Online Sommelier Classes
In March 2020, wine schools started developing a variety of online wine programs. Many of the wine educators we talked to confirmed this move online was essential to their school’s survival.
This is a massive paradigm shift, and a year later, we see a reimagined world of online wine education. This article is focused on online sommelier certifications. For wine tasting classes, you can check out our reviews of Virtual Wine Tastings.
Developing and deploying something as complicated as a sommelier certification program is no easy feat. It takes a team of seasoned professionals to create something worthwhile.
We spent several months attending dozens of online wine courses. The quality varied greatly. Those listed on this page are worth your investment of time and money. However, many of the programs we attended did not make the cut. There are some deeply flawed online sommelier courses on offer. We discuss how to evaluate a program’s quality at the end of this article.
Types of Online Courses
When you start looking at taking an online sommelier class, you should know a few critical terms. Asynchronous courses are pre-recorded. This allows the student to take the class at their own pace. Synchronous courses are streamed live and run on a predetermined schedule. SCORM is the eLearning protocol used by most universities and schools to build and deliver courses to students.
The Best Online Sommelier Courses
Top Pick: Wine School of Philadelphia
People don’t realize that Wine School of Philadelphia (WSOP) produces a lot of the content distributed nationally by the National Wine School (NWS). Their Level One programming is a well-produced asynchronous program. Level Two and above are synchronous programs with a combination of high definition live feeds and immersive videos.
For every synchronous program, there are two instructors: one on screen and the other facilitating the students’ interactions with the instructor. It provides a dynamic, in-person experience for students.
A National Wine Secret
The program is packaged into the National Wine School’s platform, which includes a wide variety of reading and testing options. Overall, it is well-thought-out and SCORM-compliant. The NWS system is designed to be deployed at universities, so there is a high level of professionalism. If you’ve ever taken an online college class, you will feel right at home.
The reason we recommend WSOP over NWS is due to a discovery we made while signing up: This regional school charges less for the same programs than the national one. For instance, going through WSOP for a Level One certificate costs $200. The same program would have cost us twice as much if we went through the national program.
What to Expect:
Top Pick: WSET
The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is the dominant company in the restaurant trade. Name recognition alone makes this is an important consideration if your career goal is restaurant work.
If you’ve taken WSET classes in the past and enjoyed them, you will feel right at home in the online version. Classes are streamed live by an instructor who uses PowerPoint presentations. Lots of great information is given, but the format can feel stale at times.
It was difficult to choose which online WSET program was the best. There are dozens of WSET affiliates, and they all offer similar experiences. The main differences are the narrator and the professionalism of the affiliate school. For that reason, Grape Experience is our top pick.
At Grape Experience the classes are asynchronous, but there are weekly online Zoom meetings with an instructor. We find the team at Grape Experience to offer the best experience overall. Adam Chase is a fantastic teacher, and he has pulled together an excellent team of instructors.
However, If pricing is a consideration, you can shop for bargains. We have found that pricing per program varies greatly, and WSET schools actively compete with each other.
Here are the WSET affiliate schools in the USA to use for comparison shopping: Fine Vintage LTD, San Francisco Wine School, Wine Education Institute, Florida Wine Academy, Virginia Wine & Spirits Academy, Dallas Wine Education Center, Texas Wine School, International Wine Center, Capital Wine School, Wine Academy of Las Vegas, Spirited Grape, American Wine School, and Napa Valley Wine Academy. Happy hunting!
What to Expect:
Runner Up: International Sommelier Guild
At the International Sommelier Guild (ISG), production value is a step up from WSET programs, but the information given is sometimes dated. While based in the United States, the group has expanded internationally, offering online programming in many languages, including Russian, Spanish, and Chinese.
The programs consist of an outstanding learning experience that is fully asynchronous. The one drawback is that lectures are audio only. We feel it would benefit the students to have video instruction included in all online courses for the pricing.
What to Expect:
University Online Wine Courses
There are a few other good options for wine education from several universities. Sadly, none of them come with any certification. The U.C. Davis Wine class on Coursera is comprehensive and well-organized, but does not offer sommelier certification.
Another great (and free) option is the introductory wine program at the University of Adelaide. We found it better than the Cornell University introductory wine course, which is not a good value for the content.
Our Criteria for Rating Online Sommelier Classes
High-quality wine instruction. This is a no-brainer, in our opinion. The best wine instructors can deliver knowledge in a manner that students find compelling. A great teacher knows what the core concepts are and makes sure that students understand them. Far too many wine teachers believe that delivering information in a monotone is teaching. It is not.
Student interaction. It’s important for students to interact with the teacher, especially if they have questions. This is often done through a chat function or a forum.
High-Resolution Video / High-Quality Audio In the era of Zoom, poor quality audio and video are inexcusable. A wine student should expect a high-quality experience: one that is sharp visually and delivers crisp audio. HD and 4K video are now standard for online college classrooms; grainy video signals that you are dealing with a fly-by-night operation. Is the instructor using a high-quality cardioid microphone or a cheap omnidirectional one that sounds like a tin can?
Online Academic Resources Programs should come with original online material. Whether that information is relayed via video or reading material depends on the program, as long as it is presented in a lesson-by-lesson format. A critical consideration is whether there are quizzes or projects attached to lessons: the best online wine course offers ways to judge how well you are mastering the program.
Wine Selections Most L2 and L3 programs require that the student purchases wines. The best programs provide a list of wines to source and offer help in substituting wines that are not available locally. We found that schools that offer to send you wines for a price do so at a high markup.
Sommelier Certification Another obvious requirement is that many programs offering “Online Sommelier Classes” do not actually offer any certification at all. There is no reason to take a course if the school cannot offer a qualified accreditated certificate.
Online Sommelier Classes to Avoid
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are some deeply flawed online sommelier courses on offer. Why are so many online wine programs subpar?
For a long time, wine education has been guided by a basic formula: wine tasting and a PowerPoint presentation. Wine schools can franchise content from suppliers like WSET and run classes without any infrastructure in place. You don’t need a permanent space or teaching credentials to buy into the franchise.
This has led to an overreliance on PowerPoint slides with a teacher who is only going through the motions. Quality instruction is so much more than that. We hope that wine schools will focus on developing original content that engages the student and offers a unique experience. It will make for better online courses and better wine education overall.