Which Sommelier Course is Best for You?
In the world of wine education, there are few paths as revered as sommelier certification. The title of sommelier is no longer confined to the realm of restaurants; it has expanded to encompass all aspects of the wine industry, from winemaking to marketing. With this evolution, the demand for specialized training in the wine trade has grown, and sommelier certification has become the de facto standard.
When it comes to pursuing sommelier certification, there are several excellent options available, each with its own unique strengths and weaknesses. To determine which program is best suited to your goals and aspirations, it is crucial to carefully consider your individual needs. To assist you in this endeavor, we present a comprehensive comparison chart and detailed descriptions of the programs below.
Wine & Spirit Education Trust
SEATTLE, Napa Valley
National Wine School
Philadelphia, Los Angeles
Court of Master Sommeliers
NEW YORK City
Sommelier Courses Overview: Expanding Horizons
Gone are the days when a sommelier’s domain was limited to the confines of a restaurant. Today, sommeliers find themselves in various roles within the wine industry, ranging from winemakers to wine marketers. With this expanding landscape, the need for specialized training in the wine trade has never been greater, making sommelier certification an invaluable asset.
The world of sommelier certification offers a range of options, from single-semester programs to comprehensive two-year diploma courses. Professional qualifications hold more weight in the wine trade than a traditional college education, making sommelier courses an attractive choice for those seeking a career in this field.
Breaking down the Sommelier Course Comparison Chart
Sommelier Courses and Certification: A Spectrum of Expertise
It may come as no surprise that most wine schools offer some form of sommelier certification. However, what many people may not realize is that there are five distinct levels of certification available, ranging from beginner to Master-Level Sommelier. In our analysis, we have highlighted the top picks—NWS, CMS, and WSET—all of which provide a comprehensive curriculum spanning these five levels. We recommend consulting our Guide to Wine Certifications to delve deeper into the intricacies of sommelier certification in the United States.
Sommelier Certification Costs: A Consideration of Investment
When it comes to the cost of sommelier courses, the figures can vary significantly, ranging from $800 to upwards of $10,000. The exact calculation of costs depends on various factors. In our analysis, we have adopted a per-semester calculation, assuming that each semester corresponds to a particular level of sommelier certification. To provide a more holistic view, we have also included the average amount of wine a student may need to purchase throughout the program and the average exam fees.
Restaurant Employment: An Honorable Pursuit
If your goal is a restaurant career, you’ll want this type of sommelier course. It’s an honorable trade, but after COVID, its appeal has been lost for many aspiring sommeliers. WSET and CMS were developed with the restaurant trade in mind, and most of their graduates remain in this field.
Certification for Winery Positions: A Path of Income and Prestige
If income and prestige are among your considerations, venturing into the production side of the wine trade may be a compelling choice. Contrary to popular belief, securing a job in this sector is not as arduous as one might think, provided you possess the appropriate credentials. The NWS offers a more academically focused approach to wine education, emphasizing the career path within wineries.
Professional Certification: Proprietary Programs for Specialized Fields
Professional certifications, typically underwritten by for-profit entities, play a vital role in raising awareness and training workers in specific trades. Both CWS and WSET exemplify this type of certification. When selecting a sommelier program, it is essential to ascertain if the school offers continuing education credits as part of its curriculum, as this is often a legal requirement for professional certification in many states in the United States.
International Opportunities: A Global Outlook
If your future endeavors take you overseas, it would be prudent to pursue a recognized certification that carries weight internationally. While not universally recognized, both CWS and WSET have strong ties in England, their country of origin. On the other hand, NWS is exclusively based in the United States, with its headquarters situated in Vermont. Consider your aspirations carefully and choose a program that aligns with your global ambitions.
If university degrees weren’t accredited, diplomas wouldn’t be worth the paper they were printed on. Accreditation is the core of all education, from kindergarten to college.
However, many wine schools are not accredited. This isn’t a problem in the restaurant trade, but it can become tricky when looking for jobs upmarket. For important information regarding this topic, please review our Sommelier Accreditation page.
