Guest Post: My Journey to the CSW

Today we have a guest post from Joey Casco, CSW.  I read Joey’s story about how he studied for the CSW while balancing a full-time job and a family on his blog The Wine Stalker and liked it so much I asked him if we could re-print it here.  I hope you find it as motiviating as I did! Read on for Joey’s take on how to pass the CSW on the first try.

Today I will be sharing the experience I had with studying for and taking the CSW test. I also hope that it helps those who are currently preparing or planning on taking the test in the future.

So all-encompassing you may forget to feed the dog!
So all-encompassing you may forget to feed the dog!

I received the Society of Wine Educators Certified Specialist of Wine Study Guide in October, 2013. I had already been reading up and trying to get a head start for some time before hand but when the book actually arrived I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I had until mid-January to absorb the crap out of this book.

Way back when I was in school I was a C average student. I got A’s and B’s in the subjects I loved and D’s and F’s in the subjects I just couldn’t connect with. Because of this I had to pass my final science test to even graduate high school. I passed it by one point. Which is weird, because a few years after high school I became a complete science nerd. Go figure.

Outside of school I’ve always, always over-achieved at the things I’m passionate about. This isn’t just a hobby, though. This particular passion is wine, and that passion has brought me to the lucky position of being a wine professional. This is how I earn a living. So this particular obstacle that I now was determined to overcome had a very serious motivation… FAMILY. I’m now 34 and married with a three year old daughter. This certification would put letters at the end of my name for life and help the financial future of my family. No pressure, right?

The CSW has a 55% pass rate average. That’s kind of scary. However, this could be because some distributors and companies make it mandatory for certain employee positions. Wine might not be that person’s thing so the material might not hold their interest, or they might be starting from absolutely nothing. It’s a tall order to become a wine specialist when you don’t even know the grapes of Bordeaux yet. So there was some comfort in knowing that I’ve been a wine guy for quite some time.

I started studying hardcore. Immediately. Highlighting the Study Guide and rewriting pretty much the entire book into notes in an insanely organized notebook. Being pretty

used to dealing with my own A.D.D. since I’ve had it, ya know, my entire life, I’ve found

Behold, the thickness of my notes!

Behold, the thickness of my notes!

that if I’m focused on being perfectly, psychotically organized I’m also focused on the material… and absorbing it.

See those tabs? It was separated by chapter with the smaller chapters together in broader topic like South America. If I made a mistake, whether it was spelling or just a screw up, I’d force myself to restart the whole page. Yeah, it was OCD-mania.

I planned to be finished with the Study Guide the first few days of January by taking two weeks per 75 pages. The first week I’d do the whole reading, highlighting, notebook thing and the second week I’d review and do flash cards just on those 75 pages. Then move on.

I did this every night from 10 pm to 3 am at the kitchen table. The Sirius Satellite Radio “Spa Channel” would be playing in the background because it was “music” that wouldn’t distract me. I needed to focus, not start singing along to the Foo Fighters. I’d be at work anywhere from 6 am to 8 am the following day so I wasn’t getting much sleep. Sunday was my only day off from studying because a guy needs to watch Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead, right?

I finished the first pass of the book on January 5th. Around this time we learned that the test would take place on March 27th instead of mid-January. A few more months of preparation? Yes, please! I put all of my focus onto the website like I had planned but with less haste in reading speed.

At this point I made possibly the most important decision I made during this whole thing… I created a highlight system for the study guide. My highlights from the first pass were yellow. What good would it be if I highlighted the things I came across on the online quizzes yellow too? Everything would just be yellow. I’d have an entire book that’s

Asiago and Cabernet, you are my only friends!

Asiago and Cabernet, you are my only friends!

highlighted yellow with things I now know and things I still need to know. That’s not helpful at all.

My highlight system went like this:

Yellow (yellow) - First pass. It turns out it was pretty much A LOT of basic / broad ranging stuff I didn’t know yet. It didn’t seem basic at the time but it becomes just that. This is, after all, for Specialists of Wine. Basic knowledge for this is pretty advanced anywhere else.

Orange  – It was suggested by mentors and others that I know it.

Green – Things that came up on the website / online quiz that I didn’t know yet.

Blue - Final pass. Really in-depth stuff that was too advanced for me (or just too much information) to get the first time around but I now could handle. Blue was also used for completely obscure things they might slip in.

These colors were also used on my flash cards. In the upper left hand corner of the flash card I put the number of the chapter and highlighted that number the appropriate color. That way I could see the importance of knowing the answer and why. If it was orange it very well could be on the test. If it was green it was on a quiz and thus could be on a test. And if it was yellow and I was having a problem with it… well, I better get it together on that one right away because I should know that one by now.

