Higher Wine Education in America


As wine's popularity continues to increase in the United States at a torrid pace, new wine magazines, wine blogs and even wine podcasts are popping up nearly every month to keep up with Americans' voracious appetite for wine knowledge. Classrooms are filling up like never before as wine aficionados sign up for courses at a record pace.

Later this month, I will begin my final semester of the WSET Diploma at the International Wine Center in New York City; I plan on blogging about my experiences in this course. As an introduction, I thought it would be interesting to take stock on the current state of higher wine education in the United States.


Today, every major city in America has its share of organizations offering wine classes ranging from informal tasting groups offering to teach you the basics of “Wine 101” to rigorous three hour seminars extolling the merits of the wines of particular villages in Burgundy. Although there is great local variation among the former set of courses, a number of nationally and internationally recognized certification programs have developed offering something closer to the latter.

Whether you want to learn more about wine with like-minded individuals or switch jobs and join the wine industry, there's a course for you. For practical purposes, I'd like to divide these programs into two loose categories: (1) courses for the trade and consumers, and (2) courses for sommeliers.

Organizations Offering Courses & Certifications for the Trade and Consumers

Wine & Spirit Education Trust 

Whose courses are administered by NYC's International Wine Center and other schools across the country (and around the world )

An English association offering three levels of wine and spirit courses: Intermediate Certificate, Advanced Certificate and Diploma in Wines and Spirits (DWS). The courses blend theory and practical wine tasting knowledge. Although this organization has a British (i.e. European wine) focus, its well developed curricula are recognized around the world and it is becoming increasingly popular in the USA. The DWS is thought of as the best stepping-stone towards the prestigious and extremely rigorous Master of Wine (MW) program. I'll be sharing more information about the Diploma in future posts.

Rudd Center for Profressional Wine Studies (at the CIA)

Housed in the historic Christian Brothers winery, the Greystone campus of the Culinary Institude of America (CIA) is led by the charismatic Karen MacNeil, author of the Wine Bible. The Rudd Center offers 1 to 5 day wine courses on food and wine pairing, wine business, wine regions and sensory analysis. The program is surprisingly flexible - you can cherry pick the courses that you want to take or take them all in five weeks as part of the school's “Wine Immersion” program. The Rudd Center's classes have a particularly strong wine tasting component… but are consequently quite expensive. There are two levels of certification: the Certified Wine Professional (CWP) and Advanced Certified Wine Professional (ACWP).

Society of Wine Educators

Offers wine certifications at two levels: Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and Certified Wine Educator (CWE). Although the society does not offer any courses, numerous schools across the country have classes to prepare you for the CSW exam. It is not necessary to take a course, however. The Society offers a 250-page study guide and a very good online wine academy (developed by Gallo) to help you self-study for the 100 multiple choice question CSW exam. For the CWE, you are on your own; that exam consists of 85 multiple choice questions, a brief essay, a blind identification of 4 white and 4 red wines and a wine faults exam.
Philip and I passed the CSW last summer, and I am 2/3s of the way through the CWE so do hesitate to contact us with any questions about these certifications.

Some other organizations around the country that I know less about include:

The International Wine Guild

The Wine School (of Philadelphia)

Napa Valley College

Professional Culinary Institute

Organizations Offering Courses & Certifications for Sommeliers

Having neither any experience as a sommelier, nor attended any of these courses, I do not profess to know a great deal about them. Although they focus on the production and enjoyment of wines of the world, they also have a serious service component that takes  them beyond the what most consumers are interested in learning.

Court of Master Sommeliers

Offers the internationally-recognized Master Sommelier (MS). Four levels of courses and evaluations leading up to the notoriously difficult 3-day oral Master Sommelier exam that covers theory, tasting and service components.

American Sommelier Association

A New York-based association that offers classes at three levels on viticulture, vinification, wine service and blind tasting.

Sommelier Society of America

Another New York-based organization offering a 21-week Sommelier Certificate Course covering wine service, food pairing and blind tasting.

International Sommelier Guild

Another Sommelier association that offer intensive wine and service training at four levels building up to the Grand Sommelier Master (GSM) program with its daunting 12 ½ hour exam covering theory, blind tasting and wine management.

The Wine Messenger, an online wine retailer focussed on small grower wines. Rodolphe is also currently a diploma student at the WSET in London.

Mentioned in this article


  • Kathleen Lisson

    Congrats, fellow CSW!
    Kathleen Lisson

    Jan 16, 2009 at 12:41 PM

  • Snooth User: Adam Levin
    Hand of Snooth
    77280 1,765

    This is a really handy list. I am planning on taking a course this year, so this post helps sort through it all. I was considering taking the WSET Intermediate course. Thanks!

