Conference Highlights 2017: Teaching and Tasting

We had a wonderful time at the 41st Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators, held August 10-12, 2016 at the lovely Red Lion Hotel on the River, located on the Columbia River in Portland, Oregon. Below you will find some pictures, presentations, and handouts provided by our wonderful speakers – the next best thing to being there!

Tim Gaiser, MS

Tim Gaiser, MS

Insight: Best Practices for Teaching Professional Tasting—presented by Tim Gaiser, MS:  On Friday morning, Tim Gaiser, MS shared the results of his recent survey on the best practices for teaching and coaching students in professional-level wine tasting. The session began with a discussion of best practices in teaching a tasting grid. Some of the advice (paraphrased) was as follows: use repetition until the “grid” becomes second nature, use “PRAT” (pace, rhythm, and timing), and to record one’s self going through the exercise.

The session moved on to a conversation about improving memory of specific aromas, tastes, flavors,  structural elements, and faults. Best practices for teaching these elements included the following (paraphrased as): start with extreme examples and work towards the middle, use an internal visual scale, and experience the basic fruits (cherry, apple, plum) at various stages (fresh, cut, dried, bruised, stewed).

For more details, including the actual quotations and their attributions, see Tim’s presentation: Insight-Best Practices for Teaching Professional Tasting-presented by Tim Gaiser, MS

Mike Cohen, CWE

Mike Cohen, CWE

The Chemistry of Wine Tasting—presented by Mike Cohen, CWE: On Saturday morning, Mike Cohen, CWE presented a detailed class about the chemistry and physiology of wine tasting. To start things off, there was a discussion of the chemical properties of wine, such as acids, sugars, alcohols, and polyphenols.

Next, the physiology of sensory perception in sight, smell, and taste was discussed. Finally, the session covered the brain’s role in sensory perception and the various factors—including the physical, chemical, biological, and psychological—that influence the sensory perception of wine. For more information, see Mike’s presentation: The Chemistry of Wine Tasting-presented by Mike Cohen, CWE

We will be posting many more conference recaps in the days to come, and will create a permanent record of them here.


Conference Highlights 2017: Riesling, Prosecco, and Oregon Chardonnay

We had a wonderful time at the 41st Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators, held August 10-12, 2016 at the lovely Red Lion Hotel on the River, located on the Columbia River in Portland, Oregon!

Below you will find some pictures, presentations, and handouts provided by our wonderful speakers—the next best thing to being there!

Roger Bohmrich, MX

Roger Bohmrich, MW

The Crystalline Beauty of Riesling: A Comparison of Global Styles—presented by Roger Bohmrich, MW: On Saturday afternoon, Roger Bohmrich, MW presented a comprehensive class of Riesling. The session began with a discussion of the characteristics of the Riesling vine and its suitability to various climates. Next, the class focused on the wines themselves: highly aromatic, highly acidic, sometimes dry and sometimes with a bit of RS, but almost never blended with other grapes.

As an introduction to the tasting portion of the class, Roger presented a taxonomy of Riesling styles—ranging from cool climate”just ripe” wines through intermediate and warm climates all the way up through ice wines and wines produced with botrytis-affected grapes. The tasting portion of the session began with New World Riesling, and included wines from Australia (Eden Valley and Clare Valley), Oregon (Willamette Valley), Washington State (Columbia Valley), Canada (Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula) and New York State (Finger Lakes).

The next portion of the tasting featured the benchmark Rieslings from the Old World. This tasting included wines from Germany (the Mosel, Rheingau, and Rheinhessen regions), Austria (the Wachau and Kamptal areas), and France (Alsace). For details of the wines and the slides of Rogerâ’s session, click here: The Crystalline Beauty of Riesling-Bohmrich-SWE 2017

Alan Tardi

Alan Tardi

Way Beyond Bubbles: Terroir, Tradition and Technique in Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG—presented by Alan Tardi: On Saturday morning, Alan Tardi told the story of the modern history of Prosecco, from 1876 when enologist Giovanni Battista Cerletti founded the Scuola Enologico in Conegliano, through the 1948 creation of the Bellini cocktail (Prosecco and fresh peach nectar) at Harry’s Bar in Venice, and all the way to the creation of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG in 2009.

