The Top Programs for Wine Instructors
The wine world needs educators who go beyond PowerPoint and Rainman-like recitations of useless wine facts. The options are varied, but most of them are not available to us mere mortals. The international and regional programs tend to be discontinued and disappear within a few years. WSET has a program, but it’s weak and only valuable if you invest in their franchise. NWS has an excellent program, but it’s only offered to the public once a year and only in a third-rate city notorious for poverty and crime. The SWE offers a truly mediocre program but offers a sizeable community and support.
There are only two choices for wine education, and we aren’t happy with either. So here are our recommendations and why we are cranky about these choices.
Society of Wine Educators
Certified Wine Educator Program
The most widely available wine instructor certification in the United States. SWE does run seminars, but the focus is on certificates, not teacher training. Therefore, the exam is more closely related to a sommelier certification than WSET or NWS. It includes two blind-tasting exams, a written exam, and a practical exam focused on presenting wine. The practical exams are only held during the Society of Wine Educators’ annual conference. Alternatively, the candidate may submit a video presentation. An exam guide is also available for $50 on Amazon.
In my opinion, it’s the ideal education for those in the retail and distribution end of the business, as it focuses solely on academic knowledge / theory… It’s a certification awarded by the Society of Wine Educators for passing a rigorous test designed for those with a vast knowledge of wine.Joey Casco, Wine Manager, Luke’s of Cape Cod
Let’s get this out of the way: this wine program does not spark joy. This program itself is just a level two sommelier certification in disguise. There is no actual teacher training involved in this course. However, what makes this our top pick is how the Society of Wine Educators functions globally: it serves as the largest trade association for wine instructors. To belong, you have to take their mediocre program.
This program won’t make you a good teacher, but at least you can join the club. We’d love it if SWE would toss their program and adopt the NWS format, which would make for a wine instructor program we could get behind. Or maybe do away with their hopes for monopoly status and accept credentials from other organizations?
National Wine School
Advanced Wine Instructor Certification
A program developed by several university professors in conjunction with the National Wine School. This program trains sommeliers and winemakers to teach NWS wine courses at colleges and universities. This five-day course includes two teaching seminars, roundtable discussions, a skill analysis session with video, and a practical exam. In addition, the student teaches a 10-minute class on any wine subject they desire. Once a year, the program is also offered to both wine trade professionals and the public in Philadelphia. The program is also offered in Vermont, Los Angeles, and Miami, but those programs are not open to the public.
Most wine instructors oftentimes don’t have a formal education in education. For me, my education came in reverse: I knew how to teach before I started my journey in wine. I love the NWS program for its teacher-training focus. The program uses a combination of cutting-edge and classic approaches to education that are highly effective.Alana Zerbe, Wine School of Philadelphia
The best-designed program to earn your wine instructor certification is the National Wine School’s instructor program. Having a program that teaches the art of wine education is refreshing!
(Since we’ve written this article, NWS has changed a few elements to their teacher training program. )
To earn this certification, there are too many hurdles to jump over. First, the program is invitation-only unless you live on the East Coast. You have to be in the NWS advanced program, which is only available at universities, a single wine school on the East Coast. Sure, they are only interested in training people who will run wine schools, but this strikes us as too elitist by a mile. This stance strikes us as a counter to their “wine education for all” ethos for a school that offers many of its sommelier programs online.
As of 2022, NWS has opened up its educator programs to everyone. The requirement to attend the teacher training program is twofold: earn the NWS Sommelier Pin and attend the weeklong Teacher Training Program. However, they still only offer one program to the public.
Many wine schools across America can train you to become a winemaker or a sommelier. As noted in our reviews of the hundreds of different wine schools, the quality of the instruction is much more important than what certification the school offers. Whether the school provides WSET, NWS, or CMS certification doesn’t matter. Quality wine teachers are critical to a wine school’s longevity.
Previously, a career in wine meant one of two paths: wine production (winemaking) or wine sales (sommelier). Then, depending on your chosen path, you would opt for a sommelier certification or a university degree in viticulture.
These days, career options in the wine world are much more varied. Hundreds of possible career paths are now available in the wine trade, from importing and distribution to marketing. According to the trade group WineAmerca, the wine trade’s economic impact on the US economy topped 220 billion dollars in 2017. That type of impact translates to an increasing number of high-paying jobs.
The Rise of Wine Schools Wine Schools
In response, the number of wine schools and an ever-growing roster of wine certifications has increased. For instance, schools like the top-rated Napa Valley Wine Academy offer sommelier diplomas from a half dozen certification bodies. As a result, trade school education has become the de facto standard, mainly replacing the traditional four-year college degree.
The Need For Wine Instructors
What matters at a trade school is how good the instruction is. A great wine instructor is critical to a great wine school experience and the adult student’s future success in the wine trade. Therefore, we strongly recommend choosing a wine school based on the quality of wine education, not what agency underwrites the sommelier certification.
