The National Wine School is a professional certification agency that develops testing protocols for the wine trade, including sommeliers.
National Wine School (NWS) was founded in 2007. Initially based in Philadelphia, it operated under the American Wine Foundation until 2010, when the agency relocated to Los Angeles. NWS was established as a not-for-profit credentialing agency for the wine trade. Its primary goal is to develop transparent certification protocols and standards that comply with state and federal laws.
The accreditation body started with a single school, the Wine School of Philadelphia (WSoP), but pivoted away from the adult education sector and into higher education in 2012. In 2020, NWS started offering some of its sommelier certification programs directly to the public. The National Wine School moved its headquarters to Vermont in 2022.
While that sounds dry, it should be. The National Wine School was developed to deal with the structural deficits inherent in the British-owned certification agencies: the Court of Master Sommeliers and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. There are significant liabilities with offering professional certification in the United States, and the founders of NWS felt the British firms did not fully address US standards.
The only legal cover WSET and CMS have is their classification as trade agencies by the IRS. The Federal government nor any state recognizes their credentials, nor do the states they are located. The National Wine School is fully compliant in the state they are located in (Vermont) and require their affiliate schools to be regionally accredited colleges and universities. There are some exceptions to this, but only for wine schools that are well-vetted and operating legally.
Again, this is boring stuff, but it goes a long way to make everyone’s sommelier certifications future-proof. The agency’s primary goal is to introduce transparency and legitimacy into sommelier certification. There are eight particular requirements for professional certification in the United States.
Finally, the most important element in the legality of sommelier certification is being legal, which requires the accreditation agency to comply with state law. NWS complies with Vermont state law as a private vocational-technical institution that grants certifications and diplomas but does not grant degrees.
The school has released three of its programs directly to professionals and consumers. These include the L1, L2, and L3 programs. The programs were developed during the pandemic by two of the school’s board of directors, Keith Wallace and Alana Zerbe. The programs are innovative and engaging, which is remarkable for an online wine program. Previously, the biggest downfall of their programs was only being available within college curriculums, with only a few exceptions.
Is NWS a good choice for you? It depends on what you are looking for. WSET and CMS are sexier brands with plenty of cachets. They’ve earned their spot as media darlings with big-ticket PR firms. Banking on the popularity of sommeliers is just good business, and we don’t fault them for being shrewd. But, on the other hand, the National Wine School may not be for you if you are all about the bling.
The NWS is a good option if you want a rock-solid professional wine trade certification. While NWS is exceptional in how it issues sommelier certificates, its accreditation program is smaller than WSET or CMS. We deducted points for its limited scope (only about 11% of sommeliers nationally are certified via the NWS). We expect that will change over time.
However, the program is only offered at state or regional accreditation schools. Since most wine schools do not have that type of accreditation, the program is out of reach for most people, except for online or in Philadelphia. The reviews of students who have taken the programs at the college level are very positive.
A tough class on wine, well suited to someone looking to challenge themselves like a master sommelier. The material is supplied by the national wine school, as are the quizzes. Here’s a tip: if you do well on the weekly quizzes, you’ll do fine on the final.HSPM148, San Jose State University
A force of nature in the classroom. If you think you understand wine, your going to find out very quickly that you are at the ground floor, knowledge-wise. This is a National Wine School program, and really impressive.WINE101, New England Culinary Institute
What are the best wine qualifications? The three top wine qualifications are the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, the National Wine School, and the Court of Master Sommeliers.
What forms of payment are accepted at National Wine School? The National Wine School accepts Paypal, Affirm, and most Credit Cards.
How is National Wine School rated? The National Wine School is one of the top-rated sommelier accreditation agencies in the United States. They also offer direct-to-student online wine courses.
There teacher training program is excellent, but you have to go to Philadelphia for a weeklong in person training seminar. If they offered this program in a few more locations I’d give it five stars.
I took the L1 through another wine school and then earned my sommelier pin directly through NWS. I loved the programs here. The L2 program was truly stellar, and changed how I think about wine. I teach at an ivy league school, and I have to admit that this program is better than most of our online programs.