credit for raising the issue. Perhaps you erred on the side of presenting it as if it can be answered conclusively. Not so, apparently. Perhaps if you had made your points more rhetorically the comments would have been less bumpy. I give you credit for offering it up, though, as it brought up some passionate and intelligent reactions. That alone proves it was a discussion worth starting.

    Now I think it’s up to all those who consider themselves wine writers to get back to the task at hand, and be conscious of ensuring that the information we put out there needs to be accurate, well-considered, well-presented and authentic. In the end, I don’t believe any certification will ever be able to guarantee that. But awareness of an article’s/post’s source can and should continue to be an important consideration.

  81. Jason Phelps January 14, 2011 at 5:50 AM - Reply

    I read this yesterday before the first comment was posted. I wasn’t sure how much attention it would get. I knew then that I disagreed with a simple premise of the requirement of certification but suspected that wasn’t the intent.

    I hold no official wine certifications, yet, but I do have 7 years of winemaking (award-winning too!) behind me, thousands of pages of reading and lots of sniffs, swirls and sips. I know both what I know and what I don’t know. I bring all of that to bear when I write about wine.

    Why I am pursuing the Sommelier, Cicerone and BarSmarts certifications? To challenge myself, broaden my experiences and meet new people. Will it help my food & beverage writing? Yes. Do I have to do that to become a better writer? No. But I would need to network, read and taste to keep growing.

    This argument comes up time and time again when people who have chosen certifications as a means to legitimize themselves get bent that folks who don’t have the same credentials are just as/more popular and are offered the same benefits. Sour grapes (had to use the wine metaphor) ensues.

    There are always going to be hacks and cheats out there who find the easiest way to ride a trend and don’t really add a lot of value but reap rewards for a time. They eventually fall and don’t command the respect that knowledgeable, sensible people doing the same get. We just have to live with it.


  82. Howard G. Goldberg January 14, 2011 at 6:24 AM - Reply

    Frank J. Prial, my former colleague at The New York Times, is, in my judgment, one of America’s great wine writers. Was he “certified” — whatever that means? By some outside “authority”? Not so far as I know. By an inner something? Yes.

    Where did his greatness lie? In his modesty. In his street-smart native Irish story-telling ability and his reportorial seasoning. In his skepticism. In his understanding of his audience. In his ability to define a balance between taking wine seriously but not pinky-finger seriously. In his patent Francophilia, which is to say his understanding of the international value of wine’s Mother Church.

    The atmosphere of Frank’s columns was as important as — or perhaps more important than — their facts. You cannot certify atmosphere.

  83. Richard January 14, 2011 at 6:48 AM - Reply


    Good article and as I peruse some of the comments, the subject seems to be a ripe one. Most of the comments posted touch on my own personal feelings towards this subject, so I will be brief.

    Certification and/or gaining knowledge through experience is up to each individual and based on their willingness and drive to learn more. Writing well is either learned or innate. Whether or not someone has a full grasp on the handle of what they write about has little to do with their ability to convey meaningful ideas and emotions. As it was already stated in some comments: having the ability to write well doesn’t mean you know what you are talking about and having certification, training or experience in a field doesn’t mean you can use words effectively and thus have the ability to share your knowledge with others.

    Anyone who wants to write about wine regardless of their abilities and level of expertise certainly has the right to do so, I am sure you would agree. And any publication has the right to hire who they like. The person they hire will be knowledgeable and/or skilled or perhaps they will be complete hacks. The ultimate test will be graded by us, the readers. Cream floats to the top (not there is anything wrong with whole or even skim milk). The final arbiter is the public at large.

    I won’t insist that anyone who wants to write about wine – or anything for that matter – be qualified or talented, but if it isn’t appealing to me I just won’t read it. If the show sucks, leave or turn it off.

    If your ultimate concern is that people are getting bad or just plain erroneous information from writers or bloggers then I have no good answers. There is a massive amount of bad info in all subjects and it is up to the individual reader to double check facts according to their own level of interest.


  84. Clive January 14, 2011 at 7:01 AM - Reply

    @Kurt, I’m well aware that you can get a degree in wine making, Davis, Dijon, etc. I know several of my favorite wines here in Washington and Oregon are made by people who have those degrees. I also know, and this is my point Kurt, several winemakers who don’t have those degrees. As a rule I don’t necessarily find one group making better wine than the other. I’ve seen 20 something sommeliers disregarding the wisdom of older and very experienced members of the wine community simply because they don’t have a lapel pin. That’s not good either.

  85. Steve January 14, 2011 at 8:22 AM - Reply

    Should a wine writer be certified? NO
    Should a wine writer be knowledgeable? I certainly hope so!

    As the Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Any column or blog is a cooperative venture between the writer and the reader. It is the writer’s job to gather the necessary knowledge and do as well as he can in presenting the knowledge to the reader, and it is the reader’s job to comprehend and decide what he likes and believes. Most readers in general, if they are truly interested in the subject, can determine if the writer is someone they trust and believe or not. If not, then the writer’s readership drops.

    The knowledge can be gained in various ways and is not dependent upon “certification”. Some writers have a lifetime of experience or for many families, many lifetimes. I personally did not have this background and strove to gain the necessary knowledge via certification through WSET, CIA, SWE, UC Davis and others, plus working as an educator in a wine shop. That certainly doesn’t mean that I have more knowledge than someone who has a lifetime of experience in winemaking, it just means that I took a different direction.

    Thus, certification is not necessary in wine writing any more than it is in any other writing endeavor. Don’t worry, the reader will definitely decide if you are “certified”.

  86. Vinogirl January 14, 2011 at 8:23 AM - Reply

    No, I don’t believe wine writers need to be certified. Each wine writer when reviewing a wine, for example, is merely trying to convey their opinion of what is in the glass before them. As the reader I should be able to determine for myself if their review is of any value to me. Wine writing is not some life or death propostion in which people need to be experts. Wine is one of the greatest enjoyments in my life, and how I make my living…but it is only a drink! I have a degree in Viticulture and live in Napa, but that does not make me any more certified, and therefore more qualified, than someone perhaps writing from a bedroom in New Hampshire.

  87. Tom Wark January 14, 2011 at 9:22 AM - Reply



    Not only would it be good for writers and bloggers or whatever we are calling ourselves, to have a wine education certification, but it would be good for wine writers to

    1. Have worked at least a decade in the wine cellar

    2. Have worked a decade in the vineyard

    3. To have read the 100 or 200 most important books on the history of wine

    4. To have a cellar that allows them to instantly visit the depth and breadth of all the important wine regions of the world

    5. To regularly exercise because this keeps the mind healthy and that’s important when you are writing about wine

    6. To spend some time in a remote, Tibetan cave, meditating deeply on the nature of combining symbols t represents sounds.

    Indeed, all this would be great!!

  88. Mark Cochard January 14, 2011 at 10:12 AM - Reply

    The tone of the some of the commenter’s really pisses me off. Out of 86 comments which includes Pamela’s responses, we have 30 bloggers and 6 commenter’s with out links. So is this a question to the public or to all the barking poodles out there?

    Those who have certification appear to be humble in most respects and do not say writing requires certification. Those who do not have certifications appear to derride the whole certification concept as some trivia game and the program providers as hucksters on a carnival midway. Also they seem to want to let everyone know they are just as smart and knowledgeable about wine as those who have some certification. Just goes to show that the mirror sometimes is the best educator of all, so go look in it.

    No certification is not a requirement but knowledge is. I am not a blogger cause there are too many already, but I do have a bunch of trivial certifcations and yes I am one of the hucksters.

  89. KL357 January 14, 2011 at 10:23 AM - Reply

    This post is very poorly argued. Why don’t you poll the certified writers you list and see how many of them agree with you that hand harvesting isn’t preferable to mechanical harvesting? If any of them disagree, will you be apologizing to the author you disparaged?

  90. Charlie Olken January 14, 2011 at 11:43 AM - Reply


    I have always thought that a Harvard education was a wonderful thing and proved nothing. Critics/writers/educators who succeed do so because they know what they are talking about, are able to use that knowledge to inform their opinions and have the communication skills to make themselves understood, accessible, valuable.

    Does one need a certification for this? Of course not, anymore than a poet needs a Harvard education. In that regard, I think you imply too much. That said, in raising the whole questions of competence in wine writing, you have obviously struck a chord that has attracted some of the best writers around.

    You and I would agree that knowledge is key. You and I would agree that anyone who seeks to convey knowledge to other has a sacred duty to seek knowledge before imparting it. You and I would agree, I hope, that the pathway to knowledge is not singular and could/probably should include book learning and practical experience. Whether it should include a stay in Tibet, per Mr. Wark, may be less demonstrable, but I suspect that we woud agree, en fin, that only when knowledge and experience are combined to yield wisdom does any of this matter.

