TL;DR The lowest-ranked wine school in America has new ownership. We expect –and look forward to– the quality of this program will increase over time. Right now, we recommend a wait-and-see approach.
WSET Philadelphia had been a prominent name in the Philadelphia wine education scene for decades, initially under the stewardship of Neal Ewing. The roots of this school delve deep into the historical narrative of wine education in the United States.
Neal’s sister, Mary Ewing-Mulligan, was the pioneering force behind bringing the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) certifications to the U.S., establishing the International Wine Center in 1994 as the first organization in the country to adopt WSET certifications. The Ewing family’s commitment to wine education was further solidified when Neal introduced WSET programming to Philadelphia, making him one of the early proponents of British-based wine education.
Before retiring, Neal had extensive teaching experience at local institutions, not just at WSET Philadelphia. He served as an Adjunct Instructor at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business for over 16 years, a Wine Instructor at Temple University for over 17 years, and at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College for nearly 20 years. A notable contribution to the Philly wine scene was leading a 10-week “First Growth” course preparing students for the Society of Wine Educators’ Certified Specialist in Wine exam. Furthermore,
Neal’s early endeavors at WSET Philadelphia included hosting wine tastings and events around Philadelphia. However, by 2007, most of these activities ceased as the Wine School of Philadelphia started offering similar opportunities. The rivalry between Neal and the Wine School of Philadelphia stemmed from Neal’s perception of the latter as a competitor, leading to a strained relationship between the two entities.
Neal’s retirement ushers in a new era for WSET Philadelphia, now under the aegis of Noelle Allen. The company was purchased by Noelle and rebranded as PhillyWineLLC in May 2022; ironically, Noelle is a graduate of the Wine School of Philadelphia –which was reported by the Academic Wino back in 2016.
We expect she will bring a fresh perspective to PhillyWineLLC. Professionally, Noelle previously worked in wine distribution through VinoBliss, and as a blogger at WineLaLa. This transition may carry a tinge of sadness for Neal, as his life’s work is now run by an alumna of the school he once viewed as his nemesis.
According to current students, Noelle’s tenure is having a rocky start. While her past work showcases aspiration, the wine courses somewhat lack substance, according to several students. Others vehemently disagree, pointing towards long-established misogyny at WSET Philadelphia as the cause for any conflicts.
We hope they can get beyond the conflict and create something new and great at WSET Philadelphia. In the past, we have ranked this school as one of the worst in the country, largely due to Neal’s teaching style and history of personal grievances.
In our survey, Phillywine students were not kind in their reviews. Much of the criticism is leveled at the dry and uninspiring way the WSET programs are taught at this school. Most point to lackluster power-point presentations and lectures that are simple recitals from the reading materials.
While running dull classes is a big negative for any wine school, our surveys of previous WSET students highlighted a graver issue with Phillywine. Students complained that Mr. Ewing was prone to slanderous remarks towards his peers in the wine trade. Our rating of Phillywine is solely based on the content of the programs. We did not think to include a rating for poor behavior. If we did, Phillywine would have earned an even lower grade than it already does.WSET Philadelpia Review, Circa 2020
This is a new dawn for the school, and we hope they can rebuild with new energy and hope. That said, the landscape of wine education in Philadelphia is now dotted with long-established providers, among which Fine Vintage LTD and the Wine School of Philadelphia are noteworthy.
Fine Vintage LTD, a family-owned company established in 1995, offers a blend of proprietary wine certificate courses alongside standard WSET programs, with a presence in numerous cities across the United States. Their offerings are polished, well-received, and backed by the robust infrastructure of a national company. On the other hand, the Wine School of Philadelphia, founded in 2001, has grown into one of the top-tier wine schools in the USA, with a strong focus on sommelier certification and a rich history rooted in the passion of its founder, Keith Wallace.
PhillyWineLLC, nestled in this competitive milieu, has the potential to carve a unique niche by blending the rich legacy inherited from Neal with the fresh, innovative approach brought in by Noelle. The juxtaposition of tradition and innovation could steer PhillyWineLLC towards becoming a vibrant hub for wine education in Philadelphia, fostering a community of learners and aficionados keen on delving into the enthralling world of wines.
In the past, we felt the quality of this school was so low that wine students should seek another venue. With the new ownership, we no longer believe such a negative review is warranted. As more information comes in and we gain more insight, we will update this page.
Management is inept, classes are worse. Skip it.
I met the owner (Neil) a few year ago. A very disagreeable man who seems to relish in talking badly about others.