Established in 2008 by the esteemed Master of Wine Jay Youmans, the Capital Wine School (CWS) has emerged as a hub of exceptional wine education in Washington, D.C. Situated in a vibrant area near Bethesda, close to the cultural landmark of Mazza Gallerie, the school has carved a unique niche. It’s known for its approachable yet in-depth exploration of the wine world, designed to cater to a wide array of wine enthusiasts, from casual drinkers to seasoned connoisseurs.
At CWS, education is an immersive journey through the world of wine. From introductory sessions that unravel the basics of wine types and styles to advanced courses delving into the intricacies of renowned wine regions like Bordeaux and Tuscany, the curriculum is comprehensive. Each class is meticulously structured, whether it’s exploring the terroir-driven nuances of Brunello di Montalcino or understanding the subtle complexities of Pinot Noirs globally. These classes are not just about wine education; they’re about experiencing wine in a new and enlightening way, fitting perfectly into the schedules of those seeking in-depth knowledge within a shorter timeframe.
The school is not formally accredited by the District of Columbia Board of Education, its reputation and quality of education are upheld solely through its affiliation with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and the Wine Scholar Guild. While it does offer sommelier classes DC, keep in mind that it lacks formal accreditation in the non-public educational sector.
Wine Scholar Guild Programs
The school offers comprehensive programs from the Wine Scholar Guild. These programs, covering the wines of France, Italy, and Spain, cater to both professionals and serious wine hobbyists. They include detailed study materials, webinars, study trips, and classes with tutored tastings, emphasizing a deep understanding of wine regions and styles
Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET)
The school also provides courses from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), recognized globally for wine education. The entry-level WSET Level 1 Award in Wines introduces basics like wine types, grape varieties, service, and food pairing, including a wine-tasting session. This course is ideal for beginners. They offer WSET courses up to Level 4.
Founder Jay Youmans
With nearly three decades of wine-tasting experience, Jay Youmans is a leader in the DC wine trade. His establishment of Rock Creek Wine Merchants and his role as a representative for Bogle Vineyards showcases his extensive involvement in the wine industry. As Washington, D.C.’s first Master of Wine, Youmans brings an unparalleled depth of knowledge to his teaching. His style is engaging and inclusive, making even the most complex wine topics accessible and enjoyable to all levels of students.
The Governor’s Cup
Under Youmans’ leadership since 2012, the Governor’s Cup has transformed into a nationally recognized winery competition. Originating in 1982 as a relatively informal event, it has since gained prominence and prestige. This competition not only highlights the top wineries in Virginia but also demonstrates the influential role of the Capital Wine School in shaping wine appreciation and standards in the U.S.
The CWS offers a unique sensory experience in its classes. Set above a dance studio, the rhythm of music often accompanies wine tastings, adding to the ambiance. The school’s practical approach includes tastings in every session, with an emphasis on responsible enjoyment. This setting not only facilitates learning but also fosters a sense of community among students, who range from novices to aficionados.
In a progressive step, the school announced a grant program in 2020 to support students of color, covering fees for the WSET wine program. This initiative is a testament to CWS’s dedication to diversity and inclusivity, reflecting a commitment to breaking down barriers in the wine world and fostering a more inclusive industry.
Outpost in Leesburg, VA
In February 2020, the school announced a business partnership with Lost Creek Winery, which Jay had recently awarded a Governor’s Cup Gold Medal. The joint venture would hold wine classes and WSET courses at the winery’s tasting room (Echelon Wine Bar) in Leesburg. However, the pandemic shelved those plans. As of 2023, that partnership has dissolved.
I found their classes to be very good. For folks who like WSET, I think this is a very good school. Personally, I found that NWS was a better fit for me.
Snobbery and incompitence is a lethal combination. That combined with the bad location and high prices means I will never be back.