Sommelier Education Undergoes Transformation: SOMM Annual Report Reveals Surprising Trends and Challenges for the 21st Century

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — SOMM, a leading sommelier education authority, has released its annual review of sommelier education with insights from top sommeliers, wine educators, and winemakers nationwide. In 2023, SOMM received 1148 experts serving as sommelier judges for the report. This comprehensive view of the sommelier trade in the 21st century reveals some surprising trends and challenges.

Most of the judges are either sommeliers or beverage managers (over 46%), but 20% are restaurant owners, and nearly 7% are professional winemakers or winery owners. The rest are consultants, wine school owners, and sommelier students.

The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) has been the dominant sommelier certification agency for two decades, but its reign may be in jeopardy. In 2023, CMS remains the preferred sommelier program with over 35% of respondents, but the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is gaining ground with an over 29% preference ranking. The National Wine School comes in third with a 17.5% market share. Other sommelier programs, such as the International Wine Guild, the North American Sommelier Association, and the International Sommelier Guild, combined control less than 18% of the market.

Interestingly, when asked what type of certification they prefer, most respondents (over 47%) favored a federally accredited program, while the least favored certification was from a trade organization. This is a significant result since the two largest sommelier agencies, WSET and CMS, are trade organizations. As of this writing, there is no federally accredited sommelier certification.

For the first time, SOMM asked our judges whether their opinion of the Court of Master Sommeliers had been affected by recent negative reporting aimed at the Court. While most judges admitted those reports had impacted their view of CMS, over 30% of respondents stated that the reports of racism and unfair grading had no effect whatsoever.

The report also highlights the motivations behind embarking on a sommelier education. Nearly 36% of respondents said validation of wine knowledge was their main motivator, followed by enhanced credibility (25%) and competitive advantage in the job market (26%). Statistically, zero respondents said there was a limited or no benefit to sommelier certification.

With nearly two thousand sommeliers involved, this is the largest survey ever done on the sommelier field. The SOMM report provides a unique and insightful view into the world of sommeliers, their education, and certification. It remains to be seen whether CMS will maintain its dominance or whether challengers like WSET will continue to gain traction.

Claire Seroskie
(202) 770-3001