Culinary Wine Schools & Programs

Translating a Passion for Wine into a Career with the Right Training & Education

The American wine industry is booming, with The Wine Institute reporting there are more than 10,400 wineries and vineyards scattered throughout the country. Individuals who wish to work in this arena have a variety of roles available to them, ranging from positions heavily focused on the science of winemaking to jobs in wine sales and marketing. The following guide explores opportunities in the industry while also providing details on degrees and certifications available to help students reach their goals.

Wine Quick Facts

Looking at the color of wine can help a professional ascertain the geographical point of origin, as darker shades denote warm climates while lighter shades signal cooler climates.

The United States is the fourth largest producer of wine, behind Italy, France and Spain, respectively. Within America, the top producers are California, Washington, New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

Studies have shown that 80 percent of a wine’s personality comes from the aromas rather than the taste.

Wine Schools and Programs

One of the most common roles people tend to think about when considering roles in the wine industry is that of the sommelier. Today’s idea of a sommelier grew alongside the modern restaurant, with thousands of fine dining institutions across the world employing these wine professionals. Sommeliers, or wine stewards, are responsible for all things wine, including placing orders; properly maintaining wine; training staff in basic wine knowledge; creating wine lists; maintaining an extensive knowledge of grape varietals, vintages and vineyards; and advising patrons on food-and-wine pairings.

Wine stewardship requires an acute palate, dedication to absorbing vast amounts of knowledge about varietals and regions, and a proper education. Whether seeking a single course from a culinary school, an associate degree from a vocational program, or a doctorate from a respected university, students can learn more about each below.

Culinary Schools

Aside from a wide variety of cooking technique courses, numerous culinary schools now offer numerous classes and certifications related to wine.

A sample two-semester graduate certificate program in wine and beverages strives to prepare graduates for roles in dining, distribution, retail, wine companies and wineries. Prospective students must hold a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management or a related field, or have some existing knowledge of the arena to apply. Topics covered may include:

  • Historical and modern perspectives of food and wine
  • New World wines and classic European appellations
  • Preparation of fermented and non-alcoholic beverages
  • Viticulture and viniculture
  • Professional beverage management
  • Distilled spirits
  • Wines of the Southern Hemisphere, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East
  • Wine business in the global marketplace
Community Colleges

A number of community colleges, the majority of which are based on the West Coast, offer associate degrees and certificates in wine-related studies. Some of the most popular options include:

Wine Studies

Covering topics related to the wine business, winemaking, and vineyard management, this associate level degree prepares students to work in multiple roles in a variety of settings. Graduates go on to work in tasting rooms, restaurants, wine marketing, sales, and distribution. Some common classes include wines of the world, wine industry exploration, direct-to-consumer wine sales, and seasonal vineyard practices.

Viticulture and Wine Technology

These programs can be found as certificates or associate degrees and prepare students for entry-level positions in the wine industry or for transfer to a four-year program. The best programs blend classroom and laboratory instruction alongside work in vineyards and wineries.

Enology

Some of the courses typically covered in this two-year associate degree include establishing and maintaining a viniferous vineyard; advanced canopy management; winery compliance; writing for the winery; sensory analysis of wine; and applied wine marketing. In addition to classroom learning, students will also undertake viticulture and winemaking practicum hours to develop hands-on knowledge.

4-year schools

In recent years, a number of academic institutions granting baccalaureate degrees have begun offering programs in wine business, enology and viticulture. Some of the larger culinary schools also have bachelor’s available in areas of wine, liquor and beverage management, though these are still rare.

Students enrolled in these programs not only undertake general education courses that will serve them well in life and business, they also gain specialist knowledge in principles of vineyard management, winemaking and wine business. Aside from classroom learning, the best programs offer opportunities for students to complete internships or cooperatives at vineyards and wineries. These extracurricular activities not only allow students to gain practical knowledge, they also offer crucial networking opportunities.

Courses a student enrolled in a wine and viticulture degree may expect to take include:

Global Wine and Viticulture Viticultural Practices Sensory Evaluation
Wine Marketing Issues and Trends in Wine Business Water Management
Agricultural Personnel Managememt Soil Science Calculus: Life Sciences

Wine School Must-Have List

Before enrolling in any wine course, certificate or degree, prospective students should ensure their top options meet all the necessary criteria for equipping them with the skills and knowledge they’ll need to succeed. Some of the must-have components include:

Location, Location, Location

The location of a school will have massive bearing on the types of grapes able to be harvested and the varieties of wine produced. Students interested in specific regions will need to take this heavily into consideration when selecting a program.

