How to get certified as a Colorado wine specialist by a Master Sommelier
Author: Ben Weinberg - November 24, 2013 - Updated: November 24, 2013
A few weeks ago I was invited by Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, to be a student in the second-ever class of Colorado Wine Specialist Certificate seekers (the first course was given in Grand Junction; mine was held in Denver). Master Sommelier Wayne Belding taught this class in the spacious events hall at Balistreri Vineyards. It was attended by approximately a dozen enthusiastic wine industry representatives, including distributors, retailers and restaurant owners.
Colorado Wine Industry Development Board
Doug Caskey, Executive Director
2645 5th St.
Boulder, CO 80304
1410 Ithaca Dr.
Boulder, CO 80305
1946 E. 66th Ave.
Denver, CO 80229
Why create a certification in Colorado wines taught by a Master Sommelier? Caskey told me that by having such an expert provide an overview of terroir, history and character, “we elevate the visibility of our wine industry as well as its credibility. Wayne Belding was the first person in Colorado to pass the Master Sommelier exam (in 1991) and has been a respected leader and expert here and across the country ever since. He was the natural person to ask to lead this class.”
Belding and Caskey had been discussing a certification program for a couple of years before rolling out this version in early 2013. “We wanted to create a process,” said Belding, “in which individuals who are in the Colorado wine business could be encouraged to learn more about the state’s wines and be recognized for that knowledge. While there are some retail and restaurant establishments that support Colorado wines, they are clearly not in the majority.”
The challenge is to convince the trade, and thus consumers, that Colorado wines are worthy of their wine-buying dollars. Belding related that he thought the best way to do this was by enhancing the knowledge of local wines among wine sellers. “As buyers and sellers know more about local wines, they may become more interested in visiting wineries and forming connections to increase awareness and sales of Colorado wines. It will be a long and gradual process, but learning more about local wines is a logical first step. Our goal is to have outlets in every market in the state where consumers can find information and recommendations for adding Colorado wines to their beverage selections.”
This kind of training has always been informally available for wine sales staff, but Colorado just hasn’t had the infrastructure to deliver it well, nor did we have an authority with Belding’s credentials. So far, Caskey said he is seeing great interest from liquor stores and restaurants in taking the seminar and learning more about the Colorado wine industry. There is not yet a regular schedule, but a trade-only event has been slated for next January in Fort Collins, and a public and trade offering will be offered in March in conjunction with the Colorado Springs Food and Wine Expo.
So far, classes are paid for entirely by the Colorado Wine Development Fund, which has a dedicated excise tax on wine to fund the research and promotional programs administered by the CWIDB. No General Fund or Ag Management funds go toward this program.
What About Everyone Else?
“We have discussed implementing a small fee for the certification and testing process to offset the costs of Wayne’s time and travel,” said Caskey. “As we expand the program and offer the seminar and training to the wine-consuming public that is a definite possibility.” Belding and Caskey are enthusiastic about offering this certification to people not in the wine business. “We want to expose as broad an audience as we can to information about Colorado wines,” said Caskey, “because an educated consumer is a responsible and committed consumer.”
Belding said he enjoys teaching about wines from all over the world, “so the class is fun for me as well. So far, most of the attendees have been among the most enthusiastic supporters in the trade, so I am not surprised that they have a good knowledge of Colorado wines.” He would also like people to know that the better examples of Colorado wines can compete with similarly priced wines from anywhere — California, South America, Europe or Australia. “It is worth the effort to give them a try and discover one’s favorite local producers.”
Yes, I Passed the Test
The class lasted about two hours and yes, I passed. More importantly, I learned a lot about Colorado wines and terroir. I’m now a wholehearted supporter of including the public in such an exercise, with or without a supplemental fee, which I don’t think will be any sort of deterrent for anyone who cares about Colorado wine.
If you are interested in signing up for a future certification class, please contact Wayne Belding, M.S., or Doug Caskey directly. The slides from the Wine Specialist training are also now available at coloradowine.com. Click on “Info: Industry Professionals: Colorado Industry Information.” For now the direct link is: coloradowine.com/cms/index.cfm/feature/280_39/colorado-wine-specialist-training.cfm. Caskey also mentioned that as he finalizes plans for a public presentation in March, he will move this link to a more public location. So stay tuned!
Colorado Wine Facts
1860 — The first grapes are grown in Colorado, increasing to 1 million pounds of grapes annually by 1909. Colorado now grows around 4 million – 5 million pounds annually.
1978 — Jim and Ann Seewald of Colorado Mountain Vineyards start the first commercial winery to use Colorado grapes, which were first planted in 1973–1975.
2013 — There are now 105+ licensed wineries in Colorado. We have two federally recognized American Viticultural Area, (named Grand Valley (80 percent of total production) and West Elks, and 1000+ producing acres, almost all of which are planted to European (vinifera) varieties. There has been annual growth of approximately 11 percent since 1990. Merlot is the number one planted variety and also for total production.
Colorado’s natural wine grape growing advantages include a high diurnal temp shift (allows retention of natural acidity), a dry climate (few disease pressures), cold winters (keeps pests away, which creates less need for herbicides and pesticides). Colorado’s special challenges include severe winters, which especially affect vinifera grapes. A solution is to hybridize with americanus (New World varieties). This also helps avoid phylloxera, a vine louse that has destroyed many vineyards around the world.
Certified sommelier and unfilteredunfined.com editor-in-chief Ben Weinberg, JD, MBA, pens Weinberg’s Wine Tech in Sommelier Journal and has written for the Daily Beast, Worth Magazine, The World of Fine Wine, Wine Enthusiast and The Tasting Panel Magazine, where he is the Rocky Mountain Editor. He also leads luxurious, behind-the-scenes tours of the world’s most famous wine regions via WineOnTheRoad.com. Ben can be reached at BentheWineBerg@coloradostatesman.com