If you have a solid understanding of wine and are either working in the industry or wanting to break in, then now’s the time to take your wine studies to the next level. Following decades of growth in the wine industry, there are now a variety of certification and accredited degree programs that can enrich your wine knowledge by providing structured learning opportunities in both classroom and online settings. Chosen wisely, they can even help you advance your career and unlock exciting new possibilities in the wine world. Here’s a guide to the top wine study programs for advanced professionals or enthusiasts.
Historically, the advanced wine studies market has been dominated by certification programs—offered by institutions such as the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and the Court of Master Sommeliers—that qualify students to achieve titles such as “wine specialist” or “sommelier.” University programs dedicated to wine, on the other hand, were almost exclusively tailored to budding winemakers and grape growers. This left post-production wine specialists without an opportunity to earn an accredited degree in their chosen field of wine.
Today, the advanced wine studies landscape looks quite different. Modern business-focused postgraduate programs, like the Culinary Institute of America’s master’s degree in Wine and Beverage Management, now offer wine specialists who aren’t winemakers or grapegrowers the ability to earn an accredited master’s degree. The chart below gives a brief overview of the differences between these postgraduate degree programs and certification programs (namely, variations in coursework and accreditation).
|Program||Wine Tasting + Theory Coursework||Business + Management Coursework||Accredited Master’s Degree|
|Court of Master Sommeliers||✅||❌||❌|
|Wine and Spirit Education Trust||✅||❌ (Level 1-3) ✅ (Level 4 only)||❌|
|Sonoma State’s Global Executive Wine MBA||❌||✅||✅|
|CIA master’s degree in Wine and Beverage Management||✅||✅||✅|
With these differences in mind, let’s dive into the nuts and bolts of these top wine study programs.
For business or hospitality professionals who are eager to set themselves apart in the wine industry, the master’s program in Wine and Beverage Management from the Food Business School at CIA is a unique option. This online program offers its students the ability to deepen their wine tasting and theory skills while also honing business and leadership competencies. Students gain networking opportunities from onsite residencies in Napa Valley, CA and Hyde Park, NY, where you’ll get hands-on experience at world-class hotspots like Opus One. Additionally, you’ll expand your knowledge of other beverages—like spirits and non-alcoholic drinks—which can help unlock exciting opportunities in the greater food and beverage industry.
With the combination of practical wine and beverage knowledge and business expertise, graduates can pursue a variety of ambitious career paths in the food and beverage industry—both in the corporate or entrepreneurial spheres—aided with the benchmark of a master’s degree on their résumé. An additional perk is that, if you’re still hoping to pursue an elite certification such as “Master of Wine,” the Institute of Masters of Wine accepts a wine-related master’s degree as a prerequisite to enter their program.
Established in the UK in 1969, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is a respected awarding body that offers students the ability to pursue varying levels of an “Award in Wines.” In general, these awards have been historically tailored to wine theorists, writers, and educators rather than sommeliers. Novices can start at Level 1 (with a minimum of six hours of study time) and advance incrementally to the Level 4 Diploma (with a minimum of 500 hours of study time).
WSET awards professional certificates but does not host courses themselves. Instead, they work with a variety of course providers all over the world who are tasked with preparing students for WSET exams. It is therefore vital that you choose your course provider wisely if you end up pursuing a WSET certification. The downside to these programs is that they only offer graduates a certification and not an accredited degree.
While the Wine and Spirit Education Trust creates “wine specialists,” the Court of Master Sommeliers is geared towards beverage service excellence and therefore exclusively offers sommelier certifications. Founded in 1977, the Court of Master Sommeliers offers four certifications, from Introductory to the Master level, which must be taken in order starting with the Introductory level (regardless of expertise).
Like the WSET, these certifications are awarded based on examination performance. However, preparation for these exams is quite different than it is with WSET. Students are tasked with self-study in addition to attending in-person intensives for the Introductory and Advanced levels before taking the exam. Like WSET, the Court of Master Sommeliers only offers certifications and not accredited degrees.
While the terms “somm” and “sommelier” have proliferated in the last decade, many confuse these with the eponymous “Master Sommelier” (MS) and “Master of Wine” (MW) titles.
To clarify: globally, only 273 people have achieved the title “Master Sommelier” since the first exam was offered in 1969, and only 498 people have passed the Master of Wine exam since 1953. These staggering low numbers speak to the exceptionally rigorous nature of these exams and their subsequent titles. In contrast, there are thousands of professionals operating with the title “Sommelier” worldwide.
The Master Sommelier Diploma is awarded by the same Court of Master Sommeliers that was previously mentioned and is therefore preceded by successful completion of the Advanced Sommelier exam. The Master of Wine title is awarded by the Institute of Masters of Wine, and the prerequisites either include a WSET Diploma (Level 4), a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a wine-related study, or a high-level sommelier certificate.
In conclusion, there are several different study paths that an advanced wine professional or enthusiast can take to pursue greater knowledge and skills in the wine industry. Before choosing one of these options, review your career goals to ensure that your studies will prepare you for success in your chosen path. Finally, don’t discount the power of an accredited postgraduate degree on your résumé, which has been proven to give job seekers a competitive edge in both qualification and compensation.