Wine Education

What are the Wine Scholar Programs? [And should you take them?]

Written by Simone Popov · 4 min read >

In this very technical [as my mother described my last wine-education-focused blog] article, let’s look at the Wine Scholar Guild (WSG) and its diverse Scholar programs. Same as the Court of Master Sommeliers(CMS) or the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), the WSG is an accreditation body. You pay money, take classes, take a test, and then receive a pin letting everyone else know you know a little bit more about wine. It’s that simple and not for everyone.

The path provided by the WSG is a bit different from the one offered by the WSET or the CMS as it takes a regional and more focused approach to wine education. So, in search of a challenge, this author has dedicated himself to the French Wine Scholar (FWS) program and- after passing that program- the Spanish Wine Scholar (SWS). Both courses were enjoyable and educational (for me), so let’s look at whether they work for you.

The Wine Scholar Offerings

Currently, the WSG offers specific courses focusing on the world’s top 3 wine-producing countries: France, Italy, and Spain[Note that the Italian program is actually 2 different programs, focused on North and South Italy. They are separate but you do have to pass both to receive the acredidation]. There is also a rumor that the WSG is developing a German Wine Scholar program, which- if true- would be very exciting (since Germany is a fascinating and complicated winemaking country that has grown significantly in reputation). Taking each course allows for a more in-depth dive into the wine history, viticulture, winemaking, and styles of these leading wine countries. By the end of the program, you will sharpen your knowledge of famous wine regions like Burgundy/Rioja/Piedmont and better understand the complex framework of the more obscure parts of each country.

If you are passionate about, let’s say, French wines,  taking FWS will increase your passion and satisfy your curiosity to know the ins and outs of each wine region, not just the famous ones. Unlike the WSET or CMS, a focused approach allows you to learn the detailed history of each area and the unabridged winemaking styles and grape varieties, which the other certifications may sometimes choose to gloss over in favor of time/standardization.

The current 3 programs offered by the WSG

Is the WSG for you?

I think the Scholar programs are more tailored to those with a solid wine background interested in learning more about their favorite wine country. I never ventured to take these classes until I passed my WSET Diploma and felt that my “baseline” knowledge of the wine world lacked some details. However, you don’t have to wait until you’re an “advanced wine person” to take this program. The French and Spanish Wine Scholar courses offered a “Fundamentals” chapter where you can review the basics but with a focus on the country you are studying rather than a global focus. So, in my opinion, anyone at an intermediate level (WSET II or its equivalent) would have no trouble understanding the concepts in these programs.

But…

Who benefits most from taking the Wine Scholar?

If you work at a bar or restaurant with a French/Spanish/Italian wine focus (and possibly German soon), these programs are for you. If you have an insatiable desire to learn, maybe even beyond logic and reason (like me), these programs will satisfy your cravings. As said before, if you have a passion for French/Italian/Spanish wines, these courses will enhance your enjoyment even more. Beginners are welcome- and can succeed- but the more focused approach is undoubtedly toward the intermediate/advanced wine “person.”

Any Drawbacks?

Maybe. As there is with any program

I am sometimes concerned that if a student only takes the “French Wine Scholar” without any other supplementary global education/study, they think- or will think- that only “the French know how to do things right,” which will give them a limited worldview on a conversation that is becoming more global every day. True,  some French regions are still “flying under the radar,” and the FWS remedies that by introducing students to these unknown locales. The regional focus does not mean that good wine is only made in the region covered, and- though evident- this sometimes needs to be reiterated. 

On the other hand, a more rounded and varied approach like the WSET or CMS is beneficial because students can see the world of wine, not just one country’s idea. However, the downside of this general view is that the course has to be abbreviated to fit all the “important regions” of the world, and some less famous (but promising) regions get overlooked.

The Costs

Let’s look at the numbers. Each program will cost you between $725 and $ 825 for self-study. Unlike the WSET, where I advised against self-study options, the WSG provides everything you need to pass the exam at your own pace, including a self study portal with pronunciations, modules, and flash cards. You can also attend class with a WSG course provider (such as the San Francisco Wine School if you’re in SF or Napa Valley Wine Academy if you are in Napa), which will have different costs but may include a wine tasting. The path is up to you.

 My suggestion would be, if you can self-motivate, you should do self-study. However, if discourse and outside motivation make you study harder, learn in person (or online) with one of the course providers.

The Exam

So, after all that, you have decided to take one of the three Wine Scholar programs. But, as usual, there will be a test to pass and receive your snazzy pin. Do not fear; I will provide you with all the necessary information.

  1. The test is 100 questions, multiple choice
    1. This is already simpler than most WSET tests, which require paragraph-written answers. Even if you studied less than you should, you can still answer more questions correctly by the process of elimination.
  2. You need 75% to pass the test.
    1. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. C’s get degrees, baby (or snazzy pins)
  3. There is no tasting portion (but that doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from tasting the country’s wines)
  4. All the answers are in your study guide (and in your online portal)
    1. You will receive a log-in to a WSG portal with a lot of information quintessential to passing your exam. Also, the study book will give you all the information to study. If you properly read and prepare for the exam, there will be no “out of pocket” questions.
  5. Know the weightings
    1. The information on which regions/appellations to focus on will be provided by your instructor or written in the documents on your portal. Knowing which regions/appellations are more critical will help you narrow your study focus.
  6. Follow the [!]s
    1. Some appellations are “need to know” for the test, and others are not. The “need to know” will be shown with a triangle and an ! next to them. I like reading the information about the non-NTK regions,but in an effort to save time, you may choose to skip them.

Testing Environment

With self-study, you will be prompted to take the test online. It’s convenient because you get results immediately and can choose your exam date.

With classroom learning, you will take the 100-question multiple choice exam on a scantron (like your SATs) after the program ends.

What’s next

So you passed one Scholar Program. If you like it, take another! If you want even more of a challenge, look for an even more in-depth analysis in WSGs Master programs on  Champagne, Bordeaux, and Burgundy (obviously for advanced-level wine-people). I often say that you can teach a 10-week class on Burgundy and still feel like you don’t know the region. Collect all of the pins if you have the time and money; it is fun (if you are a specific type of person)

Want to learn about WSET programs? Click here

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