End Goals

Deciding to work with wine is a major step toward selecting a career path, but there are more choices to be made within the industry. Jobs in the wine world cover a spectrum, and prospective students should research aspects of vineyard management, winemaking and the wine business to understand where their passions lie.

Fieldwork

Hands-on learning is vital in the world of winemaking, as students learn how to plant and care for grapes, properly prune and cane vines, and work with irrigation and soil. Programs that don’t offer significant hours in a vineyard are likely to leave students unprepared for their first jobs out of college.

Accreditation

Although there is no accrediting body for wine-related degree programs, a number of accredited certificates and courses are available. Students looking to have validation of their credentials should seek out one of these programs and avoid lesser-known options.

Experience is King

Some degree paths employ professors who moved straight from their educations into teaching with great success. Wine, however, is not an area where learning from those who have not first done is acceptable. The best programs will employ faculty with actual experience growing, harvesting, fermenting, bottling, aging, tasting, selling, marketing, distributing and writing about wine.

Wine Degrees and Certificates

Individuals looking to work in the exciting world of wines have numerous educational options available to them, ranging from single courses and certificates to degrees of varying levels. Certifications are typically at least three months in length, but can exceed one year depending on the topic. Degrees are available at levels ranging from associate to doctoral, with numerous majors and specializations offered. These options will be reviewed in fuller detail in the following sections.

Certified Sommelier

Wine enthusiasts hoping to work in fine dining settings are often drawn to the certified sommelier certification offered by the International Wine & Spirits Guild. Individuals with experience will complete Level II & III courses, while those with less than two years of industry experience must complete three courses. These include:

  • Level I Wine Certification Seminar
  • Level II Advanced Wine Course
  • Level III Advanced Wine and Food Pairing Course

After completing Level I, students can sit an online certification exam and receive a diploma as a wine sommelier, wine manager, wine merchant, chef of wine arts or cellar manager. Level II is a 12-week or one-week intensive course offering concentrated studies of wines from around the world and formal sommelier service. Level III is considered expert certification, and requires students to complete seven different courses and exams before being awarded the title of Guild Wine Master.

Master Sommelier Diploma

For those seeking the highest recognition within the field, becoming a Master Sommelier is the most rigorous yet respected title in the wine industry. There are currently only 230 Master Sommeliers in the entire world. Administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers, this seven to 10 year process culminates in four challenging examinations. The Master Sommelier Diploma exam is considered to be the most grueling, consisting of three sections: theory, service and blind tasting. Most students take the exam between two and three times and spend up to $30,000 in related fees and travel expenses. Graduates of this program can be found in the most exclusive and renowned restaurants and wineries in the world.

Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW)

The Society of Wine Educators offers the Certified Specialist of Wine examination for individuals looking to gain an industry-recognized credential in areas of viticulture and wine production. Rather than taking courses, examinees are provided with an official CSW study guide to work through and review before taking the 100-question exam.

Wine Associate Degrees

Degrees offered via two-year institutions are most commonly made available as associate degrees of science or applied science, with common majors offered including wine studies, enology, wine business and viticulture. Prerequisites are not common at this level, but students will undertake some general education classes to augment their knowledge and skills within the field. Courses students at this level can expect to take include:

Wines of the World

This course introduces learners to the major regions for grape production across the world, with emphasis placed on identifying the different types of wines commonly produced in each area. Coursework will also touch on climatic and environmental factors affecting vintages.

Intro to Viticulture

Serving as the first introduction to grape growing, students can expect to learn how to classify vines, understand fruiting and distribution, identify common diseases and pests, and utilize understandings of soil, latitude and climate.

Vineyard Operations

Students will learn about everything that goes into managing and operating a working vineyard during this course, with special attention paid to planting, irrigation, pesticides, utilizing trellises, fertilizing, harvesting, and outside contracts.

Wine Bachelor’s Degrees

Given the technical and precise nature of grape growing and winemaking, four-year degrees in wine-related topics are almost exclusively offered as Bachelor of Science programs. The majority of available degrees do not mandate prerequisites, but students must take a number of specific science courses to supplement their learning as part of the general education curriculum. Sample courses at the baccalaureate level include:

Wine Evaluation Techniques

This introductory class teaches students how to detect sensory qualities in wine varieties by evaluating numerous wine types from different regions. They will also learn how regions, grape maturity, fermentation, blending and storage methods affect taste.

