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[Sticky] An Overview of UK Wine and Spirit Education
Here we reproduce our blog post from 2016. WSET is covered of course but other options such as degree courses at Plumpton and The Royal Agricultural University are outlined as well:
Last updated 4th. October 2017
What Wine & Spirits Courses Are There in the UK?
Do you want or need wine qualifications to further your career? OK so you want to learn about wine. Maybe to learn how to become a Sommelier. Perhaps you want to take a degree course or undertake postgraduate study. What are your options here in the UK?
We will outline the major routes you can follow studying wine and spirits. Find out what they involve and which careers they could open up for you if you become qualified.
The Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET)
Awarded The Queen's Award for Enterprise in 2015, WSET continues to grow. From its London base it has seen its courses taken in every part of the globe. China has become one of its biggest success stories.
WSET qualifications are highly valued by those in the trade. But members of the public are increasingly undertaking them too.
Candidates who want to try for Master of Wine must achieve level 4 Diploma, or a degree in Oenology or Viticulture first
The higher level qualifications, ie: Level 3 & Diploma open up the more managerial and supervisory roles. Other experience may be necessary like in marketing and sales.
However, please bear in mind that the wine and spirits world is relatively small. The last decade especially has seen a lot of mergers within the industry, meaning a lot of brands are owned by a few companies. Therefore it is highly competitive, and salaries tend to be quite modest- even in senior positions. Though there are often plenty of perks to make up for not earning a fortune- such as free supplier tastings, discounts and exclusive money can't buy experiences such as personal tours/visits to wineries abroad.
Most people do this work for the love of their job, and the product. They tend to stay in the job for a long time when it comes to sociable and rewarding roles like Wine and Spirits Educators, Brand Ambassadors etc. This can make it hard to break into these careers especially, as entry level positions are rare and usually highly sought after.
It's not all about galavanting all over the world and going to trade exhibitions and tastings with free samples. Quite often many jobs in the industry involve irregular or long/late hours. You will need to be aware of this, particularly if you are involved in the organisation of any events or front of house service and retail.
Example roles include:
Wine and Spirit Buyers
Wine and Spirit Marketing Specialist
Pubs, Restaurants, Bars and Hotels
Sommeliers (See next section)
The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS)
Established to improve the level of beverage service in hotels and restaurants. They run courses in The UK and throughout the world.
WSET and CMS recently got together to make clear how you can aim to achieve the CMS's highest qualifications. Click to see PDF version.
The CMS Courses and Qualifications
These are aimed squarely at people already working in the industry.
However you can see from the chart above how you can use WSET qualifications to break into the profession.
- Introductory Sommelier Certificate
- Certified Sommelier
- Advanced Sommelier
- Master Sommelier Diploma
Obviously this is a specialism. Bear in mind however that these qualifications will help advance careers.
Well qualified and experienced sommeliers will help improve all staff skills and should be a highly valued member of any team. They end up in a number of positions in different sectors within the industry, they are not just confined to restaurants.
Institute of Masters of Wine
Regarded by the industry as the very highest wine qualification available. There are only about 300 in the world.
The exams are notoriously difficult. You will need a WSET Diploma (itself a 2 year course!) before you can begin to consider an MW qualification. You also need to be proposed/recommended by an existing Master of Wine or someone senior in the industry, and sit their entrance exam first.
The world really is your oyster if you achieve this one. MW's act as wine buyers and advisers. Some appear on TV, are wine writers or are brand representatives. They may also judge wine competitions, and many of them travel the world to do these things.
Two British universities offer wine related qualifications-Plumpton College in Sussex and The Royal Agricultural University in Gloucestershire.
Since the late 1990's has run the only English language Wine Production and Wine Business Courses in Europe.
The college has purpose built labs., teaching rooms, commercial winery and sensory evaluation room. The UK Wine Research Centre is also based there.
Plumpton has close associations with English wine producers and even has a working vineyard. They produce their own Plumpton College Sparkling Wine.
Viticulture and Oenology BSc (Hons) Degree
Viticulture and Oenology Masters Degree
Wine Business Foundation Degree
Wine Business Top Up Degree BSc (Hons)
The Royal Agricultural University
You can study here for postgraduate qualifications in Wine Business Management.
Their MSc in Business Management offers a choice of modules including:
- Viticulture and Vinification
- Wine Industry
- Wine Study Tour
Advanced careers possible needing a high level of technical skills. Including:
Vineyard Manager, Viticultural Consultant (e.g. soil management & pest control), Winemaker and Wine Quality Controller for the wine trade,
Wine Courses in Other Countries
Their wine studies are outside the scope of this post of course!
There are many famous universities in wine growing regions like Bordeaux, Australia and The USA. Maybe we'll cover some of those in a future article!
I hope I have given you a taste of how you can study this fascinating subject.
Right here in The UK too!
You might say we're biased but we think WSET courses, exams and qualifications are hard to beat.
- You don't have to be employed in the industry when you do them
- You start at the lower levels and work up from there
- WSET Courses can be joined locally and done in your spare time
- Do them out of interest as well as for career development
Make sure you join our WSET mailing list. This is just for people like you who want to keep in touch with our plans. It is only used to keep you informed about WSET courses and nothing else.