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Sommelier Classes, Training, Schools & Courses

February 18, 2020
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Scott

So, you want to train to become a wine expert or sommelier? Even after learning what a sommelier is and perhaps watching these sommelier movies? We can’t say we blame you. Learning about wine and wine service is not only fun and interesting, but a sommelier salary are nothing to sniff at. It’s one of the most promising career tracks in the growing wine industry. Successfully certified sommeliers go on to become beverage directors, wine directors, consultants, resident sommeliers, professors, and more. The sky’s the limit.

There are a few different ways to go about getting a professional wine certification and learning how to become a sommelier. In this article, we lay out the four most common routes and give you a starting point for each one. So whether you’re after one of the sommelier certification levels from the Master Court of Sommeliers or you’re just scoping out your options, you’ve come to the right place.

First, we’ll focus on the wine education and sommelier classes offered by the four primary wine professional certification bodies. If you want nationally-recognized certification, you have to go through them and their coursework.

Then we’ll list some great supplemental online sommelier courses and sommelier training books. Along with the degree-granting institutions in the U.S. where you can actually get a four-year degree in wine. Let’s get to it!

Sommelier Classes & Training

There are four certifying organizations that are highly regarded by hiring managers within the wine business. They’re essentially sommelier schools, though only two of them use the word sommelier. They are, in no particular order: 

  1. Court of Master Sommeliers
  2. Wine and Spirit Education Trust
  3. Institute of Masters of Wine
  4. International Sommelier Guild

Each organization offers education in preparation for its certifications.

Court of Master Sommeliers Classes

The Court of Master Sommeliers offers three sommelier classes (four certification levels, i.e. exams, but three educational opportunities) and is often considered the preeminent sommelier school and training program. Two are associated with a sommelier certification level and one is an elective. None of the classes can be taken online. They must all be taken at set times and locations around the country. And participants must sign up well in advance.

Introductory Sommelier Course

A two-day, in-person overview of all the major wine growing regions in the world. As well as related information on spirits, beer, and proper wine service. According to the Court of Master Sommeliers website, the course covers:

The course culminates in a multiple-choice exam and can’t be taken separately from it. It’s an entry level course, though, and if you’re just starting your sommelier journey, look into this course.

Deductive Tasting Method Workshop

This intensive one-day, in-person workshop isn’t required for any certification, though completion of the introductory course is required. It covers:

  • The Deductive Tasting Method using grape varieties that will be on the Certified Sommelier (2nd level) examination.
  • The link between wine theory and wine tasting

Advanced Sommelier Course

This is the sommelier class associated with the Advanced Sommelier (3rd level) certification. It’s a three-day, in-person exploration of:

  • Wine theory
  • Wine tasting
  • Wine service standards

This course, unlike the introductory course, can be taken independently from the associated exam. The requirement is having completed the Certified Sommelier course and examination. After successfully completing this course, students can sit for the three-day Advanced Sommelier exam.

Wine and Spirit Education Trust

WSET, like the Court of Master Sommeliers, has four levels. But they have a network of over 700 third-party teaching and examination centers across 70 countries. They’re known as Approved Program Providers (APP). The courses are available online, too.

Level 1 Wine Award

This requires around 6 hours of online or classroom study. There is no admission requirement. The topics it covers include:

  • The main types and styles of wine
  • Common grapes and their characteristics 
  • Wine storage and service standards
  • Wine and food pairing
  • How to describe wine

This will provide students with a hands-on introduction to wine. Successful completion is passing a 30-question multiple choice exam. If you’re just starting out on your wine certification and sommelier training journey, look into this course.

Level 2 Wine Award

This course requires around 28 hours of total study time, with 16 classroom or online hours and 11 personal study hours. It covers:

  • How to taste and describe wine
  • How environmental factors and winemaking techniques influence a wine’s style, quality, and wine tannin levels
  • Wine storage and service principles and processes; from ideal wine storage temperatures, choosing the right wine storage racks and cabinets, and proper wine cellar lighting
  • Principles of wine and food pairing

Like the Level 1 Wine Award, this level has no entry requirements. Not even the previous level! It’s a more in-depth introduction to wine. It builds on the information in the first level, and gets much deeper on each topic. Students must successfully complete a 50-question multiple choice exam at the end.

