A Look at the Top Wine and Beer Certifications and Whether or Not It’s Worth the Investment To Jump Start Your Career
If you’re exploring avenues to increase your value as a restaurant industry professional, pursuing your sommelier and/or cicerone certification may be a step in the right direction.
Here’s a breakdown of what getting certified will look like and whether or not the juice is worth the squeeze.
To kick things off, let’s cover each of these certification roles.
What Is a Sommelier?
If you’re reading this, I can almost guarantee you know what a sommelier is, but let’s go over the finer points just so we’re all on the same page.
As a sommelier, you’ll be responsible for:
- Curating and maintaining the wine list.
- Recommending and selecting wines for guests.
- Conducting wine tastings and staff training sessions.
- Ensuring correct serving practices for wine and sometimes other beverages.
- Overseeing proper wine storage and cellar management.
Many of the sommeliers I’ve spoken with usually take on FOH manager responsibilities as well, like managing the staff and resolving customer issues.
The Court of Master Sommeliers offers four levels of sommelier certification:
- Introductory Sommelier
- Certified Sommelier
- Advanced Sommelier
- Master Sommelier
Graduating to the next level requires completing the previous level. If working as a sommelier in a restaurant is your goal, consider advancing to at least level two.
What Is a Cicerone?
Not as well known, most likely because the accredited certification program didn’t start till 2007, are cicerones—think of a sommelier, but instead of wine, it’s beer.
A cicerone’s responsibilities are similar to a sommelier:
- Mastering beer knowledge, including styles, brewing, and ingredients.
- Recommending beer pairings with food.
- Managing and maintaining beer inventory and storage.
- Conducting beer tastings and educating staff and customers.
- Ensuring proper beer serving techniques and glassware usage.
- Staying abreast of beer industry trends and new releases.
The Cicerone Certification Program also comes in four levels:
- Certified Beer Server
- Certified Cicerone
- Advanced Cicerone
- Master Cicerone
Like becoming a sommelier, you must complete the previous level to move on to the next level. If your goal is to be a working cicerone, you’ll need to progress to at least level two since level one is a “certified beer server” and technically not a cicerone.
Benefits of Certification
Getting certified isn’t easy, but when the time comes to share your hard-earned expertise in interviews, resumes, and conversations, it can carry a lot of weight.
Here are a few ways you can benefit from certification.
Greater Job Opportunities
Carrying the title of sommelier or cicerone makes you stand out from the crowd. Many top-tier restaurants and bars might only consider you for the job if you have certification.
Instead of taking whichever gig comes your way, you can cherry-pick job prospects, finding a space, program, and environment that fits your personality and preferences.
Your chances of landing a competitive position are much higher because management knows the depth of knowledge you’re bringing.
Increased Earning Potential
Certification means you have the power to leverage and negotiate a higher salary.
Also, legit employers are ready to pay you higher wages because they see it as an investment in their business.
Having a sommelier or cicerone on the payroll gives restaurants the status that solidifies them as higher-level professionals. Your title will help the restaurant to sell more beer and wine, growing revenue to justify the cost of your wage.
Recognition And Respect Within The Industry
Certification proves you’re serious about your career and not drifting through service waiting for your next shift drink.
It takes hundreds of hours of work, dedication, and a deep understanding of the subject to perform the job well. The effort doesn’t go unnoticed among peers and higher-ups where your opinion matters, and you’ll be entrusted with key decisions for the beverage program.
Creating a memorable beer or wine menu could mean invitations to industry events where you can network with like-minded people—opening new possibilities.
Costs Of Certification
To put it bluntly—it ain’t cheap.
Wine and beer study happens in two ways:
- Reading a lot.
- Drinking a lot.
The only way to truly understand your subject is to participate in it, and that means buying a ton of beer or wine so you can develop your palate—but that’s not everything.
Each level has its own set of exam fees, which follows:
- Certified Beer Server: $79 for the entire exam.
- Certified Cicerone: $225 for the written portion.
$175 for tasting and demonstration.
- Advanced Cicerone: $425 for the written portion.
$375 tasting and oral portion.
- Master Cicerone: $995 for the entire exam.
- Introductory Sommelier: $799
- Certified Sommelier: $649
- Advanced Sommelier: $1,799 for courses.
$399 for the theory exam.
$999 for the practical and tasting exams.
- Master Sommelier: $999 for the theory exam.
$1,899 for the practical and tasting exams.
Study Material and Courses
Study material is more than just beer and wine.
You’ll need books, online resources, and study journals to develop your knowledge and get you through the exams.
Investing in study aids dramatically increases the odds of passing the final tests.
Travel and Accommodations
Tests take place worldwide, but the locations often change with the dates, so when it’s exam time, you may need to travel to take the test.
This means expenses like:
- Plane tickets
- Car rental
- And all the random things that come up while traveling.
If you’re willing to delay your test, you can wait until a test site opens near your home. Doing so will give you more time to prepare as well.
What To Consider Before Committing
Going down the road of a sommelier or cicerone certification is a serious commitment. There are massive benefits, and it just might be the shot in the arm your career needs to take it to the next level—but it’s equally tough and challenging.
Master Cicerone James Watt said the final exam was the most difficult test he’s ever taken by a significant margin, and he already had a law degree and is a certified sea captain.
Both certifications take years of study and palate development; should you fail at your first attempt (and many do), it’s recommended to wait a year or more before testing again.
Check out Matthew Foskett’s journey if you’re curious about what becoming a sommelier might look like.
If the financial aspect feels like a barrier to entry, see if your current employer would help. Alternatively, plenty of employers offer financial aid as a perk, so keep your eye out the next time you’re job hunting. You’ll need to commit to staying with them for a bit after passing, but it’s a great way to get to the certified level.
Lastly, ask yourself if you have the passion and drive to take this challenge on.
The learning doesn’t stop with “pencils down” after the tests, either. The industry is constantly evolving, and to stay current, you’ll need to commit to work outside of the restaurant as well.
So, is getting certified worth it?
It depends on your goals and interests.
If you decide to pursue certification, getting there could take many years and thousands of dollars.
But the payoff will be doors opening to endless opportunities.