20-02-2016

What is the “Guild of Sommeliers”?

When I set down the path of sommelier studies something that was really confusing me (beyond my initial question to do WSET or CMS) was this thing called the Guild of Sommeliers. This was in part due to there also existing the Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation as well as the International Sommelier Guild.

These are all separate entities and the latter two are the easiest to define as the Education Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)3 that awards scholarships and works in conjunction with the Guild of Sommeliers. The International Sommelier Guild is another certifying body for sommeliers similar to although not nearly as famous nor rigorous as the Court of Master Sommeliers of which I currently hold the Certified Sommelier title.

I mention my certification as the Guild of Sommeliers (or for brevity GuildSomm) is a very, very valuable website for anyone studying to earn these credentials. You can also gain similar knowledge via the WSET but GuildSomm is more oriented towards sommelier work. So in essence the core of GuildSomm is, “a 501(c)6 nonprofit membership organization with open membership for all wine professionals.” Those are president Geoff Kruth MS’s words as I reached out to him to clarify a number of points in writing this. Hopefully anyone who comes across it can understand things a great deal faster than I did and can focus their energy and stress on passing the sommelier exams.

Despite roughly 2/3 of the 11,000 members being from the US and myself originally American, I learned about the usefulness of GuildSomm when I took my Introductory Sommelier exam in England last year. Those who had scored far better than I had and passed their Certified exams during that sessions as well said they’d made good use of the website. Seeing where my knowledge was lacking and determined to move on, I checked it out when I got home. I then realized that I remembered this site from before but didn’t fully get what it was. I saw their “Enrichment Trips” there and thought those would be nice to go on but overall it seemed more a place for those who were already sommeliers to interact with one another as I interpreted “guild” quite literally in that you had to be a sommelier to be a member.

Some may have an opposite opinion as I had and think that paying the $100 USD as a “Wine Industry Professional” then entitles you to state that you’re a member of the guild and thus infer that you are a sommelier. This is most definitely not the case although it can be confusing as when you pass the Introductory Sommelier level from the Court of Master Sommeliers in the US, you get a pin that says, “Guild of Sommeliers”. That pin and this website have nothing linked with one another. Again, as Geoff states, “Guildsomm is not a certifying body. Our core value is the content we provide through our web community and in person events.” Also, note that while there are several Master Sommeliers running the Guild of Sommeliers, they are very much separate entities as well.

Once getting past all of this and joining, I found myself in a wealth of like-minded people who ran from Level 0-3 and were all working to better their wine knowledge. GuildSomm does zero advertising and everyone you meet in there has heard about it from someone else in the trade. Honestly, it’s really the only resource of its kind and Geoff and the rest of the team have done a solid job of growing (as well as continuing to grow) the content on offer.

The various study guides were very important in passing my Certified exams. I went through them, wrote down everything I didn’t immediately know on a flashcard and used them for studying. The maps were also very helpful as I reviewed them every day to fix in my mind where wine regions were geographically.

For those working on the Advanced exams, I can only assume that the material is also a boost for those as well, especially Geoff’s tasting system that he developed when having to re-take the Master Sommelier blind tasting test. There are additional “Expanded Guides” which they keep adding to and seem to be of huge benefit even for those studying at the nearly-Master Sommelier level.

There are some portions that are also for free as the organization is about promoting wine knowledge in general. The videos are excellent and one of the recent ones on Burgundy is fantastic for wine lovers of any level. The podcasts are also quite good and while they can be geeky at points, they’re animated and lively.

Overall, I really can’t say enough good things about GuildSomm and highly recommend it to anyone working to better their wine knowledge. Naturally, if you need any clarifications, leave a comment below or see if it’s answered in their FAQ.