Back to school season #trythis

By / Wine + Drinks / August 24th, 2018 / 17

I get asked a lot about what led me to my career as a Sommelier; about what it takes to achieve the certification, how you study, and where one goes to school. Some guests are interested for themselves, to grow their wine knowledge and make the leap from enthusiast to pursuing the study of wine for the purpose of working in the wine trade. There is a lot of space between those two points, and so many wonderful general interest classes, tasting events, and books to enhance both your knowledge and enjoyment of the beverage that has captivated us. However, if you are looking to switch gears entirely and build a career around wine, there are several options out there that have different time commitments and different end games. Here are two paths that I know from experience, both that have opened doors for me and helped to shape my views in different ways.

Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET)

Originating in the UK and dating all the way back to the year that Bryan Adams got his first real six string… or more commonly known as 1969. Created to be a gold standard for the UK wine trade, which was based around import, distribution and retail, and to act as a precursor for the Master of Wine (MW) qualification. The WSET has four levels, with the first being a ‘get your toes wet’ two day long introduction course, all the way up to the minimum two year Diploma program. More academic in its approach, especially at the diploma level, with essay style exams, written blind tasting notes, analytical thinking. With little to no wine service or wine and food pairing, this preps you more for a job in the greater wine trade than in the restaurant, though there are lots of pros to knowing the other side of the coin of sales and distribution if you in a buying role at a restaurant. Also a great focus on grape growing, wine making, and business. With 85 000 students worldwide, this is a global community.

Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS)


Not to be outdone, CMS was also established in the UK in 1969 with the intention of being the benchmark for Sommeliers, and at its peak of four levels of qualifications is the revered Master Sommelier exam. This accomplishment weaves together theory and business of wine, verbal blind tasting, and practical service. Doesn’t sound too tough? This is about beverage, not just wine, so you will also learn about spirits and cocktails, sake, beer and so on. To become an MS, you have to demonstrate mastery of your knowledge of wine producers, vintages, styles and characteristics; where they are grown and how they are made, and how and with what to serve them. There is a reason why there are only 249 Master Sommeliers in the world- it ain’t easy! To get to the MS exam is a slow burn of passing the first three levels, is done mostly as self-study, and most achievable if you have access to a tasting and peer group. To achieve the Certified Sommelier designation (level two), bank on one to two years of study, and restaurant experience is a major plus. If you are Toronto based, I recommend Master Sommelier Bruce Wallner’s Sommfactory, who offers prep courses, tasting and service exam support, and is also the most fun I’ve had while learning.


Brie Dema has a career rooted in hospitality and has worked with several fantastic Canadian wine and culinary programs including Langdon Hall, Fogo Island Inn and the Elora Mill. She has studied with WSET and CMS, holding the Diploma and the Advanced Pin respectively. Brie played the part of a bumblebee in her dance studio’s production of Peter Pan when she was five. She has a lousy sense of direction but can always find her way to the bottom of a glass of wine. Brie’s favorite role and greatest accomplishment is being a mom to her wonderful daughter Una. She wishes she was a better cook, but is glad she married a chef.

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