How to Up Your Wine Education During the Pandemic

From expert certifications to casual virtual tastings, there are a number of ways to learn more about wine while you're stuck at home.

By Bob McGinn April 10, 2020

Image: Shutterstock

As days turn into weeks and weeks into months, many of us find our situation untenable. A lot of us have lost our jobs or been furloughed and are staying home. Although this may be a somber time, from personal experience, it could also be a great time to increase your wine awareness.

Online courses cost around $99 at the Napa Valley Wine Academy and up to $3,600 at Cornell University. (Your employer may be willing to work with you on the cost.) The Napa Valley Wine Academy, with an office in Tampa, provides the most courses and focuses predominantly on the four levels of wine certification offered by the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. Each level progresses you to a greater value to restaurants, retailers or distributors. Courses are wide-ranging and cover many aspects of wine and the tests are predominantly multiple-choice question-and-answer quizzes. They tend to be academic and esoteric, but will help you develop a greater wine vocabulary and understanding. Some offer wine kits to go along with the lesson.

The Court of Master Sommeliers also offers four-level training, resulting in the prestigious Master Sommelier designation. The courses are more demanding and expensive than the Education Trust and are restricted to restaurant personnel. Even completing one or two levels of these programs will make you more educated and more respected.

If standardized courses are not your thing, consider participating in virtual wine tastings. The most prominent and, to my knowledge, the only one in our area is from Michael's Wine Cellar. Sean King is the dynamic wine director and has been posting these videos for several weeks. The events are interactive and viewers can taste the wines and learn along with King. By following Michael’s Wine Cellar on Facebook, you can be invited to participate. Participants number around 200, but total viewers over time exceed 1,000. Past tastings are also viewable and certainly can add to your knowledge. The next tasting will begin at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 11.

Also, consider participating with friends on Zoom or FaceTime or select a winery to follow such as those at Sonoma Wine (click "Sip From Home"), or Napa Valley Vintners (click "Virtual Tastings and Online Events").

Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at

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