    Jan 19, 2009 at 8:36 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    Adam - i bet you could skip that and go straight to the advanced. You'd need to study of course, but i think, considering youve been in the trade for a while, that you can skip over the intermediate.

    Jan 20, 2009 at 4:13 AM

  • Snooth User: Adam Levin
    Hand of Snooth
    77280 1,765

    Philip, thanks for the recommendation. Now I just need to track down the course information since COPIA is closed.

    Jan 20, 2009 at 4:34 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    It's gonna be here for a very long time Chip. You'll just have to search for it!

    Jan 21, 2009 at 4:23 AM

  • Snooth User: Adam Levin
    Hand of Snooth
    77280 1,765

    Chip, all posts get saved and can be easily rediscovered using the Forum Search.

    Jan 21, 2009 at 11:39 AM

  • Snooth User: ChipDWood
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    83884 1,013

    This is a fantastic post.

    Any chance we can somehow archive this one as a blog entry or something? Add it to the Snooth arsenal of wine info? Somethin'?

    Jan 21, 2009 at 12:20 PM

  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    6347 1,872

    Adam - if you have some free time to study I strongly suggest you dive right into the advanced… most of the intermediate syllabus isn't going to push you. The advanced class (and your classmates) will be a fantastic experience - I promise.

    As far as the Diploma in the bay area now that COPIA is gone, Adam Chase of grape experience is taking over. See below:

    From: Adam Chase [mailto:adam@grapeexperience.com]
    Sent: Thursday, December 04, 2008 8:29 AM
    To: adam@grapeexperience.com
    Subject: WSET Northern California Update

    Dear WSET Diploma Student and Graduate

    I wanted to formally take this opportunity to update you on the WSET program
    given the recent Chapter 11 filing by COPIA. As many of you know, the WSET
    is an independent global program and can be run either with or without
    COPIA's involvement. I, myself, am an approved WSET provider and as such
    will be running the WSET in Northern California until COPIA's situation is
    resolved. We do expect and hope COPIA will be able to reopen as an
    educationally focused institution.

    Please know that all Northern California WSET programs will proceed as
    scheduled, only the location may change. For some of you that means that
    the Unit 3 course scheduled to begin on January 17 will go forward. If you
    have not yet registered with COPIA, please contact me directly. Those of
    you scheduled to submit papers or take exams in 2009, please expect that
    those exams will take place. If you are interested in taking the Units 1, 4,
    5 and 6 exams in March, you must let me know by January 12, 2009.

    Also, if anyone knows someone who would like to start the Diploma program,
    the Units 1 and 2 classes begin this Saturday, December 6 at 8:30 a.m
    (Unit1) at the Robert Mondavi Winery and continue on December
    13-14 (Unit 2). It is not too late to register and they should contact me
    directly - Home Study is also available with the Unit 2 exam on January 10,

    Please know I really admire your commitment to the WSET Diploma and I
    appreciate your help in spreading the word. Some of you I know personally
    and I look forward to meeting those people who I have not met. Do not
    hesitate to contact me at any time.



    Adam Chase

    Jan 21, 2009 at 12:32 PM

  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    6347 1,872

    Chip, you need to head across the river and check out the IWC… or start working on the SWE's CSW syllabus at home!

    Jan 21, 2009 at 12:35 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    GDP, perhaps this and a related post/thread by RB (that I can't remember the name of at the moment) could also go in the Wine Resource Center, or whatever you end up calling it?

    Mar 27, 2009 at 6:29 AM

  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    6347 1,872

    dm, you are really digging up all the old classics. I can't wait until you find us contradicting ourselves!

    Mar 27, 2009 at 6:37 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    RB, come now, wouldn't do that! ;-)

    Do find myself with perhaps a little too much spare time this month…

    Mar 27, 2009 at 7:16 AM

  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    6347 1,872

    Yes clearly - I can tell that you are scrolling back and reading the forums in reverse chronological order.

    Mar 28, 2009 at 10:58 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    More like I remembered your thread I saw first on the WSET diploma during normal reading, so when I started looking at the Snooth Blog category threads and ran across this, it catalyzed my thinking on the need for a centralized ‘resource center' for this type of recurringly-useful subject matter to prevent its disappearance into the mists of blog churn…

    Mar 28, 2009 at 11:17 AM

  • I know this is an old forum, but I'm trying to decide between the Advanced 15-week IWC course (which most people seem to take, esp on Snooth) and the 24-week course at the American Sommelier Asso (which looks like it covers a bit more, esp since there are simply more classes). Any insights? Thanks!

    May 03, 2010 at 12:41 PM

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