What You Need to Know About Top Wine Education Programs

From Master Sommelier to Master of Wine and everything in between, there are plenty of ways to learn about wine. Compare costs, pros, and cons for each

Students at a wine education course
Photo courtesy of WSET.
This article was originally published in July 2017 and has been updated.

Between sommelier certifications, in-depth wine courses, and specialist certificates, there are plenty of pathways to wine education available today. But with so many options and hefty costs involved, which one is right for you and your career goals?

Here, SevenFifty Daily outlines five of the most popular wine education programs available to professionals, along with pricing, pros, and cons for each. As providers’ offerings and formats vary in different markets, be sure to explore all the options for online and on-site education, especially if you don’t live in a major market.

Court of Master Sommeliers

The Court of Master Sommeliers’ program is geared toward on-premise professionals, focusing on beverage department management and service, with exams in each service, theory, and tasting. Fees, which don’t include travel or study materials like texts or wines, range from $799 for the introductory sommelier course and exam ($549 for an online course and exam without a wine kit) to $3,027 for the advanced sommelier course and exam ($1,699 for the course, $379 for the theory exam, and $949 for the practical and tasting exam). For the Master Sommelier track, there are three exams—theory, practical, and tasting—which cost $999 each (the practical and tasting exams can be combined for $1,899). 

Pros: Strong service component; every level offered by the Court provides a recognized credential.

Cons: The self-study program for passing sommelier certifications might not be for everyone. The fees and costs of travel to take certain segments of the exams add up.

Nominal: MS

Institute of Master of Wine

This program requires that candidates hold the WSET Diploma, or equivalent certification, and complete an assessment exam for entry. Candidates must pass a first-year assessment exam (which includes a tasting and theory component), a final theory exam, and a blind tasting of 36 wines, in addition to writing a 6,000- to 10,000-word research paper. Candidates must pass at least parts of the tasting or theory exams within specific timeframes, maxing out at six years. For North America-based students, the published fees for courses, exams, and the research paper are about $11,000. The program application fee is approximately $310.

Pros: Because of its theoretical nature, the MW is a global door opener with many applications across the industry.

Cons: Labor, time, and cost intensive, including the requirement to attend weeklong seminars and travel to San Francisco, London, or Adelaide for exams. 

Nominal: MW 

Society of Wine Educators

This organization has the broadest offering of certificate programs in the areas of wine, spirits, and hospitality/beverage, and includes an educator track. Exams are conducted by appointment at Pearson Vue testing centers around the world and involve 100 multiple-choice questions covering service, wine and food pairing, viticulture, wine laws and regions, faults, and tasting. Online proctoring is also available. Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and Certified Wine Educator (CWE) exam fees range from $850 to $1,100 (discounts offered to SWE members). Free, 16-week online preparation courses are also offered for SWE members who are taking the CSW exam.

Pros: Cost-effective online education resources include webinars.

Cons: Self-study rather than in-person, classroom instruction; online prep courses are only open to SWE members for the Certified Specialist of Wine exam. Students in fringe markets may have difficulty forming study groups. 

Nominals: CSW, CSS, CWE, CSE, HBSC

Wine Scholar Guild

The signature French, Italian, and Spanish Wine Scholar programs are offered in classroom by over 110 partner schools, and online, at prices ranging from $750 to $950, depending on format and provider. The master levels are priced at $590 and are administered online. For additional fees, the Wine Scholar Guild also offers immersion study trips to wine regions in France, Italy, and Spain.

Pros: Flexible, affordable formats; ability to specialize. Resources include study trips (additional cost) and webinars at the master level.

Cons: Individualized self-study might not suit everyone.

Nominals: FWS, IWS, SWS

Wine & Spirit Education Trust

This program offers both online and classroom instruction; availability, prices, and format are based on individual providers. Levels 1 and 2 (Introduction, Intermediate) conclude with multiple-choice exams; Level 3 (Advanced) requires that you pass an exam that combines multiple-choice questions, a written essay, and a blind tasting of two wines. Level 4 (Diploma) is a six-segment program with 116 hours of classroom time covering regions, viticulture, wine production, business, and styles of wines. Examinations include blind tastings, multiple-choice questions, and written essays, as well as one research paper. Level 4 suggests at least 370 hours of study time in addition to classroom time; independent study groups are highly recommended. 

Pros: Globally recognized accreditation. Level 4 offers weekly practice exams with feedback to monitor progress. Some study/support materials available online. The Diploma program is offered via a variety of delivery options and time frames.

Cons: Intense self-study; students pay fees to see examiners’ feedback on exams.

Nominal: DipWSET


Sign up for our award-winning newsletter

Don’t miss the latest drinks industry news and insights—delivered to your inbox every week.

Lana Bortolot has written on food and wine for ForbesDow Jones, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, and other magazines of the wine and spirits trade. She reported on real estate for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and New York Post, and on design for Entrepreneur magazine. She is a candidate for Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s Level 4 Diploma. Having covered most European wine regions and a few in South America, she is always looking to add a new wine-stained stamp to her passport.

Most Recent