The website was invaluable. If I recall correctly it took me about two weeks to thoroughly read the entire website material, pass the quizzes, and identify what was also in the Study Guide. That last part is important because if it’s not in the Study Guide then it’s not on the test.

A big ol' stack of fun!

A big ol’ stack of fun!

After all of that it was time to do a final pass in the Study Guide, pinpoint the things I feel I should know that I hadn’t memorized yet and the really obscure stuff that might be on the test to trip us up, and then focus on maps aaaaaand… FLASH CARDS!!!!

Flash cards are important. Reading something over and over again does jack squat. You need to challenge your brain to retrieve that information. Don’t believe me? Read this.

The great thing about flash cards is you can use them while doing almost anything. Like watching The Little Mermaid for the millionth time, having a Princess tea party, cooking Mac and Cheese, you get the point.

The test was set for March 27th and the two weeks before the test I was burnt out. I didn’t want to play anymore. I’d look at the cover of the book and go “uuuuuugh”. I’d start using the flashcards and just not be feeling it. Not much of anything got done study-wise those two weeks. I just wanted it to be over. I wanted to play NHL 13 and actually go to bed at a normal hour for once. I had gone full bore at this thing for so long and I didn’t think I could learn much more. It wouldn’t have done me any good.

On the day of the test, myself and my peers headed off Cape Cod to the test location. I was nervous and wanted to cram on the ride up. My study pal,  Angela Busco , ever the optimist and to whom I owe tremendously, told me that I’ve got it in the bag and to just relax. So I kept my hands off of the material. There was no relaxing.

The test is an hour and there are 100 multiple choice questions. You can write notes on the question sheet but not on the answer card. I skipped five questions that I was unsure of so I could come back to them after I answered the rest. However, whenever I did that I’d forget to leave that questions spot empty on the answer card and I’d fill it with the answer to the next question. So I had to erase it and fix it (and the following ones too) when I saw the numbers weren’t aligning. I was completely finished around the 40 minute mark and began to read the questions again. I had planned to take the whole hour and keep going over it to make sure I had everything right, but I just couldn’t do that. Second guessing yourself is the worst thing you can do. So the finished test went into the folder and was turned in.

I couldn’t eat that morning from the stress but now I was hungry. All I had was a few dollars on me and McDonalds was right down the street so we went there and talked about the test. Note to self: McDonalds is always a bad idea even if it’s the closest option.

Well-earned:  Joey's CSW Pin

Well-earned: Joey’s CSW Pin

After the test I couldn’t sleep for three nights. All the questions kept popping back up in my head and I was haunted by the questions I had since learned I answered wrong. What if I didn’t fill in the envelope right and they fail me for not following instructions? What if all those dots I had to erase actually registered and completely messed my right answers up? I knew pretty quickly by talking to the others that there was one question that I knew the answer to but got wrong because I read it wrong, and two others that my first-thought answer was right but I ended up changing. What if there was a bunch of those? It all was getting in my head. I was a mess.

On April 8th, a pretty hectic day all in itself, a Certified Specialist of Wine pin arrived in the mail. It came with a certificate saying that I am now a Certified Specialist of Wine. It also came with a letter saying that I scored a 93, meaning I only got 7 questions wrong out of 100. My mother was there when I got it. I gave her a big bear hug and lifted her up and started jumping around. Literally while I was doing this I got a text from Angela saying she just got her results back and she had passed.

I really can’t measure how honored I am to be recognized by an organization like the SWE. I worked my b*** off for six months and it was entirely worth it. Every tired minute. Just the learning experience alone was a tremendous opportunity. That opportunity was given to me by my employer, Luke’s of Cape Cod (of which I am the Fine Wine manager of the Dennisport location). I’m already eternally grateful to them for a number of things and this adds one more.

If you’re currently studying for the CSW, here’s my advice to you:

  1. Color-code your highlights to learn in layers.
  2. Make lots of flash cards and use them ALL THE TIME.
  3. Use the website but don’t rely on it.
  4. Don’t second guess yourself.
  5. No McDonalds.

Good luck!

Our Guest Author, Joey Casco, CSW, is the Fine Wine Manager of Luke’s of Cape Cod.  A proud new CSW, he may be reached at his blog, The Wine Stalker and on Twitter.  We’d like to congratualate him on his excellent CSW Score of 93, and wish him luck on the CSS!

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whisky SWEbinar this Friday!

whiskeyThis Friday – April 11 – at Noon Central time we will be offering the first in our series of CSS Review SWEbinars!!

The topic will be Whisky (Chapter 4 in the CSS Study Guide).

Click here for the link to the Whisky SWEbinar!

We are pleased and honored to have Barry Wiss, CSS, CWE as our presenter for this session.  Barry is the Vice President of Trade Relations for Trinchero Family Estates and serves as the Second Vice President on SWE’s Board of Directors.

