The world of wine is lovely. Sommelier courses open opportunities in all sectors, from the hospitality industry to retail, education to marketing, and distribution to production. Wine jobs are not only fun, but they’re also lucrative too.
Like any other specialists, Wine professionals need credentials and constant knowledge updates. The wine world comprises dozens of countries, hundreds of wine regions, and thousands of grape varieties. In addition, the laws, the climate, the soil types, and the people 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 proper association, school, or study program to help you learn and vouch for yourself. These are the essential wine education and certification programs; find out which 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 100% biased. If you want a neutral source for information, we recommend either the Sommeliers Choice Awards or SOMM.
The Top Three Sommelier Courses
These are the essential wine and sommelier programs in the United States. These companies are the leading certification bodies for the wine trade. To earn these certifications, you typically have to attend classes at a local wine school or a virtual wine course.
These three programs are very different in their wine education approach and student base. Therefore, we recommend considering both when choosing which programs you would be more comfortable in. For example, someone who feels at home at CMS would not be a good fit for the NWS, and a WSET person may feel at home at NWS but not at the CMS.
Sommelier certification costs range from moderate (NWS) to expensive (CMS).
National Wine School (NWS)
The only major wine school founded in the United States, the NWS offers a uniquely American liberal arts perspective. Unlike WSET or CMS, the programs are designed for the entire wine industry, not just restaurants. They are also the fastest-growing wine certification agency in the world!
The wine trade is very different in the states than in other countries. Working in restaurants isn’t as lucrative nor as respected as in Europe. Unlike other wine programs, the focus is not on restaurant employment. NWS expects their students will work in many parts of the wine trade, including winemakers, wine educators, and importers, and their curriculum reflects those realities.
We think the National Wine School is the best option for someone learning about wine. The school attracts a diverse student base and offers programs that are engaging to people from all walks of life.
They offer a full roster of sommelier courses online and programs at universities and colleges.
The Wine School of Philadelphia will not offer either WSET or CMS programs due to their —what’s the best way to say this?– narrow view of both wine and students. However, we are far from alone in this move.
Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET)
The Wine & Spirit Education Trust, or WSET, is based in the UK but now runs pay-to-play franchises across the globe. You can take their courses in any major city in the US and other countries. The basics of a WSET class are relatively simple: a PowerPoint presentation in a rented room, plus a wine tasting.
WSET is very methodical; they offer programs on different specialties like wine, spirits, and sake. However, the difficulty increases dramatically as students advance through levels one through four. A level four Wine Diploma is one of the wine trade’s most coveted and hard-to-get certifications.
With wine regions, tasting, and a strong focus on the business side of wine, WSET is excellent for someone looking for restaurant employment. There is one caveat: they don’t offer sommelier courses, certification, or pins. Instead, they offer a “wine qualification.”
Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS)
Severe 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 program is exclusively for people in the restaurant industry.
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 globally. There are just over 400 wine professionals with this high title.
Founded in 1977, the court was a relatively small organization operating out of the UK for decades. However, their profile exploded when the documentary SOMM was released in 2013.
The organization focuses strongly on wine service in restaurant scenarios and deductive wine tasting. This skill enables sommeliers to assess the quality of any wine and identify its vintage, grape variety, and provenance. Their introductory sommelier course is available online.
Except for their wine class, CMS does not offer sommelier courses. Instead, they offer exams. You have to take a course elsewhere and hire a tutor to pass their higher-level wine exams. However, like the NWS, you can earn your sommelier pin through the CMS.
Other Sommelier Courses
Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW)
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 and write appropriately about it.
A series of essays and exams take the students to their limits, becoming some of the better-prepared professionals in the industry. To start the program, students must already have broad experience in the field, high qualifications like the level four WSET diploma, and a Master of Wine sponsorship.
Wine Scholar Guild (WSG)
The Wine Scholar Guild is an approachable study program provider. Taking sommelier courses in a classroom or online allow students to tackle the Wine Scholar Guild programs independently from anywhere.
Specializations in important wine-producing countries like France, Spain, and Italy make this organization ideal for standing 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 wine country’s heart and highly trained professionals’ mentorship complete the learning experience.
The International Sommelier Guild (ISG)
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 potent tools 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. In addition, a new online learning platform will help the International Sommelier Guild have an even broader reach.
“But Where Are The Sommelier Courses Near Me?”
If you live between Northern Virginia and New York City, you are probably taking classes at the Wine School of Philadelphia. For the rest of the country, we recommend two sources for finding a wine school near you. First is SOMM, which is a database of all wine schools in the US. The second option is Localwineevents.com, which posts upcoming wine courses by city and state.
If you want to become a certified sommelier or 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 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.
How do you become a sommelier?
There are two traditional routes to becoming a sommelier. The first is to spend about a decade working as a waiter. The second is to go to school and earn your sommelier certification.
How long does it take to become a sommelier?
To earn your sommelier certification, it can take as little as one week by attending an accelerated certification program, which is only held once a year in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York. Typically, it will take between 2 and 6 months to earn your Level 3 Sommelier Certification.
How much does it cost to become a master sommelier?
According to several reports, it costs over $25,900 to become a master sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. A similar program offered by the National Wine School costs under $8,000
How many Level One sommeliers are there?
According to the National Wine School, they have certified about 9,000 Level One Sommeliers over the past decade. The Court of Master Sommeliers does not publish their graduation numbers, but it is believed to be over 60,000.