The irrelevant Institute of Cape Wine Masters

Occasionally I get asked why I don’t get involved with the Cape Wine Masters, or offer myself more proudly as one of them. I qualified many years ago, in fact, and tried hard for a few years to get involved, and maybe even persuade the Institute of Cape Wine Masters to actually do something, and help rescue the holders of the diploma (or whatever it is) from being just an ineffectual bunch of keen individuals.

I finally gave up the struggle when the Institute decided not to run itself but to hand itself over to the now profit-making Cape Wine Academy. I resigned from the Institute at that point – but in fact am still awaiting an acknowledgement of my letter of resignation (don’t even begin to imagine that anyone there tried to persuade me to stay – I’m guessing less for reasons of dislike of me than because no-one really cares, in fact).

According to the CWM page on the Academy website, “The Institute runs tastings and other wine events, provides membership services to the members of the ICWMs world-wide, and information and access to specialist advice for the wine industry in general.” I hope it does – but has anyone out there noticed any signs of this? Because I haven’t.

I’m prompted to this little diatribe as I’ve just received the press release about the latest group of CWMs (and sincere congratulations to them; I have only collegial respect for the CWMs – it’s the organisation for which I have contempt).

Well, the press release promises that I could find the latest bunch of dissertations (part of the requirement for the CWM) on the website. So, as some of them looked, from the titles, to be possibly interesting, I trotted over to the website to have a read.

Somewhat naively, as it turns out. I should have realised the degree of dynamism with which this body manages its website. In fact, the latest dissertations on offer date from 2012. Not even last year’s bunch, but those from the year before. The photograph is of “Cape Wine Masters 2010”. The item given under “Latest news” is about the CWM Annual General Meeting of … 2011.

This is what’s they mean, I guess, by “an active group”.

Good luck to the newcomers. I’m sure they’ve learnt a lot of useful stuff (as I did in my time) on the way here. But if they’re expecting to find something larger than a bunch of (often rather too self-satisfied) individuals in the Institute, I reckon they’ll be as disappointed as I was a decade back. As a body, the Institute of Cape Wine Masters is, unfortunately, still of supreme irrelevance to the Cape wine industry.

8 thoughts on “The irrelevant Institute of Cape Wine Masters

  1. Interesting article. It seems that the Academy is presently little more than an income generating provider of short courses. Out of interest, what do you think they should be doing in order to make themselves relevant to the Industry and to the drinking public?

  2. Hi Tim

    I actually feel sorry for the people who go through all that effort to get the qualification. I’ve had my own dealings with CWA in the past and they disappointed me to the point that I decided to halt diploma halfway through. I failed to see the point in paying for a course where I have to buy all the reference books extra. Their idea of course material is a ringbinder with loose sheets of paper that is badly out of date. The other gripe I have with them is that they, in all the time that they’ve been around, have never bothered to get international accreditation. Exactly the “don’t care” attitude you refer to above. Try and get a job outside of South Africa on the back of a (very expensive) CWA diploma – you’ll get laughed out of the room. I’ve subsequently gone the WSET route and talk about chalk and cheese. Professional service, up to date course material, international standing – what is not to like!?

  3. The Cape Wine Academy tells me it hopes that the dissertations promised in the press release might be on the website next Monday…. Stephen, as to what the ICWM could do to become more relevant – if they at least had that discussion meaningfully amongst themselves, it would be a hopeful sign. At present it is a group of individuals with commitment only to their own wine education. Educating others, as well as advancing their own, should surely be within their purview. And, for example, the sort of tasting academy that Michael Fridjhon has usefully been conducting, to improve the standards of wine judging, could well be done by an organisation like this.
    The problems of the Wine Academy itself, I’m no longer qualified to comment on. It is many years since I was involved in helping prepare lecture material (and doing some lecturing myself). I did have a clear impression that a lot of the material was, as Hennie, suggests, out of date. I hope not – but it’s certainly also something that the CWMs could get involved with (though since the Academy unfortunately became a for-profit business rather than an institution supported by the industry, I guess, the work should be paid for). Students do now have, as Hennie suggests, an international alternative with WSET – though it must be said that I’ve heard that the WSET presentation on South African wine is also woefully out of date. Anyway, there’s no excuse for not having a good home-based source of advance wine education.