    I join you in decrying bad wine writing, but I cannot join you in arguing for certification of writers. Too many people these days can pass the first parts of WSET or any of the other cert programs and still know nothing. Yes, a fully accredited MS or MW has demonstrated great knowledge, but as my good friend, Tim Hanni, shows so obviously, having knowledge and having what might be the single best credential out there, does not make one a seer.

    I side with Heimoff and others on this subject, and ultimately conclude that good winewriters rise to the top because they are good winewriters, not because they have Harvard or Davis or MW certification but because they are good winewriters.

    Respectfully submitted,
    Charlie Olken

  91. […] love because of their attention to detail in their articles. Should wine writers be certified? Who do you really trust when it comes to wine reviews? They also give a great list of Twitter […]

  92. Frank Haddad January 14, 2011 at 11:57 AM - Reply

    Here is an interesting thought. You have given everyone a list of blogs and the various certifications of the authors. It would be interesting for people to compare these writers to the general wine blogging community. Are these writers more accurate with their information, are they decent writers, do they inform more etc. I am not sure how my writing ability would hold up ? If these bloogers are different, the certification theory holds up. There is also a wide range of letters here, which cert would be the standard. If not, end of theory, and the bloggers listed will know either to take a writing course, or carry on in further wine education.

  93. […] Enobytes coughed up a hairball when writer Pamela Heiligenthal started a conversation about a certification process for wine writers. […]

  94. Robert Giorgione January 14, 2011 at 12:34 PM - Reply

    Great article. Many thanks for the mention and to be included on your list.

  95. Dave McIntyre January 14, 2011 at 2:14 PM - Reply

    @enobytes, re #74: Pamela – you argue in circles. In your original post, you argue that wine writers lack credibility if they don’t have some outside certification, yet in your response to The Wine Curmudgeon you say that it is our own inner comfort level that’s important. Not even Sarah Palin is so good at having it both ways.

    You also undercut your argument when you say “It’s only a two-day course!” And yes, you did argue that certification is necessary, not that more knowledge is a good thing.

    Much of this discussion does not distinguish between bloggers and professional wine writers, perhaps as a reflection of how the Internet and the blogosphere have changed this. Many “wine writers” are also bloggers, and some bloggers produce professional quality writing. But it is a worthy distinction.

    As a wine writer and sometime blogger with a journalism background, I have been “certified” by the publications that have deemed my work worthy of publication: The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, Wine Enthusiast, Sommelier Journal, MarketWatch, among many others. People who disagree with my writings have derided me as a “civilian” wine writer because I have a real full-time job, or dismissed me as just “a government worker moonlighting” as a wine writer. But the only “certification” that matters is my editor’s confidence and ultimately, the reaction of the market, my readers.

    Wine writing is (or should be) more than a dry recitation of what you call “accurate facts” – more than hectoliters per hectare, XX% new oak, etc. It’s the story behind the wine and the winemakers, importers, retailers, and sommeliers who bring it to us. By capturing these personalities and their stories in our reporting, we can bring the wine alive on the page and – if we’re successful – establish a connection between our subjects and our readers.

    It’s so much more than point scores and book knowledge.

  96. Erin January 14, 2011 at 3:59 PM - Reply

    I agree with Charlie:
    “I join you in decrying bad wine writing, but I cannot join you in arguing for certification of writers. Too many people these days can pass the first parts of WSET or any of the other cert programs and still know nothing.”

    I think the majority of “certification” programs are completely useless, expensive b.s. I’ve run into too many “sommeliers” who have awful palates.

    Bottom line – experience in the industry beats the hell out of a certificate earned in a classroom. A good writer is a good writer – couple that with years in the wine business, and there’s a writer I can get behind.

  97. Stacy Woods January 14, 2011 at 4:39 PM - Reply

    I have read through the comments and have reread this post. I do not agree that wine writers should have to be certified or somehow validated except through their own contributions and/or their readership. My interpretation of this post was and continues to be that Pamela was expressing her frustration with the sometimes poor quality of online wine writing and was suggesting a remedy based on her opinion. Perhaps her opinion was to the extreme but I think 95 comments later we have some semblance of a discussion for what it’s worth. Her recommendation should not come as a shock if you consider the Enobytes mission statement: …we are devoted to educating people and promoting an exchange of ideas that benefit professionals and enthusiasts alike.” This was an opportunity “for an exchange of ideas.” I thought it was a good question FOR ALL to consider not just wine writers, bloggers, or “certified” folks. In my opinion, should there be a mandate for wine writer certification? No. Is it a question worthy of consideration? Yes! Even if you argue against it you have atleast considered why it should not be so. This is the type of question I might give my Level 4 students.
    After reading some of harshly toned and at times mocking responses I am quickly reminded why I do not frequently contribute in the blog world. I think Pamela handled herself very gracefully in her responses and she clearly has a thicker skin than I ever will. She deserves and gets my respect for that.

  98. Carla Whitfield January 14, 2011 at 5:05 PM - Reply

    I’m simply a reader who enjoys drinking wine. I had no intentions of commenting but #88 encouraged me to say something. I don’t know a thing about the certification, so I cannot comment one way or another what seems appropriate. What I do know is that when I read an article, I would hope that the writer knew enough about the subject and didn’t feed me a line of BS for which I might take as accurate information. Pamela’s first example about mechanical harvesting is a good one and I am thrilled to see someone take a stance on behalf of readers like me.

  99. Bernard K January 14, 2011 at 5:41 PM - Reply

    Are You Kidding?? Should we start having everyone in the country to be qualified, certified or bonefied and credentials to write for newspapers, magazines, books etc. Its just an opinion, the cheapest comodity on earth cause everyone has one. Opinions are usually worth as much as you paid for it. Wine has a largely subjective fan base, I mean look how many wines are out there that many of us don’t really like. Now will I bear to purchase this wine my money–Thats the question.
    Joe Heitz on told me in person that “you can give a guy a haircut many times, but you only get to scalp him once”
    Its amazing that to you need a licence to cut one persons hair professionally, but to make wine you don’t need anything and as a winemaker you could potentially poison, kill, mame or harm thousands of people with your product. WAKE UP AND SMELL WHAT YOU ARE SHOVELING– MOST PEOPLE DOING WHAT THEY DO IN THE WORLD ARE NOT LICENCED, CERTIFIED OR CREDENTIALED ON ANY LEVEL WHATSOEVER. Stop reading the National Enquirer and lets keep stupid opinions where they belong–UNREAD!

  100. enobytes January 14, 2011 at 7:25 PM - Reply

    Goodbye cruel world! I’ll miss all you nice people, but it’s time for me to take Tom Wark’s advice–I’m off to Tibet to meditate in a cave for a while. ~Pamela

  101. Cecilia Dominic January 14, 2011 at 8:00 PM - Reply

    Well, damn, Pamela’s off to a cave, and that leaves me a poodle barking into the wind. As the little girl in Charlie Brown says, it’s hard to have naturally curly hair. ;)

    My “real job” (e.g., the one I get paid for) is as a psychologist. In our ethical code, to present oneself as able to do a certain kind of therapy, it requires supervised training and education. Yet those of questionable credentials (Dr. Laura) and ethics (Dr. Phil) present themselves as experts in the field and have a large following, leaving the rest of us with legitimate credentials and no questionable ethics fuming.

    The answer for me seems to be full disclosure. I’m an amateur wine writer, and I’m up front about it. My audience reads my blog because they know I’m on about the same level they are, so they’re not intimidated. Sure, I take every learning opportunity I can get, but I don’t have the time or money to go further at the moment. However, I don’t present myself as “Dr. Cecilia, the wine expert.”

    I think it’s an interesting question, and I thank Pamela for posing it. Maybe we don’t need credentials, but nutritional labels? I’m happy to present myself as 100% RDA Amateur. :)


  102. Brian Young January 14, 2011 at 8:02 PM - Reply

    @KL357 The author already put up a challenge…read the third paragraph. Enough said.

  103. Michael Spinger January 14, 2011 at 8:25 PM - Reply

    I thought I would let you guys know there is a discussion (and poll!) on the winespectator forums about this article. Thomas Matthews seems supportive of Pamela’s argument (to a point), saying “My “training” consists of a vintage picking grapes in Bordeaux, four years as a wine buyer and bartender in Manhattan, two years living in a French wine village, spending as much time as possible hanging around the cooperative and in the vineyards, and now 20+ years of immersion in the wine world at Wine Spectator.

    There’s always more to learn, and there are many paths to knowledge. I feel I could benefit from more formal education, in a school of enology or at a winery. (For the record, I don’t have a degree in journalism, either.)

    But as many here have already said, we all do the best we can with the tools we have. The wine lovers of the world will vote with their palates and their dollars, and those who earn credibility will flourish. Certification might help towards that goal, but can’t guarantee it on its own.”

    I agree with both Pamela and Mr. Matthews that certification might help reach wine writer credibility – it’s certainly not a guarantee but it’s the step in the right direction.

