There are plenty of wine schools across America that 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. It doesn’t matter if the school offers WSET or Court of Master Sommelier certification. Quality wine educators are critical to a wine school’s longevity.
In the past, a career in wine meant one of two paths: wine production (winemaking) or wine sales (sommelier). Depending on which path you choose, you would either opt for a sommelier certification or a university degree in viticulture.
These days, career options in the wine world are much more varied. From importing, distribution to marketing, there are hundreds of possible career paths now available in the wine trade. 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.
In response, wine schools have proliferated, and so has an ever-growing roster of wine certifications. For instance, schools like the top-rated Napa Valley Wine Academy offer sommelier diplomas from a half dozen certification bodies. Trade school education has become the defacto standard, largely replacing the traditional four-year college degree.
Wine Teacher Training
What really matters at a trade school is how good the instruction is. A great wine instructor is critical to both a great wine school experience, but also the adult student’s future success in the wine trade. 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.
One of the biggest hurdles in getting a quality education is the lack of properly trained wine educators. Many do not have the quality or type of teacher training expected in any other field of education. Most, in fact, have little to no training at all.
Wine educators 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 wine educators 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
Standards for Wine Educators
Many of the current teacher training programs are geared towards careers in service, marketing, and sales. This is only a small fraction of the billion-dollar wine industry. Wine educators should –at the very least– 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, master’s degree recommended
- Minimum of an advanced sommelier certification (Level 4)
- Wine Educator Certification
- 5 year minimum in the wine trade
Standards for Wine Educator Certification
Currently, most wine educator certification includes little to no training on how to become an effective teacher. At the very minimum, certification should include 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.
Wine Educator Certification Programs
There are several teacher training programs available in the United States.
WSET Educator Training Program
This program requires a Level 3 Sommelier Certification (WSET only) and a four-day teacher training course. This wine educator program includes tasting, theory, and presentation skills examination. This program is not offered to the public.
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
SWE Certified Wine Educator
The most widely available wine educator certification in the United States. SWE does run seminars, but the focus is on certification, not teacher training. 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 Educator’s annual conference. Alternately, 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
NWS Advanced Wine Educator Certification
A program developed by several university professors in conjunction with the National Wine School. This program is used to train 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. The student much 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 Los Angeles and Miami, but those programs are not open to the public.
Most wine educators 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
Wine Educator Associations
How wine educators are trained and certified is critical, and very little has been written about the subject matter. One of the ways a wine educator can be vetted is through one of the two associations available for wine 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. www.wineeducators.com While small, the AWE members are all highly qualified wine instructors.
Society of Wine Educators
SWE is a large industry-backed program with a focus on wine sales. They run their own certification programs, which can be reviewed on the Society of Wine Educators page. Membership only requires an annual $135 fee. According to the IRS 990 forms from 2016, the SWE makes nearly $2 million a year income from memberships. It’s estimated that SWE currently has over ten thousand members, plus corporate sponsorships.
The Society of Wine Educators offers its exams through Pearson VUE testing centers, which are located across the USA. You can earn the CSW and CSS exams sitting in front of a computer. The CSE exam is 50% computer-based. The tasting portion of the CSE must be completed in either Hong Kong or Washington, DC, as of this writing.
International Wine Educator Certification Programs
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 Wine Educator Certifications
Rioja Wine 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 wine educators to transmit information about Rioja’s wines to professional and consumer audiences worldwide.
Sud de France Certified Wine Educator
The applicant must already be a Wine Educator and have wine trade experience or wine credentials. Once the accreditation is obtained, the Wine Educator will be permitted to perform and replicate Sud de France Master class training sessions.
The Top Programs for Certified Wine Educators
The wine world needs wine 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 have a tendency to be discontinued and disappear within a few years. WSET has a program, but it’s weak and only really valuable if you plan on investing in their franchise. NWS has a very good 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 really are only two choices for wine education, and we aren’t happy with either. Here are our recommendations, and why we are cranky about these choices.
#1: SWE Certified Wine Educator Program: Winning By Default
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 in the world: it functions a the largest trade association for wine educators around. To belong, you have to take their mediocre program.
This program won’t make you a good teacher, but at least you get to join the club. We’d love if SWE would toss their program and adopt the NWS format: that would make for a wine educator program that we could get behind. Or maybe do away with their hopes for monopoly status and accept credentials from other organizations?
#2: NWS Advanced Wine Educator Certification: Great if you are accepted.
The best-designed program to earn your wine educator certification is the National Wine School‘s wine educator program. The program delivers like no other program on offer, but that isn’t enough.
To earn this certification, there are too many hurdles to jump over. The program is invitation-only unless you happen to 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.