The Virginia Wine & Spirits Academy (VAWSA) provides informative and fun wine and spirits education, in-class and online, for trade professionals and enthusiasts throughout Virginia and neighboring states. They offer a suite of qualifications covering wines and spirits. Like all WSET courses, they are designed for those just starting their careers and established professionals and enthusiasts passionate about wines and spirits.
Tracy Waldron is a co-founder of the Virginia Wine & Spirits Academy. She is a former sommelier, winemaker, and wine importer. Having spent more than a decade in Napa Valley, she moved back to her hometown in 2016. Her goal is to push for industry diversity through education and direct mentorship of students and play a role in establishing a demand for qualified beverage industry leaders.
Tracy previously worked as the marketing director for Vineyard 29 in Napa Valley. She also co-owned the wine label Analogue Wine Co and the wine import company PellOneda. Both are not defunct.
The second founder is Chris Parker. Before VAWSA, Chris established New Horizon Wines, an international wine business consultancy focused on Virginia wine. He has worked as an executive in pharma, oil & gas, utility, telecom, financial services, and federal, state, and local businesses. He sold his stake in the wine school in 2020.
While they have a mailing address on Broad Street in Richmond, their classes were held at Market Street Wine in Charlottesville until 2020.
The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) is the approval authority for vocational-technical and proprietary institutions that do not offer degrees. The VDOE has appointed the Virginia Council on Private Education (VCPE) to oversee secondary school accreditation.
The Virginia Council on Private Education (VCPE)This link takes you out of the Virginia Department of Education website has oversight of private nursery, preschool, elementary and secondary school accreditation.VCPE Website
A search of the VCPE database reveals that Virginia Wine & Spirits Academy is not a recognized school in Virginia. That in itself is not uncommon. Many wine schools rely on the accreditation of their national franchise to sort out legalities. This school’s diplomas are only as valid as the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). While WSET is a significant wine certification program, it is organized as a trade accreditation body, which is why it cannot offer certification or accreditations (WSET uses the term “qualifications” to get around this legality).
The best and most reliable wine schools have a physical location. For instance, the top-ranked Napa Valley Wine Academy has its classrooms and offices. Unfortunately, this wine school does not seem to have any site now. The address available is a gift store, and (as of 2022) the link on their website to their location was missing. Many second-tier wine schools rent out space at a restaurant or hotel, which is not uncommon.
There are not many reviews of this school. We found five positive reviews on Facebook from 2018/2019, but no Yelp review page exists. Here at Somm, most wine schools get at least 20 reviews yearly from our readers: this school has gained only seven student reviews since 2019.
The school is run well, and the owners have trade experience. However, the lack of a physical location and the lack of state credentials puts this wine school in the second tier of programs. The reliance on WSET certification and materials without independent credentials makes for a precarious situation. We recommend this school to those seeking WSET certification, and we are eager to see them diversify their offerings and find a permanent location.
Not aweful, not great. Skip it.