  104. KL357 January 14, 2011 at 8:26 PM - Reply

    Brian Young: the third paragraph is completely irrelevant. The author here is arguing that hand-harvesting isn’t superior to mechanical harvesting and anyone who had a professional wine industry certification would know that. I’m not concerned with the truth or falsity of the underlying claim re: hand-harvesting vs. mechanical harvesting; I’m concerned with the completely ridiculous claim that anyone with an industry certification would agree with the author here. If there is even a single exception, then the entire premise of this blog post breaks down, regardless whether that person is correct or incorrect on the underlying issue.

  105. Colorado Wine Press January 14, 2011 at 8:38 PM - Reply

    @Michael Spinger, I didn’t take Mr. Matthews comment on the WS forum to be supportive of Pamela’s stance, but more saying that, yes experience is necessary to write about anything but certification is in no way necessary for writing on a topic. Knowledge is always better than ignorance.

    I don’t think someone will just start writing about language acquisition (or whatever field) without any knowledge or experience in the field. If someone is writing about wine, I am pretty sure that they have some experience, even if it is just to comment on their first glass of wine ever.

  106. Jacques January 14, 2011 at 8:41 PM - Reply

    I love the fact that nobody, including the author, has noticed that it isn’t “Joe” Butler, it is “Joel” Butler. That includes Mr. Butler, himself. Maybe all of you should learn how to read carefully rather than getting wrapped up in this inane, navel-gazing non-argument. Or maybe none of you believe in proof-reading? Ah, well. Such is the internet.

  107. Sarah Lefebvre January 14, 2011 at 8:43 PM - Reply

    Well, on the eve of my 1st ever wine blog, I love this post. I currently have no certification but I’m researching WSET courses around me. Great article!!

  108. Gary January 14, 2011 at 8:58 PM - Reply

    Jacques – Or maybe one should not be so wrapped up in details and focus on the subject at large.

  109. Cecilia Dominic January 14, 2011 at 9:00 PM - Reply

    Comment, take two… (didn’t go through the first time)

    If I look at this argument primarily as a wine blogger, my gut reaction is, “hell, no! We shouldn’t have to be certified.” But if I take a step back and look at it from the perspective of my “day job,” e.g., as a mental health professional, I can’t help but say, “Hmmm…”

    If you look at psychologists in “popular” culture, the two that come to mind are Dr. Laura and Dr. Phil. Those of us who actually practice psychology for a living cringe at either of those names. Putting aside questionable credentials and ethics, both make a living from belittling those who come to them for help, not something we want associated with the field.

    To claim expertise in psychology, our ethics code mandates that we have education, training, and supervision in the area. If we’re trying out an experimental treatment, we have to disclose to our clients that it’s something we’re not familiar with. I think that’s where the argument can be in favor of amateur wine writers.

    I’m an amateur wine blogger, and I’m up front about it. Those who want expert opinion/advice can go elsewhere. Sure, I seek education and training where I can, but I don’t have the time or money to invest in formal certification right now. My readers appreciate that I’m a regular person like them exploring wine, and they’re okay with that.

    Thanks, Pamela, for bringing up this question! I think it’s a good one, and applicable to more than just wine writing.


  110. Jacques January 14, 2011 at 9:23 PM - Reply

    Gary – Yes, details. Such an annoyance when one is in a rush to beat the chest, right? Damned facts and details.

  111. Gary January 14, 2011 at 9:31 PM - Reply

    king kong rules.

  112. Brian Young January 14, 2011 at 10:12 PM - Reply

    I think you need to reevaluate the statement (or go back to school). The author states “ in an ideal world, hand harvesting may be the way to go, but not everyone has that luxury” and lists reasons why winemakers might choose to mechanically harvest. She never claims one is superior to the other and I certainly didn’t read into her comment that only certified wine writers would know this. She is stating a decision made by others such as winemakers (and I assume viticulturists). It sounds like if you have evidence to debunk her ridiculous claim, then carry on. We’re all listening.

  113. Brian Young January 14, 2011 at 10:14 PM - Reply

    That last comment was directed to KL357 (whoever you are).

  114. Michael Spinger January 14, 2011 at 10:52 PM - Reply

    Colorado Wine Press: I don’t agree. Pamela has made plenty of references to clarify her intentions, which supports Matthew’s statement. In the first sentence on the WS blog post, it states, “the basic premise [of the Enobytes post] is that wine writers should obtain wine certification (e.g. CSS, CSW, WSET, MS or MW) and “get some industry experience.” The balance between hands on experience and certification seems to be shared by both Matthews and Heiligenthal. Both tout “Experience is necessary” and both share the idea that many could benefit from “formal education”—which could be described (as Matthews points out) enology studies or education at a winery or, as Pamela states, certification through the various wine programs.

  115. John Kafarski January 15, 2011 at 5:51 AM - Reply

    Having passed a number of examinations through WSET, Society of Wine Educators and the Court of Master Sommeliers, I think it’s shortsighted to think that just because a wine writer, sommelier or critic is anymore qualified in understanding wine than someone who is not “certified.” Certifications and post nominals are often thought of as the be-all, end-all in the wine business. Just because an aspiring writer or sommelier learned the Grand Crus of Burgundy by memorization, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the student understands the differences in the producers and wines from said villages. Nothing – and absolutely nothing, replaces the wisdom of understanding wine’s sense of place through the bottle. Clearly, a wine writer should know the basic soil types, climates and boundaries of specific, popular wine regions in order to hold an intelligent conversation with his/her peers. However, if said writer believes that this amount of knowledge suffices, they are sorely mistaken.

  116. un{CERT}ain…un{CERT}ified times | VINfluence January 15, 2011 at 6:35 AM - Reply

    […] signs of the Zodiac have changed. Not only all of this but I read that wine writers may not know anything about wine. These are uncertain times! Dominique Lafon elaborating on a wine while we all, Mark Tarlov, […]

  117. Charles January 15, 2011 at 7:54 AM - Reply

    Who are the best, most insightful, entertaining and knowledgable writers today? (IMHO: Asimov, Liem, Theise, Rosenthal, Nossiter, Schildknecht,…) How many of them have some kind of “certification”? There’s your answer. But I do agree about the writer you mentioned in your first paragraph. She’s a hack!

  118. Doug Cook January 15, 2011 at 8:48 AM - Reply

    (Well done, Pamela – you succeeded in getting a lot of response. Nothing like a little trolli-, uh, I mean controversy to stir the pot!)

    I can’t say I read *all* 117 prior comments &em; I think I got to about 30 &em; so this may already have been said:

    Anyone who loves what they do and wants to be great at it will continue to learn and hone not just their knowledge, but their skills, as long as they are at it. There are a lot of ways to do that beyond certification, and certification (MW/MS excepted, perhaps) is no guarantee that someone really knows their stuff. (And if we believe certification is important, why not require certification for writing skills? There are plenty of wine “writers” who can’t construct a proper sentence, let alone effectively argue a thesis or entertain a reader).

    Mind you, I’m not dissing certification &em; I have the WSET Diploma and learned a lot from the experience &em; I just think it’s silly to require it for wine writing. What’s wonderful about the wine field is that there are many ways to get into it. Let’s respect and encourage that diversity. Those who are truly exceptional will stand out by the quality of their work.

  119. Frank Haddad January 15, 2011 at 9:02 AM - Reply

    Interesting discussion.
    1. There is some misinformation posted on wine blogs. Some of my favorites being “ice wine has maple syrup added to make it sweet”, “the Fraser Valley wine region is located in the State of Ontario”, “ice wine is made from grapes frozen in big cooling plants”. The wine community can not stop this misinformation being posted, but we can correct it by using the comment section. The writer will either start doing proper research or stop writing.
    2. Experience is everything, ie Alfonso, many years in the trenches and traveling Italy. He probably knows more about Italian wine than most MW and MS.
    3. Having certifications does not make you a good writer. I know ,and I now make my public apology for some posts that where written in haste and poorly. Thank god for spell check. It should be noted though that many of the certifications require some essay writing. The WSET Diploma requires essays as part of the requirements. The critiques from London can be brutal. Check out there website for some examples.
    4. The bloggers living in and writing about a wine region need no certification. They live and breathe the region and know the winemakers. Some should be writing for the Oxford Companion
    5. The major lesson that I have taken away from my certifications, is how much more there is to learn about wine. While doing my WSET at the moment I see what it takes to be a MW or an MS. Humbling to say the least.
    6. Tasting wine and writing notes is a personal thing, so really anyone can relate their experience of the wine in their hand. Some do this better than others. I did find however that the WSET program help me focus more on my notes. The cert programs also expose you to wine styles that you may have not tried. The blind tasting requirements for the WSET and the CWE again focus and require a lot practice in tasting and writing notes. The MS even goes further, I admire the folks with this cert they have tasted a lot of wine. It still comes down to tasting is a personal experience. No cert required.
    7. Who would do the certification? I have various certs from four different groups. Each on has a particular basis or bent to what they teach.
    While I believe that certs are usefull they are not required to write a wine blog. Passion for the subject, some strong opinions,experience and proper research are.

