Wine Education – So Many Options

21 Oct

         When I decided to attend sommelier school, the biggest question that I had was where.  I’ve spoken with winemakers, winery owners, wine buyers and sommeliers and asked their opinions.  Three options were repeated over and over again:  The Court of Master Sommeliers, The International Sommelier Guild and The Society of Wine Educators. *

         The first certification that I learned about was the Court of Master Sommeliers.  It was first described to me as the European approach to beverage education and service.  The designation of Master Sommelier seems to be the most prestigious certification in the wine service industry.  The certification program appears to rely heavily upon practical experience and independent learning, which is supplemented by relatively few hours of classroom instruction.  It is a 4 part certification program and the upper levels are explicitly geared to working professionals with extensive hands-on service experience.  Master Sommeliers are relatively rare- only 168 persons have successfully earned the designation worldwide.

         The International Sommelier Guild was first described to me as the North American approach to beverage education and service and that their emphasis is on blind tasting.  The Guild has a two part certification program, both of which involve substantial hands-on classroom instruction.  Its Fundamentals class provides 72 hours of classroom instruction while its Diploma course provides an additional 188 hours of classroom instruction.  Courses are available in many cities across the US and abroad.

         The Society of Wine Educators was first described to me as wine education, without the burden of service education.  As I understand it, the Society’s certifications are self-taught with the use of provided study materials.  Additionally, the Society offers an interactive online Wine Academy, which is partial preparation for its CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) exam.

         I ultimately decided to enroll in the Fundamentals I/II courses offered by the International Sommelier Guild for the following reasons:

  • I like classroom instruction and prefer a structured format to an unstructured format.
  • I like the hands on nature of the ISG program, and the opportunities provided for tasting.
  • I like that the ISG program is available in Houston, so no travel is required.
  • As I am a winery owner, wine collector and wine lover, as opposed to a service industry professional, I feel I need instruction that I am not expected to derive independently through my employment.
  • I inquired about “placing out” of the Fundamentals courses and proceeding directly into the Diploma course.  After several conversations, I felt as though I was not ready to skip Fundamentals II, and that it was just easier and more failsafe to go ahead and take both Fundamentals courses.

         I am excited about my choice and look forward to sharing my experiences in my blog.

*  Since I registered, I’ve learned about the Wine & Spirit Education Trust which also has classes available in Houston and appears to offer a curriculum quite similar to the ISG.


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