The core of excellent wine education is who is teaching the wine course. Research shows that students with high-quality teachers achieve more with their degrees over the long term.
Biggest Problem in Wine Education
One of the biggest hurdles in getting a quality education is the lack of adequately trained wine teachers. Unfortunately, many do not have the quality or type of teacher training expected in any other field of education. Most have little to no training at all.
Wine instructors generally do not have formal training as teachers. We often fall into the position because of our love of wine, our experience, and our ability to communicate well with others. However, a little educator training can go a long way to turn a boring, lecture-driven class into a dynamic, interactive one.
It isn’t enough to have wine certifications that place teachers in a position to deliver wine programs to others. We must learn how to be effective as teachers because there is so much more that can be done other than standing in front of a PowerPoint presentation and giving a lecture.
Natalie Guinovart, Napa Valley Wine Academy
Wine Instructor Certification
Currently, most teacher certification includes little to no training on how to become an effective teacher. At the very minimum, certification should consist of the following:
- How to create lesson objectives
- Develop standards and curriculum
- How to manage a classroom
- How to develop an effective teaching style
As of this writing, only the Association of Wine Educators and the National Wine School address these issues, even if only partially.
What is a Wine Educator?
Many current teacher training programs are geared toward service, marketing, and sales careers. This is only a tiny fraction of the billion-dollar wine industry. At the very least, wine instructors should have the same training as any other trade school or university teacher. At a minimum, an instructor should have the following qualifications.
- Bachelor’s Degree
- Minimum of an Advanced Sommelier Certification (Level 4)
- Certified Wine Educator Exam
Other Wine Instructor Certification Programs
There are several teacher training programs available in the United States.
Wine & Spirit Education Trust, Educator Training Program
This program requires a Level 3 Sommelier Certification (WSET only) and a four-day teacher training course. This educator program includes tasting, theory, and presentation skills examinations. This program is not offered to the public and is limited to WSET franchises.
I first realized how little I knew about actual education last November when I attended a WSET Educator Training program. There were many skills I learned that changed the way I teach, such as how to identify each session’s aims and objectives and how to evaluate and measure the success of each class. I also learned how to be better prepared for class by creating proper session plans that help me deliver the course material more effectively and stay within the scope (and allocated time!) of each session.
Natalie Guinovart, Napa Valley Wine Academy
University of Gastronomic Studies
Master in Wine Culture, Communication & Management
Designed to train wine teachers and wine ambassadors who market wine with storytelling based on its enological, agricultural, environmental and cultural complexity.
Università di Lingue e Comunicazione | IULM
Masters Degree: Food & Wine Communication
The course participants will look in depth at the promotion of production activities, and the sale and management of food and wine products. They will also acquire the theoretical bases for the planning, management and dissemination of events connected with Food & Wine, through the integration of specific knowledge about communication and marketing processes and the cultural sensitivity and knowledge of the value of the synergy between culture, food and territory.
International Wine Institute
MBA Wine Tourism and Communication
This “Bac+4” (Master’s degree level) course is in line with the demands of professionals in the winemaking industry who are faced with an increased demand in wine marketing and communication. The program is thus aimed at young people who envisage a future in management with a strong desire towards working internationally, managing wine communication, or even wine tourism.
Regional Educator Certifications
Rioja Educator Program
The Rioja educator program is an initiative from the Consejo (Control Board ) of the Rioja DOCa (Qualified Designation of Origin). The aim is to identify and train educators to transmit information about Rioja’s wines to professional and consumer audiences worldwide.
Sud de France Certified Educator
The applicant must already be a wine instructor and have wine trade experience or wine credentials. Once the accreditation is obtained, the educator will be permitted to perform and replicate Sud de France Master class training sessions.
How educators are trained and certified is critical, and very little has been written about the subject matter. One of the ways an educator can be vetted is through one of the two associations available for educators.
Association of Wine Educators
The AWE is a small organization with only 90 members and only one in the United States currently. The requirements for membership are as follows: Level 4 Sommelier Certification, one year of teaching experience, and an in-person assessment. While small, the AWE members are all highly qualified wine instructors.
Society of Wine Educators
SWE is an extensive industry-backed program with a focus on wine sales. In addition, they run their certification programs, which can be reviewed on their website. Membership requires –at a minimum– an annual $135 fee.
According to the IRS 990 forms from 2016, the SWE makes nearly $2 million a year in income from memberships. It’s estimated that SWE currently has over ten thousand members, plus corporate sponsorships.
The Society offers its exams through Pearson VUE testing centers across the USA. You can earn the CSW and CSS exams in front of a computer. The CSE exam is 50% computer-based. The tasting portion of the CSE must be completed in Hong Kong or Washington, DC, as of this writing.