Following the release of the hit documentary Somm in 2012, the general public has become infatuated by the exclusive world of wine experts. The titles “Master Sommelier” (aka, MS) and “Master of Wine” (aka, MW), in particular, have generated so much buzz that it might seem like they dominate the wine world. In reality, there are only 683 MSs and MWs worldwide, and many of the most esteemed changemakers in the wine industry hold different titles that are more tailored to their specialty and profession. In this article, we’ll dive into the differences between the Master of Wine certification program and an accredited master’s degree in wine, and which may be best for your career path.
Both American and international universities offer accredited postgraduate programs that give students the ability to earn a master’s degree in wine-related study. Historically, these master’s degree programs were relegated to the sciences and tailored to aspiring grape growers and winemakers who would earn a Master of Science in Viticulture and Oenology. Today, there are also options for post-production wine specialists who may desire to earn a master’s degree in wine business or hospitality management. Let’s take a closer look at these two different master’s degree paths.
Obtaining a Master of Science in Viticulture and Oenology is a practical choice for grape growers or winemakers who are eager to deepen their expertise and advance their career. Programs are usually offered at universities that are located in or near wine-producing areas with coursework that covers genetics, biochemistry, microbiology, and chemical engineering (as they relate to viticulture and viniculture). One of the more prominent examples of such a program is UC Davis’s Master of Science in Viticulture and Enology.
For wine experts who aren’t grape growers or winemakers, a postgraduate degree program in wine business or hospitality management can be an excellent way to earn the prestige of a master’s degree. There are fewer of these programs offered globally than there are viticulture and enology programs, but they offer a wide range of study topics that can be tailored to a wine specialist’s chosen career path.
An excellent example is the Culinary Institute of America’s Master of Professional Studies in Wine and Beverage Management. This program’s coursework covers both wine tasting and theory alongside business management and leadership skills, allowing students to gain the knowledge they need to pursue elite careers in the wine and beverage business.
While the name sounds similar, a master’s (degree) in wine is very different from the title Master of Wine. A Master of Wine (MW) is someone who has successfully completed the Master of Wine program that’s hosted by The Institute of Masters of Wine—a feat that only 498 people have accomplished worldwide since the first exams were held in 1953. Compared to the famed Master Sommeliers, MWs are more likely to be found in the wine writing, teaching, and business spaces rather than beverage service.
Needless to say, the program is exceptionally rigorous. There are three study program stages which, in total, include four 12-wine blind tastings (for a total of 48 wines), two essays, five exam papers, a research paper, and coursework. The program takes a minimum of three years to complete, while most students will choose to take breaks or need to retake exams. Only candidates that have successfully passed all three stages—it is said that the unofficial pass rate is around 10%—are eligible for membership of the Institute and can qualify to use the title Master of Wine.
Pursuing any advanced degree or certification program takes a marked level of knowledge, tenacity, and determination. As these program candidates are often professionals that are established in their career, going back to school means balancing studies with work, family, health, and all of life’s necessities. However, the rewards for doing so are plentiful. In addition to earning an advanced degree that qualifies you for higher-paying, respected positions, there is also a deep sense of satisfaction that comes from reinforcing confidence in your skills and knowledge.
Deciding whether you want to pursue a master’s degree in wine or the Master of Wine title will depend on your educational background, the amount of time you’re willing to spend studying, and your chosen career path. CIA’s master’s in Wine and Beverage Management, for example, offers postgrads the ability to obtain an accredited master’s degree in just two years of online study. Since the program is offered by a renowned university, students can feel confident in the educational process and their ability to graduate. Compared to the Master of Wine program—which, as previously discussed, takes a minimum of three years to complete, often involves additional study breaks, and has a low pass rate—the transparency of a master’s degree program can be a major benefit for busy professionals who are eager to see their invested time and money pay off.
Remember that if you’re serious about wine, you’re not necessarily limited to just one of these programs. A motivated wine business professional, for instance, could obtain a master’s Degree in Wine and Beverage Management from CIA, which would then qualify them for both immediate career advancement and to be eligible to apply for the Master of Wine study program (as a master’s degree is an accepted admission requirement of the program). If they were not able to pass the MW exams, they would still remain a highly respected expert in the wine and beverage industry with a master’s degree on their résumé. Such strategic planning is necessary for those who are driven to succeed in their careers, make an impact in the global wine industry, and find fulfillment from their love of wine.