As wine's popularity continues to increase in the United States at a torrid pace, new wine magazines, wine blogs and even wine podcasts are popping up nearly every month to keep up with Americans' voracious appetite for wine knowledge. Classrooms are filling up like never before as wine aficionados sign up for courses at a record pace.
Later this month, I will begin my final semester of the WSET Diploma at the International Wine Center in New York City; I plan on blogging about my experiences in this course. As an introduction, I thought it would be interesting to take stock on the current state of higher wine education in the United States.
Today, every major city in America has its share of organizations offering wine classes ranging from informal tasting groups offering to teach you the basics of “Wine 101” to rigorous three hour seminars extolling the merits of the wines of particular villages in Burgundy. Although there is great local variation among the former set of courses, a number of nationally and internationally recognized certification programs have developed offering something closer to the latter.
Whether you want to learn more about wine with like-minded individuals or switch jobs and join the wine industry, there's a course for you. For practical purposes, I'd like to divide these programs into two loose categories: (1) courses for the trade and consumers, and (2) courses for sommeliers.
Organizations Offering Courses & Certifications for the Trade and Consumers
Wine & Spirit Education Trust
Whose courses are administered by NYC's International Wine Center and other schools across the country (and around the world )
An English association offering three levels of wine and spirit courses: Intermediate Certificate, Advanced Certificate and Diploma in Wines and Spirits (DWS). The courses blend theory and practical wine tasting knowledge. Although this organization has a British (i.e. European wine) focus, its well developed curricula are recognized around the world and it is becoming increasingly popular in the USA. The DWS is thought of as the best stepping-stone towards the prestigious and extremely rigorous Master of Wine (MW) program. I'll be sharing more information about the Diploma in future posts.
Rudd Center for Profressional Wine Studies (at the CIA)
Housed in the historic Christian Brothers winery, the Greystone campus of the Culinary Institude of America (CIA) is led by the charismatic Karen MacNeil, author of the Wine Bible. The Rudd Center offers 1 to 5 day wine courses on food and wine pairing, wine business, wine regions and sensory analysis. The program is surprisingly flexible - you can cherry pick the courses that you want to take or take them all in five weeks as part of the school's “Wine Immersion” program. The Rudd Center's classes have a particularly strong wine tasting component… but are consequently quite expensive. There are two levels of certification: the Certified Wine Professional (CWP) and Advanced Certified Wine Professional (ACWP).
Society of Wine Educators
Offers wine certifications at two levels: Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and Certified Wine Educator (CWE). Although the society does not offer any courses, numerous schools across the country have classes to prepare you for the CSW exam. It is not necessary to take a course, however. The Society offers a 250-page study guide and a very good online wine academy (developed by Gallo) to help you self-study for the 100 multiple choice question CSW exam. For the CWE, you are on your own; that exam consists of 85 multiple choice questions, a brief essay, a blind identification of 4 white and 4 red wines and a wine faults exam.
Philip and I passed the CSW last summer, and I am 2/3s of the way through the CWE so do hesitate to contact us with any questions about these certifications.
Some other organizations around the country that I know less about include:
The International Wine Guild
The Wine School (of Philadelphia)
Napa Valley College
Professional Culinary Institute
Organizations Offering Courses & Certifications for Sommeliers
Having neither any experience as a sommelier, nor attended any of these courses, I do not profess to know a great deal about them. Although they focus on the production and enjoyment of wines of the world, they also have a serious service component that takes them beyond the what most consumers are interested in learning.
Court of Master Sommeliers
Offers the internationally-recognized Master Sommelier (MS). Four levels of courses and evaluations leading up to the notoriously difficult 3-day oral Master Sommelier exam that covers theory, tasting and service components.
American Sommelier Association
A New York-based association that offers classes at three levels on viticulture, vinification, wine service and blind tasting.
Sommelier Society of America
Another New York-based organization offering a 21-week Sommelier Certificate Course covering wine service, food pairing and blind tasting.
International Sommelier Guild
Another Sommelier association that offer intensive wine and service training at four levels building up to the Grand Sommelier Master (GSM) program with its daunting 12 ½ hour exam covering theory, blind tasting and wine management.
The Wine Messenger, an online wine retailer focussed on small grower wines. Rodolphe is also currently a diploma student at the WSET in London.