Wine Education Programs: What You Need to Know

Just as all Chardonnays aren’t the same, neither are all wine education programs. Which one is right for you?

Students at a wine education course
Photo courtesy of WSET.

Editor’s Note: This article is a sidebar to SevenFifty Daily‘s Guide to Wine Education.

As providers’ offerings and formats vary in different markets, you’ll want 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 texts, wines, or travel, range from $595 for the introductory course and exam to $1,990 for the advanced course and exam ($995 each). For the Master Sommelier track, there are three exams—theory, practical, and tasting—which cost $795 each (the practical and tasting exams can be combined for $1,500).

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

Cons: The self-study program 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 WSET Diploma and an assessment exam for entry. Candidates must pass a first-year assessment exam, a final theory exam, and a blind tasting of 36 wines, in addition to writing a 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. The published fees for North America students for courses, exams, and research paper is about $12,100. The program application fee is approximately $270.

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 Sydney for exams.

Nominal: MW

Society of Wine Educators

This organization has the broadest offering of certificate programs in the areas of wine and spirits and hospitality/beverage, and includes an educator track. Exams are conducted at designated testing centers and involve 100 multiple-choice questions covering service, wine and food pairing, viticulture, wine laws and regions, faults, and tasting. Certificate exam fees range between $700 and $750 (discounts offered to SWE members).

Pros: Cost-effective online education resources include webinars.

Cons: Self-study rather than classroom instruction. Students in fringe markets may have difficulty forming study groups.

Nominals: CSW, CSS, CWE, CSE, HBSC

Wine Scholar Guild

The signature French and Italian scholar programs are offered in classroom by approved providers, and online, at prices ranging from $595 to $790, depending on format and provider. Prices range from $295 to $495 for the master levels, administered online.

Pros: Flexible, affordable formats; ability to specialize. Resources include webinars at the master level.

Cons: Individualized self-study might not suit everyone.

Nominals: FWS, IWS

Wine & Spirit Education Trust

This program offers both online and classroom instruction; availability, prices, and format are based on individual provider. Levels 1 and 2 (Introduction, Intermediate) conclude with multiple-choice exams; Level 3 (Advanced) requires that you pass a combination multiple-choice exam/written answer/blind tasting. Level 4 (Diploma) is a six-segment program with 100 hours of classroom time covering regions, viti/viniculture, business, and styles of wines and spirits. Level 4 suggests six hours of study time for every one hour of 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, materials not updated for all levels; students pay fees to see examiners’ feedback on exams.

Nominal: DipWSET, DWS, or DWSET


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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.

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