Job placement isn’t available at wine schools, but some offer job counseling. The wine trade is built on connections, so if you can get the ear of someone deeply connected, you’ll have a steep advantage.
Sommelier Courses in America: A Wealth of Options
Numerous reputable wine schools in America offer sommelier courses catering to aspiring wine professionals. We direct your attention to our compilation of Sommelier Schools for a comprehensive list. If you prefer a more streamlined approach, we present two consistently top-rated institutions:
Napa Valley Wine Academy: A hub of excellence that provides all levels of sommelier certification programs, including a prestigious Master Sommelier equivalent certification. Napa Valley Wine Academy offers a comprehensive curriculum as an affiliate of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET).
Wine School of Philadelphia: Recognized as a National Wine School Accredited Facility, the Wine School of Philadelphia offers sommelier certification programs at all levels, including an equivalent to the esteemed Master Sommelier certification.
Sommelier Courses Across America: A Broad Geographical Reach
Sommelier courses are not confined to a single location; they are offered throughout the United States, from bustling metropolises like Los Angeles to the vibrant streets of New York City.
In total, over thirty locations in the United States provide sommelier courses, ensuring accessibility for aspiring wine professionals nationwide. In addition to the aforementioned institutions, other notable schools include the International Wine Center in NYC, the American Wine School in Cleveland, and The Wine & Spirit Archive in Portland, Oregon. These institutions represent a mere fraction of America’s exceptional wine schools, as the demand for wine education continues to grow, leading to the establishment of new schools each year.
What is a Master Sommelier? The Pursuit of Excellence
The coveted title of “Master Sommelier” holds significant prestige within the wine industry. Owned by the Court of Master Sommeliers, this trademarked term represents the pinnacle of achievement in the field of wine certification. Referred to as an L5 (Level Five) certification, the Master Sommelier designation is the highest level of wine certification attainable anywhere in the world.
It is important to note that several agencies, including the Institute of Masters of Wine, underwrite L5 certifications, although the Court of Master Sommeliers is the most renowned, largely due to the documentary SOMM and Esquire TV’s “Uncorked.” While the Court of Master Sommeliers holds the trademark for the term “Master Sommelier,” other certification bodies offer an L5 program known as “Master of Wine,” which is equivalent in status to a Master Sommelier certification.
To delve deeper into the intricacies of wine certification organization, we recommend consulting our comprehensive resource, Sommelier Certifications 101.
Accreditation: Ensuring Credibility
In the realm of education, accreditation plays a vital role in establishing the value and credibility of degrees and diplomas. However, it is worth noting that not all wine schools possess accreditation. While this may not pose a significant hurdle in the restaurant trade, it can become a challenging factor when seeking employment in all other corners of the wine trade.
Restaurant Trade Recognition
There are three types of certification for sommelier courses. The first is industry certification, also known as professional certification, trade certification, or qualification. They are typically designed by a private firm or trade organization. They are very limited in scope and have no legal protections for the students. This is the certification offered by both CMS and WSET.
The second is state-level recognition. Only a few elite wine schools offer this type of certification. Most wine schools don’t bother with this regulation, as there are no federal requirements for certifying sommeliers. Nor are there any state-level requirements for the professional licensing of sommeliers.
A state-authorized sommelier course is currently the gold standard of wine education available to the public. However, some universities offer sommelier courses within the confines of a Bachelours Program. These are not open to the public but are the only sommelier courses that offer federally recognized certification.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to be a sommelier?
Most sommelier candidates can earn their pin within four months. However, to earn the more prestigious Advanced Sommelier Pin, it can take two years on average.
What is the best sommelier qualification?
The three major sommelier qualifications are the Court of Master Sommeliers, National Wine School, and Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Of the three, the Court is the most famous, the Trust is the largest, and the National is the best-rated.
Are there sommelier classes near me?
You can find sommelier classes in every state across the United States. To find one, select your state in the drop-down on somm.us.