Level 3 Wine Award

This course requires 84 total hours of study time, which includes 30 hours of classroom or online instruction from an APP. It covers:

  • The key factors in wine production
  • Still, sparkling, and fortified wines
  • How to taste wines, describe them, and evaluate their characteristics

This is an advanced-level qualification for professionals working in the wine industry. Completion of the Level 2 course is recommended for entry. After the course, students take a 50-question multiple choice, short answer, and wine tasting assessment.

Level 4 Diploma in Wines

This course requires approximately 500 hours of study time. That’s 116 hours of classroom or online study through an APP. And around 370 hours of personal study with about 12 hours of examination time. It covers:

  • Advanced wine production
  • The wine business
  • Wines of the world, sparkling wines, and fortified wines
  • An independent research assignment

This is WSET’s expert-level course. It greatly deepens students’ understanding of how and why wine production and business/industry factors influence wine quality, style, and price (both by wine by the glass pricing and wine bottle pricing). It takes up to three years to earn this diploma. To be accepted into the course, candidates must have the WSET Level 3 Wine Award. To successfully complete the course, a variety of assessments are used: blind tasting, short answer, and an original 3,000-word research paper.

The great part about all the WSET coursework (but not all the exams) is that it’s available online.

Institute of Masters of Wine

The Institute of Masters of Wine offers students a three-stage journey toward becoming a Master of Wine (MW).

Stage 1

This is a five-day residential seminar, along with two non-residential course days. This seminar includes:

  • A variety of tasting sessions
  • Winery or vineyard visit
  • Blending sessions
  • Marketing workshop
  • Research and writing techniques

The MW is a self-directed, though not online, course of study. More than any other wine professional certification course, the MW course has an academic focus. It aims to have students prepare to do original research and writing on the subject of wine. Stage 1 is open admission and students have six voluntary assignments: three essays and three tastings. To pass Stage 1, students must submit a 12-wine tasting paper and two essays.

Stage 2

Also a five-day long residential seminar and typically includes a variety of tasting sessions and mock exams. It covers:

  • Wine theory
  • Wine research and writing
  • Wine tasting
  • Wine assessment

MW Stage 2 is the next building block toward being able to interact academically with the wine industry and conduct and communicate original research. To progress to Stage 3, students must submit at least three essays.

Stage 3

The final stage of the MW journey, Stage 3 is fully dedicated to the production of an original research paper. It doesn’t necessarily cover anything, and it’s similar to a doctoral student’s dissertation period. Candidates propose a wine-related topic and write a deeply-researched paper on it. It must be 6–10,000 words and contribute to the understanding of the world of wine.

International Sommelier Guild

This is the other organization of the four that uses the word sommelier in their classes and training. They offer four relevant certificates with associated sommelier training:

Intermediate Wine Certificate (IWC)

This broad, foundational course consists of eight sessions which clock in at about 24 hours total study time. It’s available both online and in a classroom environment. It covers:

  • Prevalent grapes used in the wine industry
  • Wine tasting terms
  • Wine evaluation and assessment
  • Label information and service standards
  • Food and wine pairing theories
  • Wine geography and appellation concepts

The IWC is designed for those interested in beginning a hospitality career or those simply learning about their passion. A review and exam are given after the eight classes are completed.

Advanced Wine Certificate (AWC)

The AWC consists of 16 sessions which totals 48 hours of study time and is available online or in a classroom setting. It covers:

  • Old and new world wine regions
  • Sparkling and fortified wines, spirits, and ales
  • Blind tasting skills
  • Service skills
  • Wine and food pairing techniques
  • Wine storage
  • Wine management and bar inventory systems

A five-hour exam concludes the certification. Successful completion of it gives you  membership to the International Sommelier Guild.