  120. Rusty Gaffney MD January 15, 2011 at 9:13 AM - Reply

    The same argument could be made for winemakers but makes no sense. Some of our greatest winemakers are not graduates of accredited enology programs, and learned to make wine “on the job.” I would even go on to say that some of our best and most brilliant winemakers never studied enology in college. Sure they have taken a few courses to learn the basics about chemistry, etc. but that’s it. The analogy with wine writers is similar. If they are bright, passionate, committed and have experience, they can provide a valuable service without any type of official certification.

  121. Marlene Rossman January 15, 2011 at 9:59 AM - Reply

    Pamela, my dear, you posited a very stupid question.
    Enjoy your stay in the cave. Please don’t come back until YOU get certified.

    Poor wine writers will not survive for very long. We all know that people who are not good at what they do, don’t last. Next time you come up with such a foolish idea, think about it before you post.

    Oh, as a postscript, you are probably referencing Alice Feiring, who although writes for NY Times, Wall St. Journal and many $$$ publications, to my knowledge, is not “certified.”

    Oh, and I AM a wine writer, a former sommelier (in NY and LA), with not only a BA in English/Journalism, but an MA in Linguistics (and an MBA) and a successful 11-year career as a wine writer for most of the mags/journals mentioned above.

  122. Dan Hertz January 15, 2011 at 10:06 AM - Reply

    Mark Cochard put it well: “…certification is not a requirement but knowledge is.”

    Jancis Robinson has a MW designation, Burton Anderson does not. Should they not *both* be followed? (see Charles’ post 117)

    The advantage of certification is that it helps “guide” a reader to potentially credible sources of information.

    Dan Hertz

  123. Marlene Rossman January 15, 2011 at 10:07 AM - Reply

    Rusty, your wine writing rocks!!!

  124. enobytes January 15, 2011 at 10:47 AM - Reply

    @BeauCharles Good point…and what about all of the bloggers that don’t have an editor. ~Pamela

  125. Dan Hertz January 15, 2011 at 10:52 AM - Reply

    As I’m a wine & spirits writer from traditional media, perhaps we can look at this from my publisher/editor’s pov?

    Knowledge is important — for credibility, and to prevent a backlash of “He’s an idiot” letters to the editor — but what they look for is:

    a) professionalism (meeting copy deadlines, being accurate, writing to your space, and if required, submitting all necessary bottle shots)

    b) engaging the reader/viewer (entertaining, enlightening, or through another style)

    which hopefully…

    c) sells newspapers/magazines, increases tv/radio numbers and importantly, sells advertising.

    Certification is down the list.

    Dan Hertz

  126. enobytes January 15, 2011 at 10:55 AM - Reply

    @Tish thanks for the comments. I’ve managed to ruffle feathers but in the end, it opened up a good discussion. ~Pamela

  127. enobytes January 15, 2011 at 11:07 AM - Reply

    @Jason Phelps You touched on something that is important—to continuously challenge yourself and broaden your experiences. There is always more to learn, right? ~Pamela

  128. enobytes January 15, 2011 at 11:51 AM - Reply

    @Richard yes, my concerns stem from getting bad or just plain erroneous information from writers and bloggers –but it goes even deeper than this. As Marc pointed out in an earlier comment, we started to discuss this subject matter after having a wine director at a high-end steakhouse not know to pour a little wine out of a second bottle to let it breath. I agree–there is a massive amount of bad info (and service) out there. Sure, readers should consider the source, and as others have mentioned, the cream will surface to the top, but I also hold writers accountable to take some responsibility and double check facts. As for service, I guess the best we can do is bring the complaint forward and hope that they are listening and willing to improve. ~Pamela

  129. nSquib January 15, 2011 at 12:09 PM - Reply

    Pamela, what did you mean by this: “a wine director at a high-end steakhouse not know to pour a little wine out of a second bottle to let it breath[sic]”

    I’ve never heard of this in twenty years serving wine. Opening wine and leaving it in the bottle gives little exposure to air. If you want to let a wine “breathe,” you should pour it out into glasses or decant, not to mention not all wines need to “breathe”. So I’m confused here. Are you accusing a wine director of not doing something that’s not appropriate?

  130. nSquib January 15, 2011 at 12:17 PM - Reply

    Ok I went up and reread Marc’s original comment about this. What was the problem? Did he open the bottle to let it breathe as you asked? Did you ask him to pour it out or decant it? He probably made the assumption to do exactly as you asked, open it and leave it until your glasses were lower in level before pouring. Unless I’m missing something, I fail to see where this is a lack of knowledge. If you had asked me to open your second bottle to let it breathe, the levels on your wine glasses were still high, and you hadn’t asked for decanting either for the first or second bottle, I would do as you asked, open the bottle, and then not pour until needed, although I know it would do little to help the wine, because “the customer is always right.”

  131. enobytes January 15, 2011 at 6:04 PM - Reply

    nSquib – our issue was what you described in comment #129. We told the director that the mature red wine needed to breath. Just as you stated, if you want a wine to “breathe,” you need to pour a little out into a glass or decant. Neither was offered, nor did this person bother to ask our preferences. The person simply opened it, sat it on the table and walked away. Our glasses were near empty. But it really wouldn’t matter if they were full or empty because a second clean glass should have been presented to the host for taste and approval. This wasn’t a second bottle of the same wine, it was a new order. ~Pamela

  132. enobytes January 15, 2011 at 6:58 PM - Reply

    @Charlie Olken I agree with you on many points. Yes, knowledge is key and the pathway to knowledge is not singular, which is why I proposed a balance of education and hands on experience. I agree with you that too many people these days can pass the first parts of WSET or any of the other cert programs and still know nothing, but at least it is a step in the right direction. I commend anyone willing to take an initiative to learn more about a subject they write about and for developing their skills while continuing to challenge their knowledge. In the end it’s about the journey, isn’t it? …and as you (and others) have pointed out, I guess the cream eventually rises to the top. ~Pamela

  133. enobytes January 15, 2011 at 7:19 PM - Reply

    @Frank Haddad regarding comment #92. Excellent idea! I would challenge anyone to take on your suggestion. We could collect results and report the findings. Anyone interested in building a survey or participating?

    Regarding comment #119, great roundup. #5, “The major lesson that I have taken away from my certifications, is how much more there is to learn about wine.” Exactly—I’m reminded every day how little I know. It’s about the journey…#7, “Who would do the certification?” Several people brought this up. I really wasn’t thinking about some formal board to oversee certification, which is why I mentioned, “those who take wine writing seriously should ~consider~ it”. Meaning, those who take an initiative to learn more about a subject they write about, develop their skills and continue to challenge their knowledge will be a better person for it. ~Pamela

  134. enobytes January 15, 2011 at 7:54 PM - Reply

    @Mark Cochard We really appreciate your sincere examination of the article. Thank you for reading the whole thing. It appears you are one of the few. So now its time to be cool. In the words of Joe Bob Briggs, take an Arkansas polio weed break and think about it. No really, I’m just joking (my father is in law enforcement. Shhhh!) You’re not mad anymore, are you? Because I’m not.

    Our vision is simple: to promote an exchange of ideas that benefit professionals and enthusiasts alike. It looks like we made some progress in getting people to speak their minds. Let’s raise a glass and move on to the next subject. Your continued support is much appreciated and will always be welcomed.

  135. enobytes January 15, 2011 at 8:07 PM - Reply

    @Dave McIntyre If you met me in person, you would find we have much more in common than we do in disagreements. ~Pamela

  136. enobytes January 15, 2011 at 8:13 PM - Reply

    @Stacy Woods …thanks for your sincere examination of the article. At least we made some progress in getting people to speak their minds.

  137. enobytes January 15, 2011 at 8:14 PM - Reply

    @Cecilia Dominic cheers!

  138. enobytes January 15, 2011 at 8:17 PM - Reply

    @Michael Spinger thanks for the heads up about the winespectator forums topic.

  139. enobytes January 15, 2011 at 8:18 PM - Reply

    @Sarah Lefebvre best of luck with the newly found blog!

  140. Sara January 15, 2011 at 9:07 PM - Reply

    Dan Hertz, I appreciate your humor and honesty, especially the “He’s an idiot” letters to the editor. I guess we are all criticized at some point and time.

  141. Smita January 15, 2011 at 9:40 PM - Reply

    An interesting follow up from the Enobytes post on “Why Certifications Sometimes Don’t Matter”:

  142. enobytes January 15, 2011 at 11:14 PM - Reply

    @Howard G. Goldberg It is an honor to see that someone of your stature viewed my article. Your advice of what I might learn from your contemporary Frank Prial was humbling and enlightening at the same time.