Our next CSS SWEbinar will be on Tequila – offered May 11 –  and led by Gary Spadafore, CSS, CWE.

We’ll also be continuing with our CSW review sessions, and offering other Spirited SWEbinars in the future – click here for more information on our SWEbinars!

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Online CSW Review Course – Starts May 5!

wine online 8Major Announcement!!

Starting May 5, 2014…our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, will be leading a guided, 12-week, online review course for CSW Candidates.  The course is free, but you must be a Individual Professional Member of SWE and be pre-registered in order to participate.

The course will include weekly “live online” course sessions (tentatively scheduled for Monday evenings at 7:00 central), reading assignments, workbook assignments, and “check-out quizzes.”  Required textbooks include the 2014 CSW Study Guide and Workbook.

Participants will be limited to the first 100 qualified applicants, so if you are interested in this opportunity please send an email to Miss Jane at:  jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Another course will begin in August.

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

 

 

 

Next SWEbinar: Monday, March 17!

SWEbinar CliffsideMarch 2014 SWEbinars

Each month, our own Director of Education, “Miss Jane” Nickles, will be leading a webinar on “How to Pass the CSW.”  Over the course of 2014, she’ll be covering the entire Study Guide, as well as handing out study tips, providing the “tales of the vine” behind the famous wines, and taking your comments and questions.

The second set of installments in our CSW Review Series SWEbinars is scheduled for March, 2014.

These identical sessions will cover grape varieties and viticulture – chapters 3 and 4 in the CSW Study Guide.

These sessions will be first come, first served, and each has a capacity of 100 attendees.  Suggested drink-along beverages:  Gavi di Gavi,  Pink Champagne on Ice, or Espresso.

Logon Instructions:  At the appointed time, just click on the link.  When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.”  Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity.  We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering each SWEbinar a minimum of three times, but its still a good idea to log on early!

If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time.

Invitations will go out via email to the SWE Membership at the beginning of each month, but you can keep up with the schedule and access the webinar home site here at this page.

Click here for the 2014 SWEbinar Calendar

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles:  jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

 

Hot Off the Press: The CSW Workbook is here!

CSW WorkbookWhat has 180 pages, 1,700 activities, 29 wine map exercises, and 250 “practice” multiple choice quiz questions?

Need more hints?

What will help you understand CSW Study Guide and guide you to remember all sorts of “facts and figures” about wine?

Need even  more hints? 

What has been professionally designed to help you learn, remember, and understand the CSW Study Guide material and give you the best training possible, in order to help you pass the CSW Exam?

Answer:  Our CSW Workbook – available NOW on the SWE Website!  This 180-page workbook has a variety of exercises, including multiple choice questions, word matching, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, and true/false questions;  all designed to help you to learn  and comprehend the rather large amount of material to be found in the CSW Study Guide.  While it may sound like a lot of work, we’ve also tried to design it to be fun – after all, what’s more fun than learning about wine?

Click here for a preview of the workbook!

Click here to access the SWE Website Catalog and Store.

If you have any questions or comments regarding the CSW Workbook, please contact our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

 

CSW Workbook Preview!

CSW Wine Map Exercise - ItalyWith a pending publication date of March 1, 2014…we are putting the finishing touches on our new CSW Workbook!!  This comprehensive study tool will feature 29 map exercises and over 150 pages worth of materials designed to help the serious student master the copious amount of information contained in the new CSW Study Guide. (It should be fun, as well!)

As a preview of coming atractions, we offer you this sample Wine Map Exercise covering the main cities and wine regions of Italy.  Click the links below the picture to download a pdf of both the map exercise and the answer key.

Stay tuned to Wine, Wit, and Wisdom for updates and more information on the soon-to-be-released workbook!  Good luck with your studies!

Click here to download a copy of the CSW Wine Map Exercise – Italy

Click here to download a copy of the Answer Key – CSW Wine Map Exercise – Italy

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

 

Is that Kona in your Coffee?

Hawaii Big IslandCoffee was first introduced to Hawaii in about 1813, via an ornamental coffee tree brought to Honolulu by Don Francisco de Paula y Marin, the Spanish physician to King Kamehameha the Great.  Soon, it became an agricultural mainstay of the islands, along with sugar cane and pineapple.

However, several circumstances combined to reduce the amount of coffee grown on the Hawaiian Islands, including the coffee blight of 1858, the result of an insect infestation; the world coffee crash in 1899, and the labor-intensity of coffee agriculture.

