How to Become a Sommelier

How to Become a Sommelier

Want to become a sommelier but need more advice on how to do it? At San Francisco Wine School, we give you the facts about becoming a sommelier. This blog isn't about any specific class or training for sommeliers, it simply contains our expert industry knowledge and advice. 

What is a Sommelier?

Before embarking on this path, it’s first important to answer the question – what is a sommelier? This can be a source of much confusion among both consumers and industry professionals alike. The term sommelier refers to a wine waiter or steward; a trained and knowledgeable professional who provides assistance with wine selection and wine service, usually but not always in a restaurant setting.

Just because someone has passed a sommelier exam and holds a sommelier certification does not make them a sommelier. Likewise, a wine waiter who does not hold a sommelier certification can still call themselves a sommelier.  San Francisco Wine School's founder, David Glancy holds a Master Sommelier diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers and created the Certified Sommelier Program at the Professional Culinary Institute (later known as ICC, and now as ICE). He also worked in restaurants for over 15 years, so he understands this topic better than most.

How Do You Become a Sommelier?

To become a sommelier, it isn't necessary to take a specific course or certification, it's more about the knowledge and expertise you can provide regarding wine selection and service.  A sommelier's role includes understanding wine and other fine beverages and understanding the customer.  I also takes good communication skills, wine service techniques, and experience and there is no ‘one way’ to gain all the skills needed to be a competent and successful sommelier.

While there are no legal requirements for anyone to become credentialed to work as, or call themselves, a sommelier, many sommeliers and other individuals do decide to challenge themselves, demonstrate their knowledge and add initials to their resume by taking sommelier educational programs and certification exams.

What Sommelier Certifications Exist?

Many people are confused by what we call wine credential blur. There are many organizations that offer wine education and sommelier certifications today. This is further muddled by competing and sometimes misleading claims about those wine programs. We are leaving our opinions out with the list below and presenting factual details about the various sommelier organizations.

Many of these organizations provide a minimal amount of education and expect students to self-study in order to prepare for their rigorous certification exams.  At San Francisco Wine School, we offer all relevant wine industry certification programs under one roof to help students along their journey to becoming a sommelier, regardless of whether they take a sommelier certification exam.  For those who are planning to get a sommelier credential, we highly recommend using these programs to stay on track with studies and adequately prepare for exams.  

Sommelier Credentialing Organizations

Court of Master Sommeliers Europe

  • Founded 1977
  • Courses taught worldwide in conjunction with the Court of Master Sommeliers Americas, but exam preparation is largely self-study
  • Instructors not listed but all are Master Sommeliers
  • Credential Levels Offered: Introductory, Certified, Advanced & Master Sommelier diplomas

Court of Master Sommeliers Americas

  • American Chapter founded 1986
  • Courses taught worldwide in conjunction with the Court of Master Sommeliers Europe, but exam preparation is largely self-study
  • Instructors not listed but all are Master Sommeliers
  • Credential Levels Offered: Introductory, Certified, Advanced & Master Sommelier diplomas

Guild of Sommeliers

  • Founded 2003
  • Events held throughout the United States
  • Not affiliated with the Court of Master Sommeliers Europe or Americas but many of the directors are Master Sommeliers.
  • It is an educational membership society open to all levels of professionals and consumers.
  • Their online study guides are used by many to supplement their exam preparation for the Court of Master Sommeliers, but the Guild of Sommeliers, itself, does not issue any credentials.

Sommelier Society of America

  • Founded 1954
  • only taught in New York City
  • no international affiliation
  • 10 instructors & only 3 have restaurant experience in bio
  • Certificate course & others

American Sommelier Association

  • Founded 1998
  • only taught in New York City
  • no international affiliation
  • 27 instructors including 1 MS & several other respected sommeliers
  • Created & run Best Sommelier in America Competition (not to be confused with Jeune Sommelier which is run by the Chaine des Rotisseurs)
  • Foundation course & others

US Sommelier Association

  • Founded 1998
  • only taught in Miami, San Francisco, Serbia & Croatia
  • no international affiliation
  • 10 instructors & only 4 have restaurant experience in bio
  • Certificate, Immersion, Advanced & National Certificate courses

North American Sommelier Association (NASA)

  • Founded 2010
  • only taught in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston & New York City
  • affiliate of World Sommelier Association which was created by Italian Sommelier Association to teach Italian wines around the world
  • NASA is only WSA chapter to teach anything beyond Italian wines
  • 6 instructors and bios only available for 2 of them
  • Certified Sommelier & Italian Wine Specialist courses

Worldwide Sommelier Association (WSA)

  • Founded 1973
  • Created Best World Sommelier WSA competition but no mention of it since 2010
  • Affiliate chapters in North America, Asia & throughout Europe
  • NASA is only chapter teaching beyond Italian wines

Italian Sommelier Association (Associazione Italiana Sommelier)

  • Founded 1965 & created WSA 1973
  • 33,000 members in Italy
  • no instructors are listed & bios not provided for board of directors

International Sommelier Guild

  • Founded 1984
  • Courses taught throughout USA, Canada & China
  • not affiliated with any other organizations
  • instructors are not listed nor are their backgrounds or credentials
  • Fundamentals I & II, Sommelier Diploma & Teacher Education courses

International Wine Guild

  • Founded 1998
  • Headquartered in Denver with classes also in Arizona, Texas, Virginia & Washington
  • No international affiliation
  • 8 instructors & only 2 have restaurant experience in bio
  • Level I, II, III & other courses


What do you think of any of these organizations or others you have studied or tested with?   There are many other wine credentials in the market, but hopefully this sheds some light on the sommelier options. 

Additional Resources and Information

Here are some other blogs you may find interesting:

You can sign up for our weekly newsletter at the bottom of any page on our site and check out our sommelier program offerings or view our upcoming full program and single course schedule.  Private, customized corporate training is also available.  We're happy to help if you have additional questions or need further guidance.



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