    For twenty-two years, I have cursed the ease in which Enobytes co-founder (my husband) tells a story, sautés a dish or physically drives right up on something when he has no idea where it is. He can diffuse the most intense and possibly violent situations just by talking everyone beyond it. We used to live in “Southie” (Boston).

    I cannot do any of that although I am learning and I keep trying. He, on the other hand, cannot fold a towel or recognize a run-on sentence. He is from the south. My heritage is represented by my last name and although I know I need to learn to be more articulate, we both know no matter how much we can help each other we all have our own struggles that only we can overcome on our own. Now if I could only teach him the difference between a semi-colon and a comma. I also dream I will be able to wake up tomorrow, sit down to a keyboard and bang something out and never second-guess what I have decided to express.

    Your comment on my article broadcasts the elements of a good scolding, combined with gentle truth and endearing hope. If that was not your intent, that was surely your accomplishment and I thank you. I hope that Frank will appreciate your efforts as much as I and your dedication and devotion to a valued colleague (even if it was at my expense) is a noble and gracious deed. ~Pamela

  143. Harry Terrell January 15, 2011 at 11:47 PM - Reply

    This post was not only enlightening but relevant, finally something that helped me. Thanks:)

  144. Dave McIntyre January 16, 2011 at 4:53 AM - Reply

    @Pamela: You’re probably right. I certainly can’t disagree with the conclusion this conversation has reached – that we all should try to learn more about the professions we are in. But that isn’t what you wrote in your original post.

  145. Marlene Rossman January 16, 2011 at 8:54 AM - Reply

    Dave, you are so right! That wasn’t what she said originally.
    And I thought she was going to go off to live in a cave.
    What happened to that? It was a GREAT idea!

  146. Charlie Olken January 16, 2011 at 10:52 AM - Reply


    As one who shares your educational institution, hence the references (see Tish also, by the way), we know that certificates come from having studied, but that knowledge is much harder won. And wisdom, that combination of knowledge, experience and intellect, and the ability to use them to understand and explain complex situatons, is harder won still.

    I am less enamoured of writing skills per se, although I admit to being jealous of the ways that people like Gerald Asher explain the wine world, than I am of insight, careful analysis and accessible explication.

    Certification has nothing to do with any of the characteristics we prize in quality writing. It seems to me that we are now all in agreement on that point, and on the corollary that certification does not hurt if only because it does indicate a search for knowledge.

    Some here may seem to be scolding you. Don’t worry about it. Instead, take great pride in having launched one of the most thoughtfully debated subjects in the wine blogosphere in some time. For that you deserve great praise and all of our thanks.

  147. enobytes January 16, 2011 at 12:28 PM - Reply

    @Marlene Rossman no, I’m not referring to Alice Feiring.

    @Charlie Olken thanks.


  148. Mark Cochard January 16, 2011 at 12:29 PM - Reply

    Pam, Thanks for the reply. No I am not mad. I teach and creds are important for educators. You see we have the same issues in education as we do in writing. What qualifies someone to teach, A wine certification traditionally does not. The SWE is now requiring CWE candidates to undergo a live teaching evaluation, until now people were given this cert w/out (including myself) a demonstration of ones teaching ability. When I took the exam you had to submit a resume as well as samples of your teaching materials. For some reason this requirement stopped being a requirement. So at least they are back on board with the presentation requirement. The WSET requires instructors ( after attaining the qualification, like the Diploma)to be certified as well except for us gray beards who are grandfathered. I believe in certifying of wine educators so that they demonstrate that they can teach and communicate effectively, much more so than a blogger/columnist. So now you have your next blog topic and you will get the same firestorm of comments.

  149. nSquib January 16, 2011 at 1:01 PM - Reply

    Pamela, I think you’re misunderstanding what I was trying to say.

    When you ordered a second bottle of a different wine, you told the wine director to open it to let it breathe. That is exactly what he did. You have to understand that there are many people who come into restaurants who think that simply opening a bottle and letting it sit there open is good for letting a wine breathe. It is not the wine director/sommelier/server’s job to correct the guest on his/her erroneous beliefs. I believe that is what this wine director did with you that night. You did not tell him to decant the wine nor did you tell him to pour the wine out (and pouring just a little into glasses is not what I said; it’s what you said. I meant pouring out the bottle into glasses so that the wine in the glass can get air, since nothing left in the bottle is really going to benefit.) Perhaps he should have asked you what you wanted to do, but it was on you to request exactly what you wanted. He did exactly what you said you wanted, no more, no less. I don’t understand how you can fault him for that.

    Last week I served a man who brought in two wines of his own to have with dinner. I served the first and decanted it because it was old and I thought there might be sediment. He did not request decanting. After I served the first bottle, he asked me to open the second bottle to, yes, “let it breathe.” He did not ask me to decant it, although it was clear I would, and that that was an option, because there was already a decanted wine on the table. I cannot tell you how many times people have come in who say they are “into wine,” “wine collectors,” bragging about wine, but don’t know the first thing about it. These people always ask to have me open a bottle to “let it breathe.” I used to ask them if they wanted me to decant it or pour it out, but they always said no, opening it would be enough. They were also steadfastly sure that pouring it out wouldn’t do anything for the wine. I stopped asking after a few people acted indignant or offended at the very questions I asked. Now I do exactly what the guest wants, no more, no less. The wines this man brought and the way he spoke of wine told me he was into wine because of money and had no real understanding of it with regard to service, just asking me to open it to “let it breathe” because that’s what everyone else does. With this particular wine, I opened it, let it sit on the table for a few minutes while I did a few other things for the table, and then went ahead and decanted it although the guest did not request it, but that was something I did because I had extra time. The wine was not a wine that needed decanting.

    I believe that this wine director thought you were one of these people, for better or worse. This episode, to my mind, reveals absolutely nothing about a lack of education, knowledge, or ability to serve. It simply reveals someone who’s been in the business and knows his guests. I fail to see where certification has anything to do with how this situation could have been resolved. Clear communication on your part, instead of later falsely criticizing a man just doing his job, and properly I might add, would have been a better approach. Now, if at a later point, new glasses were not offered and the wine was not served, yes, that would be a problem. Other than that, he did as I would have done.

  150. bill marsano January 16, 2011 at 2:10 PM - Reply

    The only good here is that the author, so strident at first, backed off to a milquetoasty “might be a good idea” at the end. The next step is to admit that, outside of a Saturday Night Live sketch, it’s ridiculous. Apart from that, it’s poorly written. I’m not complaining about that flat, full, earnest writing but about the cliches, repetitions, wordiness and mino but irritating errors that litter the piece from end to end. This piece should have gone back for at least one rewrite.

  151. Joel Butler MW January 16, 2011 at 2:52 PM - Reply

    thanks for coming to my defense re my ‘real’ name! Of course, I did notice there was no ‘L’–but I also didn’t think it necessary to point out the misspelling of my name. Some things just aren’t that important to criticize– for all I know it was just a typo! The important thing is the range of discussion Pamela’s blog engendered. Now that is important/interesting/thought-provoking!
    Joel Butler MW

  152. enobytes January 16, 2011 at 3:50 PM - Reply

    @bill marsano Your criticism is much appreciated. I never claimed to be a good writer and it is something I work on every day. ~Pamela

  153. Macdaddy Marc January 16, 2011 at 3:57 PM - Reply

    Nsquib, Pamela has asked me to reply to you. First the two wines were 2003 Shiraz Fissel Grant Burge and the 2003 Luigi Bosca Gala2. Not pouring wine out of the bottle to give some surface area access to oxygen is a pet peeve of mine as you will see from this post
    Our server knew what she was doing, I only wish I could say the same for the rest of the crew. Now on to your comment about clear communication, my father was a USMC Drill Sergeant, my mother a school teacher. Somewhere between 88-98 I sold over $30,000,000.00 in food and wine and have fired at least a dozen newly graduated culinary students in their first week of working with me. Almost that many Tasting Room Associates when I overheard them speaking to guests disseminating false information. I have no wine certifications nor culinary degrees. Although my landmark wine was a 54 Pio Cesare Barolo opened in Memphis in 1970 when I was a line dog,I am made aware everyday how little I know about wine but yet I still keep trying to learn, I have opened over twenty new restaurants in my career and to date almost all of them are still open. I have also been a Valet and a Chef for the infamous Bohemian Grove. How many Executive Chefs with those credentials do you know have an issue with communication problems? When I sit down to dinner anywhere I am polite and let the staff do their job. If they do it poorly we do not go back and yes sometimes I write about it, or put it in my report to the principals if I was hired to consult. Thanks for your spirited contribution to the conversation but somewhere along the way it seems your train ran off the track. Certifications teach service standards that were not adhered to that was the relevance you seemed to have missed. BTW when we lived in your city Pam worked for Frontera/Topolobampo. Perhaps next time I am in Chicago we can visit your establishment, it would be a pleasure to be served by you.

