COD Alumna and Wine Certificate Program Instructor Wins Blind Tasting Competition

Elizabeth kowal

By Angela Mennecke

Elizabeth Kowal, College of DuPage Wine Certificate program instructor and assistant buyer at Geneva Wine Cellars, recently placed first in a blind tasting competition as part of the Treasury Wine Estates National Luxicon Tour, earning a $1,200 educational scholarship from the Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation to continue her wine studies.

A graduate of COD’s Wine Appreciation and Knowledge certificate program, Kowal is now a professional sommelier, certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers, one of the most prestigious organizations in the wine industry.

Wanting to advance her wine knowledge, Kowal attended the Luxicon wine seminar and wine blind tasting event at The Peninsula Chicago surrounded by certified sommeliers from around the Midwest, including two master sommeliers.

Event sponsors chose three red wines in accordance with a theme, and Kowal and about one hundred other competitors were provided with no information about them prior to the blind tasting. The judges were testing the participants’ ability to accurately identify the grape varietal, region and vintage. Using deductive tasting methods she learned from her professional training with the Court of Master Sommeliers, Kowal provided detailed tasting notes guessing all three wines correctly.

“I am always looking to advance my knowledge of wine so I can take that back to my students,” she said. “The wine industry is booming. As I continue my own studies in the field, I will continue to educate my students and prepare them for their future careers.”

Kowal began teaching wine courses at COD three years ago, shortly after completing the College’s Wine Appreciation and Knowledge Certificate program.

“I have such a passion for education,” she said. “In my first career, I was in sales marketing, but I had always loved wine and wanted to explore that. After completing the COD Wine Certificate program, I knew I had to find my way back to COD to teach and give back to the College community. The Hospitality faculty had been such mentors to me, and I wanted to become that to other students.”

The College’s Wine Appreciation and Knowledge Certificate program enables students to quickly earn credentials, qualifying them for work within the food industry while remaining flexible for casual wine enthusiasts.

The program focuses on a variety of regions and aspects of wine, providing students with a strong foundation for pursuing a number of industry certifications, explained Hospitality Coordinator Jim Mulyk. 

“The certificate is ideal for both community members and people who are interested in a career as a sommelier or restaurant professional,” he said. “The wine courses we offer at COD in our state of the art classroom are second to none.”

Introduction to Wine (HOSP 1201) and Food and Wine Pairings (HOSP 1204) provide wine enthusiasts an opportunity to develop their skills. With the addition of Old World Wine Traditions (HOSP 1202) and New World Wine Advancements (HOSP 1203), certificate-completers gain credentials to immediately enter the workforce or seek more advanced industry credentials, such as sommelier status, Mulyk said.

“While advanced certification isn’t required, there has been tremendous growth in the wine and hospitality industry as more and more restaurants are seeking staff with significant wine knowledge,” he said. “The skill is desired in other areas as well, including distributors and event planning.”

Courses are open to students age 21 and older, further enhancing the coursework as each class includes wine tastings. For those planning to sit for various wine industry exams, the College’s certificate program serves as a prep course which, until now, wasn’t readily available.

“We’ve had several students go on to take advanced exams, including those through the Court of Master Sommelier, Society of Wine Educator CSW and Wine & Spirit Education Trust,” Mulyk said. “This program may be tailored to individual interest levels and can serve as a prep course for individuals who would like to take their wine knowledge to the next level.”

Learn more about COD’s Hospitality & Tourism program. For questions about the COD Wine Certificate and Knowledge program, contact Mulyk at (630) 942-6429 or