The session continued with in-depth discussion of the climate, soils, and topography of some of the more specific Prosecco-producing areas such as Conegliano, the Rive di Farra di Soligo (in Valdobbiadene), and the Cartizze Sub-zone. The tasting included many interesting styles of Prosecco, including tranquile (non-sparkling), those using a percentage of indigenous grape varieties, several single-vineyard wines, and wines that underwent the second fermentation in the bottle (including one bottled “col fondo” [without disgorgement]). For more details, see the presentation here: Prosecco-Way Beyond Bubbles-Presented by Alan Tardi

Sam Scmitt, CS, CSS, CWE

Sam Scmitt, CS, CSS, CWE

Taking Root: The Renaissance of Chardonnay in Oregon’s Willamette Valley—presented by Sam Schmitt, CS, CSS, CWE: On Friday morning, Sam Schmitt, CS, CSS, CWE, told the story of Chardonnay in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The class began with a discussion of the geologic history of Oregon and the formation of the soils—marine sediment, volcanic basalt, Missoula alluvial, and windblown loess—for which the area is now known.

The class then focused on the history of Chardonnay in Oregon, and revealed on surprising note: that the narrative that early Willamette Chardonnay was a failure is a great over generalization and exaggeration. Rather, the truth is that Chardonnay in Oregon experienced a long learning curve to determine what viticultural and winemaking procedures worked best for the grape in Oregon—similar to the process for “perfecting” the “Oregon style” of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. The truth is, many early examples of Oregon Chardonnay were excellent.

The wines improved overall over the decades as many different clones and selections of the Chardonnay grape were planted. Some of these hailed from France, others from UC Davis, and many were promulgated by the founders of the Oregon wine industry, from David Lett to Bethel Heights. For more details on the session, as well as the wines included in the tasting, see the presentation here: Taking Root – Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley-presented by Sam Schmitt

We will be posting many more conference recaps in the days to come, and will create a permanent record of them here.




And the Banfi Award goes to…Lucia Volk, CWE!

Lucia Volk, CWE

Lucia Volk, CWE

Each year at the Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators, the Banfi Award is given to a CWE Candidate with the highest scores among all of the year’s candidates. The winner of the Banfi Award must also have  succeeded in passing all seated sections of the CWE Exam on the first attempt—a feat accomplished by a mere 12% of all CWE Candidates.

At this year’s SWE Conference in Portland, Oregon, it was our pleasure to award the 2017 Banfi Award to Lucia Volk, CWE. Neill Trimble, SWE’s First Vice President and Vice President of Advertising and Marketing for Banfi Vineyards, presented Lucia with the award—which includes a $2,500 honorarium—during Saturday’s luncheon.

Lucia Volk is a wine educator who lives in San Francisco. She runs a small wine education business, MindfulVine, offering small, tailored wine tastings in people’s homes.  Specializing in Old World wines, she especially loves to teach about the joys of drinking Riesling.  A native of Germany, Lucia likes to promote lesser known German wine regions. Lucia is also a trained anthropologist and teaches at San Francisco State University.

After the luncheon was over I asked Lucia a few questions about her journey to preparing for the CWE Exam. I am sure what she had to say will prove useful to future CWEs, future CSWs, and all serious students of wine!

 As you prepared for the CWE exam, what were some of your most effective study techniques?

There are dozens of study techniques—and everyone needs to find what works for them. With that being said, I am a big believer in absorbing small chunks of information at regular intervals.  That means 15 to 30 minutes of study a day, whether it is reading through the CSW Study Guide or Workbook, the CWE Manual, or digesting the Wine Bible or any of the other books on the Study List.

I am also a big believer in simulating exam situations: I took and retook all the multiple choice questions in the Workbook, as well as the Book Club chapter quizzes.  I labeled and relabeled the maps in the workbook, until I had memorized where the AVAs were. I used practice essay questions from the CWE manual to write out essays at home, timing myself doing it. Then I would look up information I missed or that I felt uncertain about, and rewrite the essay one more time. I also made up more essay questions.

The Award Ceremony

The Award Ceremony

As for the tasting portions of the CWE, I prepared by tasting a LOT.  I tasted by country, first looking at the label and writing down the flavor profile following the logical tasting rationale laid out by SWE. A day later, I would revisit the same bottles again, this time pouring them out of brown paper bags. I did a lot of repetition using the same wines, until I was certain I knew what I was tasting.  Investing in a Coravin helps at this stage, if you don’t already own one!

What part of the CWE did you find the most challenging?  

The faults and imbalances identification was the most challenging for me, simply because I had not tasted faulty wine very often. The fault kit is therefore essential. During the exam, it is important not to overdo the tasting of the faulty wines, and try and determine as much as possible by the color, texture, and smell.  I did not rush and gave my nose and tongue time to rest before moving on to the next glasses.  Honestly, I did not feel very confident going into this part of the exam, but I went in thinking I would give it my best shot… and I passed.

Do you have any other advice for certification seekers?

I recommend learning by doing as much as possible, whether it is labeling maps, circling multiple choice answers, writing mock questions of your own, speaking through the logical tasting rationale out loud, or writing practice essays—doing is better than simply reading or memorizing quietly.  The SWE’s CWE Boot Camp is of course another way to review exam materials, and most importantly, boost your confidence.