  154. enobytes January 16, 2011 at 3:59 PM - Reply

    @Joel, typo indeed, and quite ironic as I’m always correcting those who refer to you as Joe. Cheers! ~Pamela

  155. Charlie Olken January 16, 2011 at 6:28 PM - Reply


    Not to worry about Mr. Butler. I have been known to refer to him as “hey, you”, “Mr. Typicity” and “WTF”. I won’t even tell you what he has called me over the three decades of our friendship. Suffice it to say that he has big shoulders and a great sense of humor and will answer to most anything as he is called when corks are being pulled on good wines or the dinner bell is ringing.

  156. David Foster January 16, 2011 at 7:44 PM - Reply

    I’m still not sure why everyone is so bent out of shape. Had the author stated, “wine writers “must” obtain certification, this might be a different story, but the word “shall” was used, as to express desirability. It’s her opinion, and as we all know, we have the right to voice it.

    Moreover, I’m sadly disappointed by the rude conduct some of you presented through your heckling and disparaging comments. I would expect more from a group of professionals. Where are your big bright ideas to solve this problem? At least someone was willing to step up and offer a possible solution. Maybe we all need to take a good long look in the mirror.

  157. enobytes January 16, 2011 at 8:29 PM - Reply

    Charlie – Let the cat out of the bag, give up your nicknames! :) JK.

    @David Foster Indeed, my intent was to bring this subject to light. Have I accomplished this? I think so. I have tough skin, so don’t worry about me, but none-the-less, I sincerely appreciate the support. New solutions are always welcomed.


  158. Ariel Baum January 16, 2011 at 10:13 PM - Reply
  159. Wink Lorch January 17, 2011 at 12:58 AM - Reply

    Congratulations, Pamela on stirring such a debate… one took place in a similar way over on Rob McIntosh’s (a founder of the European Wine Bloggers Conference) blog The Wine Conversation. Many, but not all of the comments on that came from the British side of the pond so you and others might like to look at that too –

    My view is simply that yes, it usually helps if wine writers/bloggers study about wine, but if they have a chance to travel a lot through wine regions and taste intensively with a range of different people and learn through these wines, that can create deep knowledge too. Education and knowledge alone are, however, not enough – you have to be able to transmit the information in an appropriately entertaining and understandable manner. Context is all.

  160. Marlene Rossman January 17, 2011 at 9:24 AM - Reply

    Ya know, I think the author of this argument should go back to university and get an (M)BA in Economics. The market is the great equalizer. If you are good at what you do (in ANY field) you will succeed. If not, your blog/column/musings/career will fail. It is just as simple as that.

  161. nSquib January 17, 2011 at 12:30 PM - Reply

    Marc, I appreciate your reply, and your follow on Twitter, but, still, nowhere in your reply did you say anything that contradicted my interpretation of the situation. It is very clear to me that the situation you found yourself in fails to show any lack of training on the part of the wine director, as he probably knows full well about how a wine should be exposed to air, but didn’t want to correct/contradict a guest, especially at a steakhouse where there are many guests with more money than sense. I’m really unsure as to why this is so difficult to understand. You went to great lengths to detail your qualifications, but then said you “let the staff do their jobs” when you are out to eat, so I’m guessing you did not tell the wine director to either decant the wine or pour it out. The wine director followed your exact instructions. As I’m sure you know from your extensive restaurant experience, you should never make a guest feel uncomfortable, condescended to, or humiliated. And correcting a guest on what he wants to do with his wine can often do any or all of those things. Certification with regards to service teaches how to serve the guest, not how to be a snooty rude sommelier who snickers at a guest putting ice in his wine, bringing in Cakebread, or thinking a wine can breathe just by opening it.

    One of my pet peeves is when a guest expects something to happen or not happen at our restaurant, doesn’t ask specifically for such a thing, and then leaves forever or writes a criticism in another venue without giving us an opportunity to fix whatever mistake or perception of a mistake has occurred. I think you are being unfair here by doing so and not saying anything at the time this happened. A restaurant cannot correct bad behavior/training if they are not made aware of such happening. From your other post, I can see that this is your pet peeve. It is easy to fix – tell the person serving your wine exactly what you want done with it. Easy peasy.

  162. Colorado Wine Press January 17, 2011 at 3:19 PM - Reply

    @Michael Springer: I am well aware of the WS poll (look at the opening post a little more closely…). I still read Mr. Matthews post as saying that experience is more important than credentials. In fact, his training does not consist of a wine certification. Pamela, in her original post and in subsequent comments, suggesting that experience AND certification are necessary for wine writers. Mr. Matthews does not support Pamela’s thesis of requiring certification. He, and I, believe that improved knowledge, whether it be certification and/or industry experience, is beneficial but no guarantee of quality writing.

  163. enobytes January 17, 2011 at 3:54 PM - Reply

    Wink, thanks for your view and link to Rob McIntosh’s post! ~Pamela

  164. […] Certification wouldn’t end discussions about food policies, philosophies and practices: It would enhance them. […]

  165. Charlie Olken January 17, 2011 at 7:03 PM - Reply

    It is time to put the idea that certification in and of itself means anything. It might or might not be an indicator of knowledge at some level, but even the top certificates, the full MW and MS do not assure us of quality analysis or good communication skills.

    Knowledge is certainly required, but there is not single path to knowledge, and every time that someone argues that some as yet unnamed certificate would constitute a baseline, I would simply point to all the brilliant winewriting in this world that comes with no certification.

    Or to put it more directly. I am unimpressed by credentials. I am greatly impressed by good writing.

  166. Jacques January 17, 2011 at 7:47 PM - Reply

    It seemed that anybody who fancied themselves a wine authority would know a bit about Joel (not Joe) Butler. Accuracy counts. Janet Robinson and Mark Kramer would likely concur.

  167. enobytes January 17, 2011 at 8:00 PM - Reply

    @nSquib, You argue to much about the customer is always right and you do what they tell you to do. Yes, the sommeliers job is to please the guest, but the best sommeliers also persuade, charm and educate. I hold many years as a working sommelier and know the difference between great service and mediocre / bad service. I think you are using the “customer is always right” as a cop out.

    In your own words you write, “One of my pet peeves is when a guest expects something to happen or not happen at our restaurant, doesn’t ask specifically for such a thing, and then leaves forever or writes a criticism…” Have you considered that you might be partially responsible for the communication breakdown? Even you state, “…tell the person serving your wine exactly what you want done with it.” So if I were the guest and said, open this wine to let it breathe, my first response (as a sommelier) would be, “would you like me to simply open it, or pour a little out into a (fresh) glass, or decant?” Easy peasy. We specifically asked our somm to open the wine and pour some out to let it breathe. If the sommelier was unclear of our intentions, what’s wrong with clarifying? I get the sense that as soon as a guest flounders you immediately go into “the customer is always right, just do what they tell me to do” and you give up on educating your guest. Try to remember that phrase–they are your guests not your customer. You endear a guest by making them feel as if their every need was fulfilled before they even request it. Do you know about the concept of locating the host or becoming the host? Yes, in steakhouses where people often do have more money than sense this is all the more reason to keep them coming back. There are some difficult challenges, however, where there is a relationship to build (yes, it may not be pretty) but…just like Hustle and Flow (great movie if you have not seen it) fashizzle sizzle!

    My suggestion is to learn from others. Have you ever dined at Restaurant Daniel and experienced Raj Vaidya’s service? You could learn a lot from him and I’d highly recommend learning his techniques. I would encourage you to keep trying and don’t give up. It doesn’t come easy but it’s well worth the journey.

    As to my previous comment, I think you missed a statement about the sommelier failing to bring a clean glass for taste and approval of the second bottle. This is standard wine service practice. I really don’t care if our glasses were nearly full (or empty) and I certainly wouldn’t expect a guest to ask for what they deserve.

    Flip me over, I’m done. ~Pamela

  168. enobytes January 17, 2011 at 8:31 PM - Reply

    Jacques, I’m not sure why you keep calling me out on a typo. Yes, I missed the “l”. I apologize. To err is human. I have a lot of admiration for Joel—I’ve broken bread with him—I respect him and I plan to keep it that way.

  169. Steve January 18, 2011 at 6:59 AM - Reply

    Indeed, this has been one of the most thoughtfully debated subjects in the wine blogosphere in some time. Thanks for a great discussion!

  170. nSquib January 18, 2011 at 12:25 PM - Reply

    Pamela, once again, you are completely missing my point, and you’re using it to slam *my* wine service, when my wine service is not up for discussion here. So now because I mention something that may explain what happened to you, I must “flounder” in service? And you go on to suggest that I have a lot to learn, when I have over twenty years in the business serving, being a sommelier, and a wine director? Wow, just…wow.

