How to Get Wine Qualifications

Ξ August 25th, 2008 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine History, Wine News |

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When you read an article or a book about people involved with wine ever wonder about the initials after their names or a specified qualification? You have probably seen the references Master of Wine, Master Sommelier, CWE or CSW etc.

But what do those all mean and more importantly if you want to advance your wine education where do you start? I get this question all the time. So I’m laying it all out. How do you get a qualification or classroom study in wine?

I have a number of wine qualifications. ISG Advanced, CSW, WSET, Certified Bordeaux Educator, Certified Spanish Wine Educator. These may not mean much to you but it tells others in the industry where I am in my studies and my approximate level of knowledge.

So where do you start? Where’s the jumping off point? It all depends on where you want to take your knowledge. Do you just want to learn how to taste, do you want to learn more about regions and countries, do you like the technical side of winemaking or want advanced knowledge including wine service?

There are many avenues available to you. Just depends on how far you want to take it and what you want to spend on it. They all require a lot of study in the beginning to understand the basic information, but it’s incredibly rewarding.

Lets start by highlighting the “bigs”. By “bigs” there are the three organizations that have a long history and passing their exams put you in a group of the top wine professionals in the world.
MWMaster of Wine: One of the oldest wine organizations, based in the UK, who’s roots date back to the “Worshipful Company of Vintners” whose own roots date back before Chaucer’s day. They first started organizing exams in 1953 to award the title of Master of Wine to those who passed. Today there are only 253 in the world.
There are many famous Masters of Wine we’ve all heard of, Jancis Robinson, Michael Broadbent, Clive Coates, Hugh Johnson who write many of the books available on wine. But how do get there?
WSETYou start out with the WSET, which is also based in the UK and has a worldwide network of educators giving the foundation qualification which leads you on the path to a Master of Wine. You can take courses via classes or home study. Just locate your area and see who is available for education courses. I ended up taking home study out of the International Wine Center in NYC as there wasn’t a course available in Texas. Copia in Napa also has extensive course for those on the West Coast . Just check out their website and there should be an instructor close to where you live.

The time frame to become a Master of Wine is about that of a PhD program. This is the program I am on and will start taking the Diploma levels next year. About two years after starting that, I’ll apply for the Masters of Wine program. They provide most of your learning materials in the class, although some additional books for reference are recommended.

The emphasis of Master of Wine is more on fine details and technical aspects of the industry in all areas including production, marketing and regions. I highly recommend this program.


Court of Master Sommeliers: This is the go-to for a Master’s qualification with an emphasis on the restaurant industry. Also originating in the UK, only 167 have achieved the Master Qualification.

This group is a bit harder to achieve as they don’t have as much classroom study as the Master of Wine and more emphasis on regions, producers and vintages. However accessibility to the courses they offer and the tests are better and they have schedules posted of where they are giving tests throughout the country. It is recommended you are employed in the wine and beverage industry to achieve this qualification.


Personally I haven’t started this avenue, as wine service and food pairings don’t interest me. Well, they interest me, but are not my main focus. However, I do know many people with this organization and it is top notch.

Estimated time to become a Master Sommelier is about 6 years.

SWECertified Wine Educator: An accreditation given by Society of Wine Educators. The emphasis on this group is to promote wine education They are a US based organization out of Washington DC. In addition to their qualifications of Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Wine Educator they host many other organizations and courses throughout the year.

Like the Court of Master Sommeliers they have a full listing of courses available all over the country throughout the year. I do consider this easiest of these three, but that’s just my personal opinion, I have used this organization more often than the other two with additional courses such as the Certified Spanish Educator and Bordeaux Educator and networking. Their emphasis is on regions and varieties. They encourage those who pass their courses to promote the education of wine in your area.

Estimated time to achieve the qualification of CWE about 3 years.


There are also many other qualifications you can achieve, such as the ISG, the International Sommelier Guild, which promotes their sommelier credentials with classroom study only. They have courses offered all over the country and if you are new to wine study, although a bit pricey, here is a very good foundation into the world of wine with their fundamentals I and II. They are based out of Canada.