International Sommelier Guild Member Degree (ISGM)

The ISGM Sommelier Degree is an intensive 30-session course over roughly 360 hours. It’s available online or in a classroom setting and covers:

  • Viticulture and vinification
  • Tasting techniques and regional analysis
  • Investment strategy
  • Wine program management and menu engineering

Pursuit of the ISGM degree is only available to those who’ve completed the AWC course. To be awarded the degree, candidates must pass a six-component exam and submit a dissertation.

Which Sommelier Course is Right for Me?

If your goal is to work in a restaurant setting with the public and you’re willing to go all-in, the Court of Master Sommeliers course is right for you. Start with the Introductory Sommelier Course.

If you want the most flexibility regarding course locations and online accessibility, while still getting 360-degree coverage of the wine business, the WSET is right up your alley. Start with their Level 1 Wine Award.

If you want to approach wine expertise academically and focus the majority of your time and energy on research, writing, and contributing to knowledge within the wine business, the Institute of Masters of Wine is a good fit for you. Start with their MW Stage 1.

And if you want a combination of online accessibility and a focus on original research, the International Sommelier Guild is your best bet. It’s a good combination of the WSET and the MW. It offers online courses with the ability to earn an advanced degree through the submission of an original-research dissertation.

Supplemental Online Sommelier Classes & Courses

While the four organizations above are the most popular certification bodies, they certainly don’t own wine education. There are lots of resources you can use to study independently and supplement your certification journey. The following three are particularly noteworthy:

Wine Spectator School

The online wine school from Wine Spectator offers students the option to start wine courses whenever they want. And download a variety of worksheets and study guides while connecting with a vast array of professional and practical resources.

Courses useful for sommelier training include:

  • ABCs of Wine Tasting
  • ABCs of Wine Sales and Service
  • Understanding Wine
  • Understanding Professional Wine Sales and Service
  • Wine and Food Pairing
  • Sensory Evaluation
  • California Cabernet
  • Tuscany
  • Bordeaux
  • Australia and New Zealand

Napa Valley Wine Academy

One of the most popular online wine schools, Napa Valley Wine Academy offers beginner, intermediate and advanced courses online. And in nine classroom locations across the U.S. They’re also a WSET APP, so you can take all four WSET levels right on their website.

Courses useful for sommelier training include:

  • Wine 101: Foundation
  • Napa Valley Wine Expert
  • American Wine Expert
  • WSET Levels 1–4
  • Society of Wine Educators CSW Course
  • SommDay School Deductive Training and Service Workshop
  • Business of Wine

Cornell University Wine Certificate

The Cornell wine certificate expands students’ wine knowledge from the four major wine-producing regions of the U.S.: California, Washington, Oregon, and New York. It can be 100% completed online.

Courses useful for sommelier training include:

  • Wine Essentials
  • Grape Varietals of California, New York, and the Pacific Northwest
  • Experiencing Wines of California, New York, and the Pacific Northwest

Sommelier Preparation Books

We scoured the internet for the top 10 sommelier training books out there. All to help you prepare for any sommelier courses and classes you take. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. The Sommelier Prep Course
  2. Introductory Sommelier Course Workbook
  3. The Wine Bible
  4. Michael Broadbent’s Wine Tasting
  5. The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste: A Field Guide to the Great Wines of Europe
  6. Sales and Service for the Wine Professional
  7. The World Atlas of Wine
  8. Parker’s Wine Buyers Guide
  9. Perfect Pairings
  10. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours

Sommelier School: Wine School Directory

Looking for even more? Like, say, a wine degree from an accredited college or university? Here’s a roundup of all the available wine education programs at the baccalaureate level in the U.S.

Godspeed, Future Sommeliers

Hopefully all these sommelier training courses and classes give you a good idea of where to begin. And a good idea of what’ll be required of you once you do begin.

If want to excel at how to run a bar, encourage your employees’ professional development with some of these wine and sommelier classes. Even if your bar staff isn’t looking to go the distance, getting some wine school and sommelier courses under their belts will help. They'll be able to speak about wine—or help guests navigate a digital wine list—intelligently and confidently. And that’s a huge part of upselling drinks. And that’s a huge part of running a profitable beverage program.