I also enlisted my friends as “volunteer” students and explained certain concepts to them such as “What makes wines of the Loire so special?” or “Why do some wines sparkle?” or “How do you make wines taste sweet?”  I paid them for their time with guided tastings, which they enjoyed.  Teaching the material reminded me why I wanted to take the CWE exam and kept me motivated.

Congratulations, Lucia! You give us all hope!

The Banfi Award is named in honor of, and sponsored by Banfi Vintners. Banfi Vintners is a long-running sponsor and supporter of the Society of Wine Educators.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSE, CWE – your blog administrator

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!

Guest Post: Reflections on SWE’s 41st Annual Conference



Today we have a guest post from Jim Laughren, CWE who gives us his impressions of last week’s SWE Conference. 

Reflections on SWE’s 41st Annual Conference from Jim Laughren, CWE

The 2017 Portland Conference of the Society of Wine Educators was one of the best events I have ever attended, a sentiment that I realize I have expressed more than once in past years. Unquestionably, Shields and the SWE Home Office crew, as well as the Executive Committee and Board Members work extremely hard to maintain the high standards of the conference. They assure that personable, qualified speakers present sessions of genuine interest and, occasionally, enlightenment. All as it should be, and usually is.

But like most SWE members, I have attended many wine seminars and conferences through the years, some excellent, some good, some that could have been missed. Speakers have ranged from teachers of outstanding ability to others less adept, even if equally enthusiastic. And of course, there’s been the random bonehead or ego maniac at the podium, no doubt to make us appreciate the good ones even more.



This year, however, in flipping through conference pics and paying closer attention to my surroundings in sessions that I attended, an overlooked aspect of SWE’s program came clearly into focus. I’ve often felt that the Society conference is unique but other than “bigger” and “more” I wasn’t sure why. Lots of wine gatherings and seminars feature prominent speakers; incredible lineups of wine are practically de rigueur.

What, if anything, truly sets the SWE conference apart from all other such conclaves? The answer, I have come to realize, is the audience.

Not the fact that we rub elbows with other aficionados or that one needn’t have more than a serious interest in things vinous to be included, not even that it’s practically impossible to tell the professionals from the amateurs among those in the crowd, though all such aspects are wonderfully important. What’s truly unique about this conference is the number of speakers and presenters who delight us at their session, only to slip quietly into the audience at the next.

Look around—the MS and the MW and the industry headliner who all dazzled at their own presentations are sitting in everyone else’s sessions, whether led by a newly minted CSW or an uncredentialed student of some other region or aspect of wine.



Go to almost any wine conference open to both pros and the public and your only sighting of the big shots and of the headline speakers is while they pontificate from on high. They simply don’t mingle with the masses at most of these events.

Yet, the SWE’s own cadre of big names and big credentials—and we’ve got them: MWs and MSs and DWSs and CWEs and industry mavens enough to shake a stick at—attend our annual conference as much to receive as to give, to learn as well as to share. By their very presence they remind us that wine is a gigantic subject, one that no single person or palate can or will ever understand completely. It’s the mystery of wine, of what it is and what it’s been and what it will become that these students of the grape accept and acknowledge by their willingness to slip into the crowd and be one with all of us in our quest to learn and enjoy and appreciate.

So next year as you settle in to your various sessions, take a gander around the room. And realize that winos extraordinaire who have spent the last ten or twenty years pursuing credentials, in serious study, the industry movers and shakers, are just as interested in the topic about to be explored as you are. An MS here, and there another. An MW across the room. Give them a smile or a thumbs-up, say hello between sessions.

Remember, at most venues these are the people who speak and split. At the Society of Wine Educators, they’re here, like the rest of us, to learn and to listen; to meet and network and revel in all that is wine. Not many places where the audience is as keen on the subject as the instructors. And that, I suspect—the quality of our educational offerings as evidenced by the quality of our audience—is a big part of what raises the Society of Wine Educators Annual Conference above the competition.

20861780_1639272976105688_4465641786469263325_oSee you next year.

Jim Laughren, CWE—Chicago, Illinois—8/17/17

About the author: Jim Laughren, CWE is the founder of WineHead Consulting in Chicago. He has been buying, selling, drinking, trading, collecting, sourcing, importing, distributing, studying, consulting, and writing about wine for most of his life. He is the author of ‘A Beer Drinker’s Guide To Knowing & Enjoying Fine Wine,’ a Kirkus ‘Indie Book of the Year’ in 2013, and has a second book, ’50 Ways To Love Wine More,’ scheduled for release this year. He travels frequently to wine regions around the world and greatly enjoys expanding wine’s “customer base” by introducing new drinkers to the pleasures of the fermented juice.

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!