Now in our second decade, the Wine School has grown to become an institution in the food and beverage industry. Our influence is felt not only in Philadelphia, but in several of the top wine regions in the world. We are very proud that graduates have gone on to become winemakers, sommeliers, distributors, importers, and more.
Over the years, our passions have expanded beyond the wine glass. The School now offers beer, spirits, and cocktail classes led by the the top talents in the industry. One thing that has not changed: All of our classes are designed to be both fun and educational.
We can mix a bit of fun with our classes because we have the bona fides to back it up. Our real mission in this world is to educate consumers and professionals without the pretentiousness normally found in such classes. Based on the demand for our programs and courses, we expect to have that opportunity for a long time to come.
The Wine School Team
Keith Wallace, Founder
The story of the Wine School begins with Keith Wallace. A man with deep convictions and even deeper knowledge, Keith has been the driving force behind all of the School’s classes and programs. Keith’s background includes stints as a hard-hitting journalist, executive chef, and winemaker in California and Italy. He is also the author of the book “Corked & Forked: Four Seasons of Eats & Drinks” (Running Press 2011). All of these life experiences have combined to make Keith one of the most unique and interesting educators in the wine industry. To be honest, he probably would be insufferable if it wasn’t for his charisma and off-color humor. If he ever took a vacation it would likely include hiking with his dogs, shopping at Reading Terminal Market, and listening to his latest collection of 80′s Boston punk rock.
Zach Morris, Director
Zach is the school’s Master Sommelier-Instructor and Director of Education. A former student, he embodies the Wine School ideal in many ways. He has an industry background in wine distribution and sales, and has worked in wineries around the globe. An avid homebrewer, Zach was instrumental in developing the Beer & Brewing certification program at the Philly Beer School. Simply put, he has one of the finest palates we have ever seen. To attend a class with Zach is to witness a teacher completely in his element. Lucky for us, he’s much nicer and less pompous than someone with his talents should be.
Alana Zerbe, Director
After spending a decade adding letters to her last name — from J.D. to LL.M. to C.S.W. — Alana has finally found her home in Philadelphia, working as the School’s Director of Operations. Her favorite place to be is in the classroom, teaching everything from Wine 101 to Advanced wine courses. If you google “passion” and “pinot”, you’re likely to hit on Alana’s name: Since 2011 she has taught all of our classes on the subject. It’s her life’s great love, after her husband and rescue pups.
Ryan Fonash, Instructor
Ryan is an industry veteran with over ten years of experience in the fine dining world. Specifically, he has served as a sommelier for some of the top restaurants in both Philadelphia and New York. Currently, he consults for Vintage Imports and operates his own firm, Rhynot Management Consulting, based in Philly. At the Wine School you are most likely to find him extolling the virtues of Old World wines, or unleashing his perfectionism in a top-shelf cocktail class.
Megan Duffy, Events Specialist
Megan is one of our top talents at the Wine School. In her day job, she serves as a restaurant manager for an international luxury hotel group. Her sparkling demeanor and extensive wine knowledge make her a valued asset at any wine tasting. Megan is on track to complete her Diploma Oenotropae in 2014, and we expect great things from this rising star in the sommelier world.
Our History, Part One
A Corking Good Time
In many ways, the Wine School began at a local winery in 2000. At that time, Keith was hired as a winery consultant, a job that included training the tasting room staff through a series of classes. Having never taught before, it was a nerve-wracking challenge. He began with a class on new world wine production. Immediately, people were drawn to his no-nonsense approach to a subject that is often mired in elitism and esoteric language.
For his part, Keith discovered his calling. He quickly built out the fundamentals of his wine curriculum and began teaching small classes in Manayunk on Cotton Street. Within months his tastings were sold out, and it was time to find a permanent home.
The School opened at 20th & Fairmount in 2005. It was in a neighborhood still in transition: junk shops and decaying buildings dotted the block. A pizza joint, a hardware store, and a water ice shop were the only businesses that were still open. In short order, the Wine School attracted attention in both the local and national press for its urban pioneering, as well as its stellar course offerings.
By 2010, the neighborhood was thriving. The Wine School had done its part by beautifying what was once a dark and unwelcoming block. The School drew students from within the City and surrounding suburbs who frequented the neighborhood’s new restaurants and curio shops. The School was thriving as well: In 2009 the Philly Beer School began, a passion project started by some of the School’s young guns who also happened to be beer geeks in their spare time. While the School’s ties within the neighborhood ran deep, the addition of the Beer School signaled the time had come to expand.
Thankfully the perfect space became available at just the right time: a beautiful mansion in Rittenhouse Square that had housed the publishing house for Wine Spectator in the 1970s. Keith packed up his collection of exquisite old bottles, foraged furniture, and the School’s original chalkboard — along with paintbrushes and power tools — to create the ideal setting for the Wine & Beer Schools of today.
Our History, Part Two
When the Wine School started in 2001, wine education had been marginalized. Philly’s only brick & mortar wine school, the highly regarded L’Ecole du Vin, had been closed for over a decade. The Restaurant School’s Wine Academy had closed, reopened, and then promptly closed again. At best, wine tasting was something done in the back rooms of restaurants and local wineries. The idea of a stand-alone private school with an independent curriculum for wine was nonexistent.
Fast forward to today. Wine, Beer, and Food classes are a cornerstone of Philly’s cultural landscape. The School’s success created a culture of boozy education that includes top wine writers, critics, winemakers, and wine educators. Wine School alums have landed in the most lauded restaurants throughout the City, while the Wine School’s offerings have expanded to include a full spectrum of classes with professional certification.
Media & Press
Follow the Paper Trail
We have enjoyed a great deal of media coverage over the past ten years. The Wine School and the Beer School have both been named “Best of Philly®” by Philadelphia Magazine. Keith was named one of the top five sommeliers in Philadelphia by NBC. We have been featured in City Paper, Mainline Today, and Philly Weekly. At last count, there were over a hundred articles written about us or with our assistance. The Featured In section of the website contains these articles, plus radio and tv spots.
Don’t Tread on my Corkscrew, Bro.
A cornerstone the Wine School’s mission is to protect the consumer against the dirty tricks and backroom deals that often go unnoticed in the wine trade. As is often pointed out, we exist in a multi-billion dollar industry dealing in controlled substances with very little oversight. Sound a bit bit nefarious? It can be. We aren’t afraid to stand up for the average consumer when their rights are being threatened, or to expose the cost-cutting shortcuts intended to dupe the American wine drinker.
Keith has written a series of exposés into the wine industry on the Daily Beast. He has spoken out against overzealous government meddling on the BBC and MS-NBC. He has talked about manipulation of wine by big-name wineries on NPR. He has lobbied hard for the privatization of wine and spirits sales in Pennsylvania He has also worked with the Speaker of the House in Harrisburg to insure that any legislation to abolish the PLCB would protect small businesses and wine consumers in the Commonwealth.
Needless to say, not everyone is happy with our turning over the apple carts. It also part of what makes the Wine School an authentic place: a willingness to be more than just fluff.
Making Philly Just a Bit Better
A fundamental part of the Wine School’s mission is not just protecting consumers, but also giving back to the community. The good people of Philadelphia have been kind to us and fostered our growth. We feel it’s only right to return the favor: Over the years, the Wine School has donated over $20,000 in wine classes and events to Philadelphia’s charities and schools. We just hope we can make a difference, however small.
Living in a Big Wine World
We love building companies and brands. We work with wineries, importers, retailers, marketing companies, and online sales companies to develop brands and identities. From developing wine programming and market infrastructure, to graphic design and SEO, we offer a level of skills that typically doesn’t exist in the wine trade.