San Francisco Wine School offers online classes

San Francisco Wine School online CWAS program

San Francisco Wine School

Back in May I was approached by the San Francisco Wine School and asked if I’d be interested in participating in their online California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS) specialist program and I jumped at the opportunity.

At first I was skeptical, I mean how can you learn about wine online? How can you do taste testing online?  I was as interested in the mechanics of the course as the content itself.

After signing up I did my research, who runs the school, who founded it?  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are some highly credentialed people involved, not the least of which is Mr David Glancy.

San Francisco Wine School founder and CEO David Glancy

San Francisco Wine School founder and CEO David Glancy

From the website: David Glancy is one of only 135 in North America, and 211 in the world, to earn the title Master Sommelier (MS). He sits on the board of Society of Wine Educators and is one of only 12 MS in the world to also pass their Certified Wine Educator exam (CWE). In addition, Glancy passed the Certified Specialist of Spririts exam (CSS) and French Wine Scholar exam (FWS).

The San Fransisco Wine School’s online CWAS course uses the Instructure Canvas online learning platform.  This platform was founded in 2008 and launched in 2011.  Over 800 universities and colleges use Instructure.

The first thing I noticed is how easy the system is to use.  Learning how to use it was not difficult because an orientation module was provided, which explained everything.  There was also a short quiz on the orientation which a student must pass in order to proceed.  This ensures that when it comes time to learn the real content you’re prepared.

The real content is multi faceted and consists of reading content, commenting on content and other students comments, tasting wine, and of course testing.

The content is presented in a very easy to understand and consume format: video.  David Glancy talks the student through each and every section.  Each subject is broken into its own short video and you can skip between videos.  However, you cannot skip ahead to next weeks content until you have passed the weekly quiz, and until he opens that module, on Mondays.

The content is broken down by region.  Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Monterey, San Luis Obispo etc etc.  And each region is further broken down into its sub regions.  The course covers the history of each region, the pioneers, the developers and the major players.  Also covered is the history of the geography, why the land is shaped the way it is.  The defining features of the wines from each region are explained.  The climate, what makes the climate, the soil, how that soil affects the wine.  By the end of the course I knew an awful lot more about California wine than I did before.  Sure this is stuff I could have learned on my own, but not in 7 weeks.

Each week there was a writing assignment.  David would pose a question such as “How would you market such and such region, given that it is relatively unknown”  Or “What are the 3 most important sub regions of Napa Valley and why”   After completing your writing assignment you are to comment on 2 other classmates assignments and respond to people who comment on yours.  That was one of the things I really liked about the class is that you get to interact with other students and bounce ideas off each other.  Seeing other viewpoints and defending your own is a really great way to learn more.

Each week there was also a tasting assignment.  You’re required to taste 2 wines each week, then write about the wines in a standard wine critic format.  I found this very helpful.  A lot of times in tasting and writing about wines, I’ve sort of bounced all over in describing the wine.  Standardizing the way the reviewing and writing is done is helpful not only in my own mind but to you the reader of this AWESOME website ( wink wink)

I learned to start with the color. That is not always obvious.  I really had to stop my self from pouring my glass and immediately taking a sip and saying AAAHHH, and then bla bla bla.  Start with the color, and the clarity. The next section is broken down into a helpful acronym so it’s easy to remember and stay on task.  We start with the aroma.  Describe the fruit elements and the non fruit elements.  Then the taste, again the fruit elements, the non fruit elements and the wood – if any.  Finally we were to add our thoughts and give the wine a simple rating out of 5 points.  Now I suppose a person could just submit the tasting notes from the winery website, but really if you did that you’d only be fooling yourself.

Lastly, there was a weekly quiz based on the content of the videos.  Though not terribly difficult you need to watch those videos with flash cards and make notes.  You need to get 7 out of 10 multiple choice questions correct in order to pass that section and move on to the next.

Finally, the final exam consists of 100 multiple choice questions based on all the content.  You need to score 75 to pass, and you have 1 hour to complete the test.  This I found to be difficult.  Although I passed, there is a lot of content.  Without taking notes on flash cards and studying throughout the final week I would not have passed.  I suggest taking the time and care to make sure you take good notes on each section and commit the larger points to memory.  That’s what this is all about right?  Learning, so that when someone needs your expertise you can be useful.

To sum it all up it was an exciting and informative experience.  One thing that I was pleasantly surprised by is that David’s personality came through a little bit.  Sometimes people rely too much on the education and credentials and it can come across as very dry and boring.  Not that David was a stand up comedian, but there were points in the videos where I actually chuckled.  A sense of humor is an awesome trait to have especially in a world that can be all to serious.


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