This is the group I started my education with. I originally thought to do Sommelier work in the industry and then found out my interest lay in the fine details the WSET and MW promotes, thus I concentrated my study with those organizations. As far as an base of learning about wine, their fundamentals I and II are excellent. They also provide your study books.

WA of SpainSometimes organizations such as the Wine Academy of Spain make a tour throughout the states promoting a country’s wine industry. I highly encourage anyone who has this Academy coming through your city or country to participate. A base knowledge of wine is required to take these types of courses, but the in-depth knowledge and people you meet with similar interests is priceless. I’ve taken this course and have gotten to know Pancho and Javier over the past year and they are incredible people with a passion for wine and promoting education. Very good value for the knowledge you receive.
UC Davis – Mack daddy of enology in the states. Offers online correspondence courses.
Culinary schools: Most culinary schools have a structured wine course or academy in addition to their culinary courses. Check out online who locally is available.
Local Wine Events Online: this will tell you everything that’s going on in your local area or, if you’re traveling, if something elsewhere is being offered. Classes, Wine Dinners, Meet and Greets with famous winemakers etc. Definitely sign up for this website.
There are tons of local schools around the country with various affiliations, these are just a few after doing a simple web search:

Denver’s International Wine Guild

Wine Spectator’s search for courses

Wine Spectator online wine school

Philadelphia’s Vinology

Copia in Napa who also gives daily classes.

Gary Vaynerchuk has a good online daily video tasting wines. Although all the wines he goes through are mainly for promotion for his store, he places an emphasis on developing your own palate and has a lot of excellent lighthearted and laid back videos on how to taste and develop your palate. Not a lot of technical info, but an emphasis on tasting wine.
You’ll notice the prices for many of the programs are expensive, the most expensive in classroom courses teach while tasting about 8-10 wines or sometimes much more a session which increases the cost dramatically. However, I do recommend these courses despite their price as it enables you to taste a wide range of wines you would not normally try or have access to. It would costs you a lot more to buy all those wines yourself, and the instructor ensures they are typical of their region to give a comparison to other wines in their class.

Finally if you just want to study at home, I recommend Jancis Robinson’s wine course. I also recommend buying Hugh Johnson’s Atlas and Jancis’ Oxford Dictionary of wine. They go everywhere I do; and they aren’t light. In my opinion they are the go-to reference books.

A very detailed home book is the University Wine Course by Marian Baldy. Very detailed, maybe a little advanced for a novice, but a lot of good info as well.


Now that I’ve answered many of your questions, you probably have 100 more. Check out these institution’s websites and see what’s going to be best for you, but do take at least one class. You’ll be shocked how much more you’ll understand about this gorgeous drink we all love so much.

Finally the more courses you take the more people you meet, and you find at about more courses. I recommend you expose yourself to tastings and opportunities to meet those in the industry as they know first hand how to expand your wine world.

Your journey starts now. You never know, you might end up like me. I left a very lucrative career I despised and joined an industry I have such a passion for as the result of one course I took 4 years ago.


One Response to ' How to Get Wine Qualifications '

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  1. Doug Jackson said,

    on April 4th, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Here’s our winery squat for now.

    I just took the CSW exam and was curious what other certifications were available. Good job on the post. I’ve also been taking enology courses through Missouri State. I probably won’t finish the program because I’m more interested in getting a winery off the ground. I sell wine on premise in a Wisconsin tourist town called Lake Geneva and have made a number of customers fine friends. There are millions of Chicago tourist dollars that float around the town in the summer and I believe that a winery would do well financially. Anyway, Gallo tapped me for the CSW and I understand that it’s not wise to say no to Gallo. Here I am, waiting on the results. I’m guessing my score is in the 90s, but maybe I’m being optimistic. Now, according to your post, it sounds like it really wasn’t all that. Eventhough, I still hope I passed. We’ll see in a few weeks!

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