Wine Chemistry

Chemical concepts related to the biosynthesis of compounds will be covered in this course, with special emphasis on how these factors affect production and aging. Students will also learn about the chemical production practices that can be utilized to manage composition.

Wine Analysis and Production

This laboratory and winery based course gives learners hands-on experience in the lifecycle of grape growing and wine production, allowing them to work alongside skilled professionals in areas of planting, harvesting, crushing, fermenting, bottling, and aging.

Wine Business

Understanding the business side of the wine industry can be just as important as the growing and production side, and this course aims to provide students with valuable knowledge on the subject. Students will learn about developing business plans, organizing teams, entrepreneurial financial management, government regulations and being a socially responsible business.

Wine Master’s Degrees

Though graduate level degrees in topics related to wine are quite rare, they are beginning to pop up at a few universities and colleges. Graduate students interested in these programs should hold a bachelor’s degree in enology, viticulture, wine business or a science-related subject to gain entry. Most are heavily based in the scientific aspects of growth and production, with common areas of research including diseases, pests, canopy management, vine physiology, aroma quality, malolactic fermentation and phenolic chemistry. Some common courses include:

Wine Microbiology

Learning about the physiology and biochemistry of the bacteria and yeasts used to make wines will be covered fully in this course, with additional emphasis on avoiding spoilage. Students will learn about both vinous and malolactic fermentations, and how to use film yeasts.

Fermentation

Primarily taught in a laboratory setting, students will learn about vinification and fermentation by taking part in individual winemaking.

Wine Analysis and Production

Students who have completed a number of other enology and chemistry classes are eligible to take this course focused on winemaking operations. Throughout the semester, topics ranging from harvesting and scheduling to record keeping and operation of facility equipment will be reviewed, giving students an understanding of the lifecycle of the process.

Wine Doctorate

Though degrees at this level are incredibly rare in America at this time, individuals who wish to gain the highest level of education can complete a PhD in a related area, such as:

  • Microbiology
  • Plant Biology
  • Food Science
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Soils

Wine Expert Checklist

Becoming an expert in wine takes a finely tuned palate and a mix of skills, education and experience to reach to top of the field. The following section reviews what it will take to be recognized in this industry.

Skills

Depending on the area of the wine business where an individual hopes to work, common skills can be varied. Viticulturalists must be scientific and intuitive in their work, trusting both the laws of nature and their instinct. They must also be logical and able to see a crop through the necessary steps to harvest time. Meanwhile, winemakers must be able to work with a variety of individuals, possess great analytical and managerial skills to oversee grape production, and have a deep knowledge of the fermentation, filtration and barreling processes.

Knowledge & Traits

Working with wine requires a deep understanding of nuance, as those at the top should be able to identify and explain varietals and vintages. Being able to pick up on smell and taste is a huge part of any task associated with vineyard management or winemaking, as is being able to determine how factors such as soil and sunlight affect the overall taste. Individuals must be sensitive and analytical, using knowledge gained from their observations to determine a course of action.

Tools of the Trade

There are numerous tools and technologies common to the industry, including grape crushers, de-stemming mechanisms, presses, equipment for fermentation and filtration, and barrels or casks for storage.

Internships and Work Experience

Because the wine industry is largely based on prior experience and existing relationships, finding avenues to build both of these is crucial. While most academic programs offer an internship component, other ways of getting a foot in the door include helping during a harvest, working in tasting rooms, and serving at tasting events. Those interested should locate vineyards or wineries near them and volunteer.

Wine Specializations

The wine industry offers a multitude of avenues for work, with varied positions available on each path. Individuals aspiring to be enologists will need very different types of knowledge and motivations than those who wish to be sommeliers, and prospective employers look for specialized skill sets for different areas of the industry. A number of schools and programs have recognized this trend and now offer specialized tracks, enabling students to concentrate their knowledge in particular areas. Common specializations include:

Wine Business

Students will learn about the commerce side of the industry, taking classes related to agricultural finance; wine sales and e-commerce; marketing and event planning; wine business strategies; and agricultural management. Depending on the area where they hope to work, many of these concentrations also require a foreign language component.

Food & Wine Pairing

This path concentrates on all that goes into making an educated and complementary pairing between a meal and a wine. Students will learn about different types of grapes and their underlying flavors and notes while discovering how those dynamics complement food flavors.

