It is a fun and exciting time to be a wine lover in Texas. The Lone Star State is increasingly gaining the recognition it deserves as an outstanding wine region, and for good reason. Its rich history, diverse viticulture regions, and amazing growers and winemakers have put Texas wine on the map and have made Texas wine a field of study in itself. And the good news is there are now several great education options available to anyone who has an interest in broadening their knowledge about this fascinating topic.
Wine education classes are a good way to maximize our enjoyment of that magic elixir in our glass. Every bottle of wine tells a story, but full appreciation requires at least a rudimentary understanding of the blood, sweat, and sometimes tears it took to bring that wine from vine to glass. There are a multitude of wine education classes available, but Texas now has several unique options specifically tailored to Texas wine. And the good news is all of these options are accessible to every level of audience, from enthusiastic consumers to industry professionals.
Let’s take a look at each of these options individually. We’ll then examine how they compare and how they differ.
Specialist of Texas Wine Level 1 Certification
The first option we’ll consider is the Specialist of Texas Wine Level 1 certification program offered by the Texas Wine School. The Texas Wine School was founded in 2010 and operates as a 501(c)(3) offering a variety of wine education courses and services. The Specialist of Texas Wine Level 1 (STW L1) is presented by the course developer, Dr. Russell Kane, author of numerous publications including the book The Wineslinger Chronicles and the Vintage Texas website.
The STW L1 course is designed to introduce students to Texas wine and give them a broad overview of the industry. Course topics include:
- The history and evolution of Texas wine from the 1600s through the present
- An overview of the industry’s economic impact on the state
- An introduction to Texas terroir, its geology, soils, climate, etc.
- A description of Texas AVAs and what makes each region unique
- An introduction to the grape varieties grown in Texas
- Comparison of Texas wines to other winemaking regions around the world
- Discussion of the challenges for Texas viticulture (e.g., climate, disease pressures, etc.)
- An overview of Texas wine labeling laws
The course includes a curated tasting package of six wines that are shipped to the student’s door one week prior to the first class. These wines are used in guided tastings where students discuss and explore a few of the styles Texas has to offer. Classes may also include growers and winemakers from the Texas wine industry who join the class for guided tastings, discussion, and Q&A.
Each student of the STW L1 will receive a copy of Dr. Kane’s book “The Wineslinger Chronicles.” A library of supplemental reference material is also available for students to download and keep.
The STW L1 is a virtual course available through Zoom and presented over three consecutive Wednesdays at three hours per day with a one-hour exam on the Thursday following the last class. The exam consists of fifty-three multiple choice questions and is presented in a timed, open-book format. Students who pass the exam with a score of 80% or higher are awarded a certificate and label pin.
Specialist of Texas Wine Advanced Certification
As the name implies, the Specialist of Texas Wine Advanced (STWA) certification program is a sequel to the STW L1. Also presented by Dr. Russell Kane, the STWA goes deeper into the subject matter covered in the first course and introduces new topics pertinent to serious students of Texas wine. Course topics include:
- A deeper dive into the history of Texas wine
- Discussion on the life and impact of T.V. Munson
- An introduction to the pioneers of the modern era of Texas wine
- Detailed study of the wine industry’s impact on the Texas economy
- In-depth study of Texas AVAs and non-AVA wine regions (geology, soil, climate, varieties, etc.)
- Overview of Pierce’s Disease, its preventatives, research, and innovation
- In-depth study of the issues and challenges facing the Texas wine industry
- Making rosé wines in Texas
- Starting your own Texas vineyard
Each student of the STWA will receive a copy of the book “Growing Grapes in Texas” by Jim Kamas. An extensive library of supplemental reference material is also available for students to download, including class slides, reports, articles, and videos of grower and winemaker interviews.
The course also includes a curated tasting package of wines that are shipped to the student’s door one week prior to the first class. This course, however, presents a unique and fun twist. The wines included in the tasting package can be used in homework assignments in which students plan, taste, blend, and evaluate their own red and white wine blends. Students are free to select wines from the tasting package or choose their own wines if they desire. These blending exercises account for fifteen percent of the student’s overall grade.
The STWA is available through Zoom and is presented over four consecutive Wednesdays at three hours per day with a 1.5-hour exam given on the Thursday following the last class. The exam consists of eighty-seven multiple choice questions and is presented in a timed, open-book format. Students who pass the exam with a score of 80% or higher are awarded a certificate and label pin.
Texas Wine Ambassador Certification
As of April 2023, the William Chris Wine School began offering the Texas Wine Ambassador Certification (TWAC) program. Formerly available only to those in the wine industry, this one-of-a-kind program is now open to all, and designed to equip students with knowledge and information to confidently promote Texas wine through application and service. The course is based on the premise that anyone can be a promoter of and advocate for the Texas wine industry, regardless of whether they are an enthusiastic consumer or industry professional. This one-day program is taught in class at the William Chris Wine School and is presented in a fun and engaging way by Kelsey Kramer, Director of Education at the William Chris Wine Company.
The course is presented in a hands-on, interactive format. Students will engage in tasting comparisons of Texas wines with other wine regions and learn about stylistic differences and similarities. Particular emphasis is given to exercises that demonstrate how wine interacts with various food flavors to aid students in selecting the right Texas wine for any setting. Course topics include:
- An overview of Texas wine history
- A description of Texas AVAs
- Introduction to the grape varieties of Texas
- Comparison of Texas wine to other classic wine regions
- Understanding wine tasting as a cognitive sensory experience
- Taste wine and draw conclusions about wine style, serving temperature, and food pairings
- The basics of serving like a pro to present Texas wine in its best light
- Understand challenges in the Texas wine industry
- Confidently answer questions and combat misconceptions about Texas wine
The TWAC is a full-day class with lunch provided by the William Chris Wine School. An exam is given at the end of the class and graded on-site. Students who pass the exam are awarded a certificate and lapel pin.
As you can see, each program outlined above has much in common with the others. Each provides students with an excellent overview of the Texas wine industry, its history, growing regions, and varieties. And each is a high-quality program presented by an accredited organization. Where they differ is in perspective.
The Specialist of Texas Wine and Specialist of Texas Wine Advanced programs are designed to give students an in-depth understanding of Texas wine, how it came to be, where it is today, and a glimpse into where it may be going. The Texas Wine Ambassador Certification program offers students a solid grounding, through real world application, to enable them to confidently support and promote Texas wine in their daily interactions with the public.
So, which certification program is right for you? If you enjoy Texas wine and want to learn more about it, the best answer is all of the above. Each program complements the others yet also provides something unique and different from the others. And each is available to you right now.
So, what are you waiting for? The next opportunity to expand your knowledge of this amazing and fast-growing industry is just around the corner. Cheers!