    You never said that you asked the wine director to pour out your wine despite me asking several times exactly what was said and if I missed everything. This is a change in your story. You said only, several times, that you asked him to open the wine to “let it breathe,” and that you expected him to read your mind as to exactly what you meant by that. I have just been trying to explain that, when many of us hear the words “let it breathe,” a red flag automatically goes up. The words “let it breathe”a (instead of asking to decant or just letting him pour out the wine as per a usual order) often indicates the person is a poseur, pretentious, or ignorant about wine. My advice to you for the future is to just order a second bottle and say you’re ready for it to be poured, or say you’d like it decanted. If you are truly saying that you actually think that this particular wine director does not know the very basics of wine aeration, basics I learned at the age of 14, there’s nothing more I can say other than you might want to examine your own attitudes when going out to those serving you.

    I want to thank you for proving my point, and that of many others here, that wine certification should not be required of wine writers, as it means absolutely nothing. When someone with extensive certification and education at one of the best colleges in the country can’t even be counted on to use proper grammar and spelling in their wine writing, I think that says it all.

  171. nSquib January 18, 2011 at 1:20 PM - Reply

    Oh, I didn’t miss your statement about glasses not being brought for the second bottle. Above, I said that, if at a later time, glasses were not brought and the wine not poured, then that would be a problem. You did not say anything about having to ask for this, so I’m assuming that this was indeed done. Did you ever think that the wine director was just bringing the wine to you, and opened it upon your request, while going to the server afterwards to do the actual service of the wine? Or that some other hiccup happened that prevented him from following through on the pouring of the wine at that very moment? I think, again, that it’s unfair for you to use this example as a jumping off point for the need for certification, when this guy was most likely certified, in which case, you would again be arguing against your own case, claiming that certification does *not* teach everything.

    I never took you for an internet troll, Pamela, but I’ve gotta say, well done. You’ve certainly stirred the pot and gotten a lot of blog traffic.

  172. Christine January 18, 2011 at 3:07 PM - Reply

    Oh my goodness, I think everyone should take a chill pill.

  173. Lisa January 19, 2011 at 3:35 AM - Reply

    Thank you Pamela for raising a great discussion point which has been very well debated by now, around the globe no less!

    I certainly subscribe to the thought that well written blogs will survive & the poorly written will wither regardless of the certification of the contributor/s. Of course, it also depends on the aim of the blog.

    Blogs that are written to be a ‘peer resource’ would probably not benefit from education as this would change their communication style & the content that they publish. The movie Julie & Julia would not have been quite so entertaining had Julie been a Michelin star chef.

    Thanks for the food for thought & don’t spend too much time in that cave – unless it is a French ‘cave’ preferrably in Champagne.


  174. enobytes January 19, 2011 at 6:21 PM - Reply

    @Christine, you have powers :) thanks.

    @Lisa, thanks for chiming in. I’m now headed to a cave in Penedès.


  175. Wine Trail Traveler January 20, 2011 at 11:08 AM - Reply

    […] blog posts have taken sides on the issue of wine writers and if they should be certified. (Check and The Wine Curmudgeon). It is time for me to chime in. At issue is the information or […]

  176. Mark's Wine Clubs January 21, 2011 at 8:37 AM - Reply

    Wow…almost 200 comments. One thing I’ll say, part of what has made the wine blogosphere such a diverse and interesting place of late is the rapid influx of new writers with a variety of backgrounds, both in wine and outside of it.

    Education is great, but I’d hate to lose out on great content and opinions because someone’s day job doesn’t allow them to take a certification course.

  177. enobytes January 23, 2011 at 9:37 AM - Reply

    Mark, thanks for chiming in! ~Pamela

  178. […] I just came across this idea, again, for the umpteenth time on Enobytes. […]

  179. tratament cosmetic January 25, 2011 at 2:10 AM - Reply

    I too think that certification is important, but I tend to agree to the fact that experience is more important. Of course, as a wine writer, you have to know how to write about different topics, what to include and what to leave out. But I think that the writing skills can be “learned” by practicing, while the experience cannot be gained that easily. You also have to be “passionate” and eager to learn more about wine. So, I have to say Pamela, that first of all the experience is the most important, and after that you can add some certification in the mix. Not the other way around as you said. But, hey, this is just my opinion. Feel free to disagree.

  180. Tyler January 28, 2011 at 7:25 AM - Reply

    I can’t say this was frustrating to read but the fact that I am submitting a comment tells me that it struck a nerve – not exactly sure why though, so I’ll spill my thoughts…

    Despite the plethora of publications available at retail outlets, there is actually very little insight or newly written material available to stimulate the wine enthusiast. Nearly every periodical, with the exception of perhaps, The World of Fine Wine, is focused around advertising and the ranking of labels via some sort of list i.e. Top 10, Top 100, Top wines from the Top 10 from the last 10 years??!, Best Tuscany buys, Cali Cabs, girl’s night out favourites…Ugh! I’ve stopped buying these publications simply because they’re devoid of anything stimulating. In fact, I’m eagerly waiting for Chanel to place a perfume strip opposite the Rausan-Ségla ad in a soon-to-be released issue of WS.

    Those who enjoy and truly appreciate a really good glass of wine also desire to peer deeper into their glass. When I search the internet for tasting notes or other information relating to a bottle of wine, I’m looking for insight, not textbook notes; any idiot can look-up that crap. In fact, the folks who hold the credentials seemingly make fortunes by repeatedly publishing this type of material – just slightly reworded from one edition to the next. Instead, I want a different angle, and perhaps a new idea or thought. Isn’t that what we are all feverishly in search of? And if Joe Blow from Anytown who failed high-school English somehow provides that insight, I’ll be very grateful – certified or not.

    That’s all – I’m done…


  181. Alana Gentry January 31, 2011 at 12:33 PM - Reply

    Anyone else go through a Masters in Teaching Writing program, or just me? Additionally, I was a grant writer for 18 years and raised millions of dollars; boy, those supercilious “Certified Fundraising Executives” who never actually raised a dime irritated me.

    Classes and learning from the masters in any field is hugely beneficial, but I’m not a fan of certificates. An MS told me to take the 2 day course. I haven’t yet because it seems strange that I would give someone $695 and they would “certify” me; I’d feel like a fraud. I respect the MW or MS advanced degrees because those are truly professional titles that have been earned.

    In my opinion, certification programs are a slippery slope with plenty of room for abuse by inexperienced oenophiles.

  182. Brenda A. January 31, 2011 at 6:23 PM - Reply

    I’ve been holding my tongue and reading the flow of comments for over a week. I’m amazed at the number of commentors who are against certification. I hold a few certs myself. Not because I see them as a status symbol but because I believe in the learning experience they provide. How can anyone be against learning and education? It’s one method to gain knowledge. Does it make someone an expert? Of course not. But if becoming an expert is someone’s goal, I would certainly hope they would embrace many learning methods to achieve their purpose. Certification, traveling, sampling wine, reading books, mentoring, teaching and practical hands on industry experience is all good training IMHO.

  183. Robert February 2, 2011 at 5:57 PM - Reply

    I found vinography’s recent article “Why Trust a Wine Blogger” interesting and timely as it indirectly ties into the arguments brought forth in this article.

    Per Alder, “…a lot of wine bloggers don’t really know what they’re talking about.

    Per Alder, “…There’s a lot of crap out there when it comes to wine blogs (or any kind of blog, for that matter), and there isn’t enough really great writing to have produced a situation where it’s easy for average consumers to find trustworthy, reliable, and informed wine recommendations from blogs.”

    I think the take away from Pamela’s analysis is that bloggers who expect to stay around for the long haul need to step it up a notch. Certification might be overkill but the intent to promote better blogging is commendable.

  184. Stephen C. Fahy February 8, 2011 at 8:22 PM - Reply

    As many have said before me, let the market decide what matters. I agree that the application of an energetic academic discipline(s), synthesized with actual trade experience, should theoretically enlighten, educate and drive the market towards new and important milestones. But above all else, brilliant, courageous minds are needed now more than ever to critique and reframe today’s world of wine, imho. Today’s post(?)-recession consumer is so much savvier than even 3 years ago, and I trust can sniff out AND elevate those bloggers/educators who connect them to other like-minded wine lovers. I think blogging is magical when it can accomplish connecting one person to a sea of others, rather than effectuate some kind of educational purpose.

    Credentialing shouldn’t (but sometimes does) cause more harm than good. Trade experience itself can certainly illuminate the academic stories we all read and study. But writing/blogging/whatever you wanna call it should be about connecting peeps to peeps, and no credentialing in the world will legitimate that kind of self-less vision.