Wines of the World

Ranging from France and Spain to New Zealand and North America, different regions of the world are recognized for producing flavors inseparable from that area. In this specialization, students will learn about the different types of grapes and wine varieties originating from different regions, and how to recognize their unique qualities.

Enology

Students with a passion for the science behind great wines often undertake this concentration, which is heavily focused on chemical and biological processes. A mix of laboratory and on-site learning is utilized, allowing learners to both experiment with chemical properties and see them at work in nature.

Interview with a Wine Expert

Rebecca DeVaney is a sommelier with over 15 years of experience as a liquor lobbyist. She currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona where she owns and operates a nightclub. Additionally, Rebecca is the owner of the American Association of WineCollectors, a Delaware based corporation specializing in the foreign storage of personal wine collections.

What are the various career paths an individual interested in pursuing a career working with wine may take?

When we envision sommeliers, we tend to think of the wine experts in restaurants who make bottle recommendations and serve bottles of wines to guests. Though this service aspect of sommeliers can be found in tasting rooms, wine bars, cruise ships and country clubs, sommelier jobs are not limited to service jobs. Many sommeliers enjoy careers in wine production, teaching, wholesaling, importing, appraising, and working as brand ambassadors. A good resource for those interested in sommelier positions is Wine Jobs.

How can wine schools give them the tools they need? What are lasting lessons you took from your education in wine?

Sommelier programs through the Master Court of Sommeliers or the Wine and Spirits Education Trust provide students with every tool necessary for successful service careers in the wine industry. Exploring the inside business aspects of the wine industry through these renowned programs could be of benefit to students.

When selecting a wine program, what are some of the must-have components that someone should look for?

Most employers seeking sommeliers require certifications through the Master Court of Sommeliers or the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. Other respected supplementary programs are available through organizations such as the French Wine Society and the North American Sommelier Association. Satellite schools exist for most of these organizations’ offered programs.

What are different areas of wine where individuals may choose to specialize? (e.g. regions, pairings, etc).

It’s not uncommon for sommeliers to obtain certifications for specific wine regions and countries such as California or France as well as in other alcoholic beverages like sake. 

As with most professions, work experience is extremely beneficial. Jobs and internships that offer exposure to extensive wine selections from worldwide wine regions should especially be considered.

Rebecca DeVaney

Wine Education Resources

AbleGrape

This exhaustive wine search engine provides access to more than 26 million pages devoted to information about wines.

American Association of Wine Economists

This nonprofit is devoted to promoting economic research in the wine industry via a professional journal, scholarly conferences, and other networking opportunities.

American Wine Society

As the largest consumer-based wine organization in America, AWS maintains a number of regional chapters, hosts education and training events, and publishes news and research on the wine industry.

Aroma Dictionary

Wanting to learn more about the various descriptors used to explain differing flavors in wine? This resource is a great tool for furthering knowledge in this area.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Located in the heart of wine country, Cal Poly has a renowned Wine and Viticulture program offered at both the bachelor’s and master’s levels.

Court of Master Sommeliers

As the preeminent body for certifying sommeliers and Master Sommeliers, CMS provides valuable information on this avenue of education.

Fine Wine Writing

Individuals aspiring to write about wine can learn much from Jancis Robinson’s popular and regularly-updated blog on the topic.

Napa Valley Wine Academy

This California-based institution has created an incredibly helpful list of resources related to wine, including recommended reading, wine magazines, and websites for different regions of the world.

Oregon Wine Research Institute

Operating under the umbrella of Oregon State University, this program provides a best-practice example of a university-level wine program offering excellent wine education.

The Five Best Places to Study Wine

Wondering about the hottest spots for studying all things related to fermented grapes? This Food & Wine article provides the inside scoop.

Wine Business

Serving as the home page for the wine industry, this leading website offers news about the field, research, data, and ways to connect with others in the industry.

Wine Country This Week

Individuals looking to work in wine tasting can learn much about California’s booming industry, and the varied events that take place throughout the state.

Wine Jobs

Individuals looking for jobs in the wine industry often refer to this site as their first stop. With options ranging from entry-level to senior positions, there’s something here for everyone.

Wine Folly

Wondering about the different certifications available and which ones are well regarded? This site provides a review of top options.

Wine Institute

This organization represents more than 1,000 wineries based in California and serves as an excellent first stop for individuals seeking volunteer, intern or work opportunities.