Who Takes Our Sommelier Courses?

Posted by Keith Wallace

Not to be corny, but our sommelier students are in a class of their own.

The Wine School of Philadelphia has always been an outlier in the wine world. We attract a broader range of students than most, and we believe this diversity is a major driver in the success of our wine qualification programs.

For this article, we used data from a 2023 randomized poll of our students, but we will update it as our student base evolves.

The Sommelier Courses & Students Poll

Student Goals

Attending Sommelier Courses

Initially, our National Wine School programs were exclusively for the wine trade. By 2007, we opened these programs to the restaurant trade, and NWS started offering sommelier credentials and pins. Today, 23% of our sommelier students work in the restaurant trade compared to 31% in the wine trade.

That is all fine and dandy—having people in the trades is essential—but the one thing that has remained stable is the number of people who take the programs just for fun. The number of people who take our sommelier classes for personal enrichment hovers at a whopping 46%.

That 46% is significant. Of those, about 20% (this is a rough estimate) go into the wine trade, usually at an executive level. For instance, one C-Suite executive who attended our classes went on to fund a wine sector startup and brought in five other students to help run the company.

Age Ranges

sommelier courses

We draw a wide range of ages, with the largest two groups being 21-44 year olds (41%) and 45-65 year olds (44%). This is another data point in which the Wine School veers from the standards of wine education. We draw a far younger crowd than is typical, which we believe comes from our approach to teaching and our general dislike for snobbery and elitism.

This is Philly, after all.


sommelier courses

Income levels are another way we differ from the typical wine school. As you may have guessed, many schools cater to the country club set. We have always preferred a more economically diverse student base, so we see a lot more middle-income (37%) and lower-income (19%) students than is typical.

This means we price our programs below the market rate by at least 20% and give our members another 20% discount. These discounts often create odd discrepancies in pricing.

For instance, taking one of our programs online through the National Wine School—where you have to purchase your own wine—will cost a student more than attending in person in Philadelphia.

If your goal is to live like Scrooge McDuck, this isn’t how to run a wine school, but it does improve the classroom experience for everyone, including us.

Education Levels

sommelier courses

One way I have described our student base is as “both GED and PHD.” It’s also fascinating that many of our top students belong to the former category.

Not to get too jargonic, but our experiential teaching methods bring a diverse group of people into the same classroom and give them the tools to succeed. This is essential because wine is a multidisciplinary subject matter: a single class in the Core Sommelier program can span organic chemistry, ancient history, 80s punk rock, economics, and farming. Weaving all of that into a compelling narrative is where our magic shines.

One student commented that our classes can feel like the editors of the New Yorker took over Mad Magazine and hired David Sedaris to write a feature story. They assured us they meant it in the best way possible.


sommelier courses

We push against the “Old White Man” cliche of the wine trade even further with the gender breakdown of our students. Around 85% of those attending a sommelier program do so without a partner, so being in a chill environment—the opposite of a chilling environment—is crucial. It’s also not hard to do: everyone gets treated with respect.

Having 53% of our student base being female is one of the data points we love to share, as it shows how we are changing the world of wine.


sommelier courses

The racial breakdown of our student base shows something unique to the Philly wine scene. Even in cities like New York, you never see diversity like this in sommelier classes. Typically, you see numbers that are more like 80% white. To be clear, we are not calling anyone racist. We are pointing towards our “Chill, not Chilling” approach to wine education: if you love it here, you are embraced here, end of story.


sommelier courses

We know some folks will look at this number and be surprised. How is it that only 37% of your classroom identifies as liberal when you are based in Philadelphia? Our students come from all across the Philadelphia region, from Lancaster to Fitler Square and everywhere in between.

We are the only place (that we know of) where a Black lesbian became besties with a Delco Republican due to their mutual infatuation with Bordeaux.

Every day at the Wine School reminds me how much I love the Wine School.

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