  185. Online Wine Writing and the Trust Divide | bernnom90 February 24, 2011 at 7:00 PM - Reply

    […] online wine writer Pamela Heiligenthal asked an open-ended question about whether online wine writers should earn one of the alphabet soup wine certifications.  […]

  186. Online Wine Writing and the Trust Divide | sonyagowie February 24, 2011 at 11:00 PM - Reply

    […] online wine writer Pamela Heiligenthal asked an open-ended question about whether online wine writers should earn one of the alphabet soup wine certifications.  […]

  187. Online Wine Writing and the Trust Divide | rosadivar February 25, 2011 at 8:57 PM - Reply

    […] online wine writer Pamela Heiligenthal asked an open-ended question about whether online wine writers should earn one of the alphabet soup wine certifications.  […]

  188. Online Wine Writing and the Trust Divide - Food and Wine Gourmet Source March 2, 2011 at 4:20 PM - Reply

    […] online wine writer Pamela Heiligenthal asked an open-ended question about whether online wine writers should earn one of the alphabet soup wine certifications.  […]

  189. Stuart George March 8, 2011 at 8:04 AM - Reply

    Wine writers should be certified… as insane.

  190. Edward Charlson March 10, 2011 at 10:54 PM - Reply

    I have had it with the self proclaimed wine writers/ wine expert/wine bloggers who have not done more than take a 2 hour class, passed a simple test or pick grapes a few harvests and now they are experts. Yes I have changed my oil in my truck so I must be a mechanic. To further my expertise I have put a splint on my arm so now I am ready to perform a triple bi-pass heart surgery. Tell me one who can name wine faults (not just the in vogue terms that always seem to float around and change annually. The one this year seems to be “corked”. If they can get beyond the simple explaination that it is TCA I might give an ear. But 99% do not know even those simple explanations. So spend the needed years from ground level up. Picking grapes is a start. Just a start, you can now identify the vineyard. Now learn what the winery looks like and carry on a fairly educated explanation on why winemakers choose certain oak, certain coopers, certain toasting. The list goes on and on. I have worked ov er 30 years in the industry and am in no way an expert. I would like to hear back from one so called expert who can tell me what hydroxymethelfurfural is and what causes it (without doing a Google search…there is something that has been lost over the years and that is HONOR.

    • Stuart George March 11, 2011 at 12:07 AM - Reply

      Do you mean hydroxymethylfurfural…?

    • Gregory C. March 13, 2011 at 12:09 AM - Reply

      I’m wondering how many pros know what Mercaptans is…or hey, lets keep it simple and throw in an acronym. DAP!

  191. Pamela Heiligenthal March 10, 2011 at 11:27 PM - Reply

    Hallelujah Edward. At least someone appreciates the kinetics of HMF. Thank you Boulton.

  192. Jose March 17, 2011 at 7:01 PM - Reply

    Good article, let me tell you, I’m a winemaker (oenologist) and have been in the industry for 10 years and done 12 vintages in 5 different countries (that for being only 30 years old I think its quite a bit). I got into Twitter 2 months ago, and I cant believe how much crap is being talked here. It pisses me off and sometimes im off twitter for a couple of days. Also I can say that what is being taught in those wine courses you mentioned before is far from real production.

    But no doubt that this technology era gave speech to a lot of unqualified people. Also pisses me off some of the big opinion leaders or “weinkers” that tweet all the time about the big French chateaus they drank, just to show off they drink expensive bottles at a rhythm they couldn’t afford if they had to pay for them, instead of promoting small wineries around the globe.

    P.D. My opinion on mechanical harvester Vs. fruit pickers, it only pays off the fruit pickers in bad years when the bunches are damaged. But again…Machine night harvesting @ 10 or 12 degrees Vs. Hand Havest during a sunny day at 30 degrees? i might also choose machine. Sorry im a just winemaker not a wine writer

    • Pamela Heiligenthal March 17, 2011 at 7:46 PM - Reply

      “…what is being taught in those wine courses you mentioned before is far from real production”. Exactly, this is why I propose a balance of hands on experience and classroom experience. I’ve learned much more from this balance, especially when it comes to working harvest and lab.

      Thanks for your comment on mechanical harvesting. There are so many variables to consider before making a decision. I wish more understood this. Thanks for chiming in Jose.

  193. Italian Wine Blog March 18, 2011 at 5:05 AM - Reply

    What people write on Twitter and their own blogs isn’t policed. People can offer their opinions every day of the week but it doesn’t mean you have to listen. Just like you don’t listen to relationship advise from your mother! Once you know the source is biased or unreliable you don’t use it anymore unless you get something out of it, perhaps humour?

    I do understand it must rankle to read reviews or twitter entries that are factually inaccurate, challenge it… or laugh?

    I am sure most wine writers, even simple bloggers, have WSET qualifications and have studies ongoing, as we all do, no one knows wine. Where do you want to draw the line?

    I really don’t understand opinions and posts like these and they come up every week. If people want to read other peoples blogs so what? Do you think these readers are now terribly misinformed for some forthcoming wine emergency? I am sure the woman you are refering to, if she really makes untrue statements, will not be writing for the Guardian anytime soon. We write about wine – not the law.

    • Pamela Heiligenthal March 18, 2011 at 12:30 PM - Reply

      IWB, agreed on the twitter subject. Everyone uses it for different purposes and if you don’t like what you read, don’t listen or unfollow! As for misinformed info, agreed to a point, but here is an example that happened to me recently. A reader sent me an email informing me he was allergic to sulfites and wanted a list of sulfite free wines. I gave him a little background info and told him no wine is truly sulfite free (yeast naturally produces sulfite compounds during the fermentation process). He told me I didn’t know what I was talking about and pointed to a site that debunked my claim. In this case, if the reader was truly allergic to sulfites (only a small % of the population is) he could have ended up in the emergency room by taking the advice of a misinformed writer/blogger. Maybe this is an extreme example and maybe I am optimistic that readers can see through some of the B.S. found in the blogosphere. In this case, not so much. But in light of this, calling on writers to improve their knowledge and writing, to up their game, to take responsibility, and to report accurately isn’t unreasonable. But as many have mentioned before, maybe I’m getting too wound up and shouldn’t worry about it as the cream eventually rises to the top.

  194. Italian Wine Blog (Wine90) March 18, 2011 at 3:03 PM - Reply

    OK, fair point, it’s a bit hard to say much without knowing which site you are refering to. However, I can imagine the close shaves and problems/issues caused by people taking Wikipedia as gospel, not to mention all the F grades.

    I think you’re right, the cream does rise to the top however, Googles algorithms are not influenced by whether an article is factual. Only who links to it and what they’ve put in their H Tags. Misinformation can become “fact” very quickly.

    This one will rumble on and on in the wine world and is as old the internet.

    • Pamela Heiligenthal March 18, 2011 at 4:37 PM - Reply

      Google algorithms – that’s an excellent point. Those numbers are based more on popularity than authoritative, influential (and factual) information!

  195. Italian Wine Blog - Wine90 March 18, 2011 at 3:23 PM - Reply

    You know what though? I do think wine writers should be breathalysed before putting fingers to keyboard. *hangs head in spelling/grammar shame*

    It’s Friday night… turn a blind eye Pamela! ;)

  196. […]  It garnered more than 100 comments from some of the best writers.  The post actually took a ridiculous position about wine writer certification as a qualifier for writing about wine. Pamela suggested professional journalists that write about a topic without advanced education and […]

  197. Michael G. January 29, 2012 at 10:11 AM - Reply

    Although I don’t agree with everything that has been said, it seems as though you have influenced the French. The French Magazine, Vitisphere Euro Wine is proposing a formal certification process. Here is a rough translation from the site

    Bloggers and journalists,
    For there to be of great wines, it is necessary, as so aptly Denis Dubourdieu, winemakers to produce these great wines, traders who can sell, consumers who will want to buy them, and the fourth condition of critical wine to assess, noted: “Some bloggers and journalists” … This is not a fable but a drama in 3 acts and probably told in 10 lines:
    1) First, the advent of the Internet, bloggers, social networks (anyone can give advice, with or without talent, often with no experience and no expertise, and always to his self-promotion!)
    2) Then disappearance of the press, critics and the press in particular wine or wine critics (less than 300 journalists writing about the vineyard, the wine, the food in France!) No money, no resources, no independence, no daring.
    3) And the third act of disappearance of the wine review …
    Thus, lost by the multiplicity of references, sources, prices, the consumer loses confidence and protects itself by reducing its purchases of wines! The stakes are high. To avoid the crisis, journalists and publishers, paper or digital, should meet to restore meaning to journalism wine, redefine the art of criticism. Finally, it will accept a certification of actors critical of the rating by one authority, otherwise the digital technologies could impose the dictatorship of a virtual democracy.

  198. […] gets Best Blog nominationShould Wine Writers Be Certified […]

  199. […] enough knowA Day in the Life of an Intern – Day One, Harvest 2013  how strongly I feel about embracing experiences and gaining knowledge in the field that one writes about—it is sort of like an actor studying a part before they go on screen—they live the life of […]

  200. […] seemed to be one of the themes during this winter’s wine writer certification controversy. Somehow, all us bloggers are preventing the writers from reaping the money and fame that they […]

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