The world of wine is wonderful. Its mastery opens opportunities in all sectors, from the hospitality industry to retail, from education to marketing, from distribution to production. Wine jobs are not only appealing, but they’re lucrative too.
Wine professionals, like any other specialists, need credentials, and constant knowledge updates. The wine world comprises dozens of countries, hundreds of wine regions, and thousands of grape varieties. The laws, the climate, the soil types, and the people, they all form part of a wine specialist’s knowledge.
Getting Wine Certified
If you want to get your foot in the door, you’ll need to hit the books and find the right association, school or study program to help you in your learning, but also to vouch for you. These are the most important wine education and certification programs, find out which one is for you.
Our preference for wine certification is well known: we love the programs coming out of the National Wine School, so we are totally biased. If you want a neutral source for information, we recommend either the Sommeliers Choice Awards or SOMM.
National Wine School
The only wine program founded in the United States, the NWS offers programs that are (not surprisingly) uniquely American. For starters, the wine trade is very different in the states than in other countries. Working in restaurants isn’t as lucrative nor as respected as it is in Europe. Instead of being a trade school certification, the NWS is more like a bachelor of arts degree. They expect their students will work in many parts of the wine trade, including winemakers, wine educators, and importers, and their curriculum reflects those realities.
For wine students in the USA, we think the National Wine School is the best option for sommelier classes. Their programs have been adopted by many colleges and universities in the states. However, their programs are not available in England or Europe.
Wine and Spirits Education Trust
The Wine and Spirit Education Trust, or WSET is based in the UK, but now runs programs all around the world through third parties. You can take any of their courses at any major city in the US and other countries.
The WSET is very methodical; they offer programs on different specialties like wine, spirits, sake. Advancing from levels one through four in most programs, the difficulty increases dramatically. A level four Wine Diploma is one of the most coveted and hard to get certifications in the industry.
Wine regions, tasting but also a strong focus on the business side of wine, WSET is great for people on the commercial side of the wine industry.
Court of Master Sommeliers
Serious allegations of racism, cheating, and sexual assaults have been leveled at members of its board of directors. These allegations have been covered in detail by the New York Times.
The Court of Master Sommeliers is a sommelier certification program based in the UK, now with a big branch in the US. There are four levels to accomplish before becoming one of the few Master Sommeliers in the world. There are just over 400 wine professionals with this high title.
Founded in 1977, it had a big boom after the SOMM documentary was released in 2013. The organization focuses strongly on wine service in restaurant scenarios and on deductive wine tasting, a skill that enables sommeliers to not only assess the quality of any wine but to identify its vintage, grape variety, and provenance.
Institute of Masters of Wine
The Master of Wine qualification is gained after a challenging three-year program organized by the Institute of Masters of Wine. Founded in 1955, the organization requires students to know everything there is to know about wine, but also to write appropriately about it.
A series of essays and exams take the students to their limit, becoming some of the better-prepared professionals in the industry. To start the program, students must already have wide experience in the field, high qualifications like the level four WSET diploma, and the sponsorship of a Master of Wine.
Wine Scholar Guild
The Wine Scholar Guild is an approachable study program provider. The ability to study traditionally in a classroom or online allows students to tackle the Wine Scholar Guild programs in their own time from anywhere in the world.
Specializations in important wine-producing countries like France, Spain, and Italy make this organization an ideal way to stand out from other professionals.
Master-level programs include a regional approach to most French wine regions, from Champagne to Bordeaux. Immersion trips that include high-end tasting in the heart of the wine country and mentorship from highly trained professionals complete the learning experience.
The International Sommelier Guild
Established in 1982, the International Sommelier Guild offers an extensive wine education program through third-party schools in the United States, Canada, China, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, and many other countries.
Standardized, relevant textbooks and a complete curriculum fed by ISG instructors are a powerful tool to certify capable sommeliers. Different levels lead students to a very high proficiency level, including a teacher program that helps grow the guild’s reach. A new online learning platform will help the International Sommelier Guild have an even broader reach.
If you want to become a certified sommelier, or you simply wish to increase your wine expertise, these are the most popular organizations worldwide. As long as you have a passion for wine and a commitment to keep on learning, you’ll find any goal achievable, and any certification level within reach. Welcome to the wine world, an ever-growing community of wine lovers.