  4. Hi Tim,
    As the only programme provider of the WSET courses in SA, I’d like to add a bit extra onto your mention of WSET. Right now, I would tend to agree that SA wines have not had all the coverage we could have hoped for from WSET, the focus very much being on Australia and South America from the New World. But then again, SA hasn’t engaged with WSET since WSET helped set up the CWA 40 odd years ago so perhaps it is our fault for not pushing harder? Since WSET are now the industry-standard courses in 63 countries around the world and over 48,500 people sat a WSET exam in the last year alone, I personally find it very concerning that people are not getting taught enough about SA wines (my criticisms of the material have always been on how much SA content there is, never its accuracy). But this is changing. There has been a huge amount of interest in SA from WSET in the last couple of years, led by international journalists, backed up by WOSA’s efforts over Cape Wine 2012 and also by the enthusiasm of students such as Hennie who have seen the value in getting an international qualification. The WSET Level 4 Diploma, their flagship qualification and one which (according to people currently doing both) should be considered as operating at a similar level as CWM, has just started in SA with 9 students embarking on the course. This course entails being a part of an international study group so already, by virtue of the fact that this is happening, buyers, opinion-formers and enthusiasts around the world are being exposed to more SA wines and SA wine folk.
    Finally, I would like to say that WSET does move with the times. I have been teaching for the last 2 years with materials that were printed in 2012 and as of August this year, the Level 2 course will be completely revised and up to date – including more stuff from SA (I’ve already seen that labels of our wines are included as examples which is fabulous). The Level 3 course will receive a similar going-over next year so nothing I teach from is more than 3 years old, everything is revised and updated by the world’s industry experts (MW’s, winemakers and the like) and what is more, the material is then organised and presented by educational experts, ones who understand how people learn and lay out the information in such a way that this is enhanced. The more we engage with WSET, the more good we do ourselves on every front – getting the absolute best in wine education, creating bonds with buyers, sommeliers and drinkers around the world because they have the same qualifications whilst at the same time ensuring that South African wines are no longer marginalised and seen as an after-thought.

  5. I have to agree with you, Tim, although big congratulations to the people who were awarded their CWM as I know it involved a lot of hard work. I also went looking for their dissertations and was disappointed not to find them.
    My other gripe with CWM was that when I enquired about doing the Masters course, having already got the WSET diploma some years ago, I was told I would need to do the CWA courses first. I’m certainly not doing that so if I want to study further I’ll just maybe attempt the MW course one day!
    I agree the WSET coverage of South Africa is pathetic but instead of complaining we should question why we seem less relevant than the other New World countries and try change it.

  6. Regarding WSET – the trouble is that once you become aware of how out of date and inadequate a course is in one respect, you start wondering how good the rest of it can be.

  7. Let me say again – there is nothing inaccurate about WSET’s coverage of SA, it’s just not (in our admittedly-biased opinions – and I think we need to recognise that perhaps the rest of the wine world does not revolve around SA) enough. And as for ‘out of date’ – fully-revised and overhauled every 3 years and updates on any particularly relevant changes sent out to programme providers in between?? I’m happy with that level of ‘out of date’ thanks :)I wonder if other teaching institutions can say their material is at the same level?

  8. Hi Tim

    I’ve been actively involved in overhauling the ICWM’s website over the past 4 months, and it can now be viewed at, with up-to-date information and downloadable dissertations (where applicable). We’ve been aware of the outdated state of the old website way before you published this post, but as far as approval i.t.o. budget etc., it had to go through the various channels, and these things unfortunately do take some time to complete. The site is now managed by a professional company who will make sure that it stays updated and relevant. I do hope you enjoy the new site – there’s even a nice picture of you too next to your profile!
    Let me know should you have any questions or suggestions.
    Kind regards,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Are you human? *