Of the small amount of land growing coffee in Hawaii today, the most famous region is Kona.  Located on the western slopes of the Big Island of Hawaii, the Kona district contains the heart of Hawaii’s “coffee belt,” which is about two miles wide and at the highest point measures 2,000 feet in elevation.  The area has a microclimate ideally suited to growing coffee, in part because the prominent volcanoes provide rich soil and help block the rains that fall prominently on the eastern side of the island.  The small size of the growing area and the high quality beans it produces contribute to a high price and a high demand.

Coffee on TreeThere are two types of Kona coffee, each with several grades.  Grades are determined by size, density, moisture content, and defects.  Type I grades are Extra-Fancy, Fancy, Kona #1, and Prime.  The grades for Type II are Kona #1 Peaberry and Kona Peaberry Prime.  The term “peaberry” refers to the shape of the bean.  Normally the fruit of the coffee plant contains two beans that develop with flattened facing sides, however, if only one of the two seeds is fertilized, the single seed develops into an oval (or pea-shaped) bean.  Kona is, along with Tanzanian Coffee, one of the two main types of coffee associated with peaberry beans.

These grades originated in the 1980s, when the word Kona was used on a wide variety of products.  In order to protect the region of origin and control the quality of the product, the Hawaii Department of Agricultural created the grades and required inspection of beans, proof of geographic region of origin, and proper labeling of its coffee.

Coffee labeled as Kona must be completely from the Kona District and include the identifier “100% Kona Coffee,” a phrase trademarked by the Hawaiian Department of Agriculture in 2000.  Kona Blends are allowed and may be a combination of Kona and beans from other regions, but must contain at least 10% Kona beans with the percentage of Kona beans clearly displayed.

As with other coffee regions, the producers and the state have had to be very protective over the Kona name and label, as some third-party companies were found to be labeling Central American coffee as Kona.  These mislabeled beans made it to coffee-store chains such as Starbucks and Peet’s, who upon learning of the issue contributed to a settlement and agreed to buy future beans directly from Kona farmers.

If this story sounds similar to those you have heard regarding wine, brandies, types of cheese and other agricultural products, you are correct!

If you would like to learn more about coffee, you may be interested in SWE’s Beverage Specialist Certificate program, which in addition to coffee, includes information on wine, beer, spirits, sake, tea, bottled water, and ready-to-drink beverages.

 

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Post authored by Ben Coffelt  – bcoffelt@societyofwineeducators.org

Cash and Prizes: Recap Quiz for December 2013

Wine Tasting Red Wine Glass Happy New Year from SWE!!!

To celebrate the new year, we are offering a special prize for this month’s recap quiz….a FREE sitting of the CSW or CSS Exam, including a Study Guide.

Questions for the recap quiz come exclusively from the educational material posted to Wine, Wit, and Wisdom for the month. This month’s quiz has 10 questions that cover the topics and information included in our posts for the month of December 2013.

To refresh your memory, our posts for the month of December were:

  • Wine Book Review – “The Nose” by James Conaway (December 5)
  • The Legacy of Peter Jahant (December 8)
  • The Egg Nog Riots of 1826 (December 10)
  • Coda di Volpe – The Tail of the Fox (December 14)
  • The Ice Wine Fiasco of 2011 (December 19)
  • Cheers to the Kir Royale! (December 24)
  • U.S. Distillery License #1 (December 28)

scantronEveryone who takes and passes the quiz with 100% of the questions correct by January 10, 2014 (midnight CST) will have their names put into a drawing for the prize! You can take the quiz over and over again if you like…it’s all about the education!

The winner will be notified via email on January 11.

Click here for a link to the quiz.

If you have any questions, contact us at:  jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org .

Update:  Congratualtions to Denise H. of Nashville, Tennessee who won our Recap Quiz Contest for December!  Denise is new to the study of wine, but is going to take the CSW Exam in June!! Good luck, and congrats!

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

It’s Alive!

Bev Specialist Its AliveThe Society of Wine Educators has just launched an online study course for their Beverage Specialist Certificate program!

This program is ideal for culinary and hospitality food and beverage students, restaurant and retail staff, beverage sales professionals, or interested consumers.  The Beverage Specialist Certificate can also be used as an entry-level course for those planning to pursue higher levels of wine, beer, or spirits certification.

SWE Bev Specialist CoverThe site offers all the information you need to become well versed in a wide range of beverage topics including bottled waters, coffee, tea, beer, sake, spirits and (of course) wine.  The online course is a self-paced, self-study program that contains all of the information packed into the print study guide, 100% available in an online, mobile-compatible format.  As an added bonus, the online course comes complete with flashcard decks, practice quizzes, and an opportunity to take the certificate exam online.

To take a test drive of the online course, just click here.

If you would like to register, or would like further information on the course, please contact Ben Coffelt at the Society of Wine Educators at bcoffelt@societyofwineeducators.org .