Got the wine bug? It’s hard not to. Atlanta is a thirsty city with wine being its primary drink of choice.
It can be said with confidence that Atlanta’s restaurant wine lists are the best they’ve ever been, representing grapes and growing regions that will have you pulling out your phone under the table to do a quick Google search.
Wine, especially one you’ve never tatsted before, is thought-provoking and stimulating. A beverage that can awaken your senses and transport you back to that very moment you tried something similar on vacation or at a dinner party. It’s no wonder more wine lovers want to transition from cubicle to wine professional. As more people become wine curious, leveling-up your knowledge just got a bit easier.
There’s a new school in town that is unlike any other. It is unequivocal that you will receive some of the best in-person wine education from Atlanta’s newest wine school, The Oenophile Institute.
In early September, Chelsea Young – a classically trained ballerina turned wine educator – filled a void in Atlanta’s wine community when she opened Oenophile Institute. Young realized early into her wine education journey that there were few places in the Southeast, let alone Georgia, to obtain certifications or in-person learning.
In 2018, Young took her first level certification with the Court of Masters Sommeliers. Soon after, she received a continuing education scholarship for women in wine which allowed her to take and pass the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) exam, as well as receive the Wine & Spirits Educational Trust (WSET) Level III Award in Wine. Young is currently a candidate for WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines which is an expert-level qualification that takes roughly two to three years to complete.
Chelsea states that one of the biggest challenges she is facing with this upper level certification, outside of the intensive 500+ hours of study time, is that she has to travel to Washington, D.C. on five separate occasions to take each section of the test. With D.C. being the closest location to complete WSET Diploma with an exam sticker price of $7,200, those who have a passion and drive for wine, but any sort of financial constraint that could keep them from traveling, this test becomes altogether unattainable. Young’s goal is to change this. While she can’t change the price of these certification courses, Young can make in-person wine classes and resources more attainable.
The Oenophile Institute is located in Smyrna Village Market on the second floor above Vineyard Wine Market – about 2.5 miles from The Battery Atlanta and the 75/285 interchange. Ironically, Young’s new space used to be a ballet studio. Talk about serendipity. The Oenophile Institute also has plenty of free parking and is handicap accessible.
Young states that her vision for Oenophile Institute is simple: “…to make wine education (and the wine industry) more inclusive, accessible, and affordable for both professionals and consumers alike”. She adds, “Atlanta is called “the city too busy to hate” but pretentiousness and gate keeping still run rampant throughout all circles of the wine world. This idea that wine is only for certain people has to end. I am a neurodivergent millennial woman with a mohawk – I don’t look like your typical sommelier – and you don’t have to either”.
We asked Young a few questions about The Oenophile Institute for a deeper look into what she plans on doing at the school.
Sarah Pierre: There are very few wine schools in Atlanta. In fact, many have opened and closed. What makes your wine school different from the others?
Chelsea Young: Most schools split their educational offerings between tastings and certifications. To me, it feels like a delineation between consumer & professional. In certification settings, there is a focus on the theory behind what makes wine, “wine” – it tends to be serious, stuffy, and loses the fun. While tastings focus on producer/brand specifics and even the bottle sale afterwards – it loses the theory or the “why”. All of the classes I’ve designed focus on wine as a whole – you’ll get the theory to understand why it tastes the way it does but you’ll also get to expand your palate with diverse wines and discuss with others why you did or didn’t like it. All of the classes have been made to bridge the gap between consumers and professionals by opening the lines of communication. And more than anything, I don’t want wine to lose its fun – we are talking about fermented grape juice after all.
SP: What sort of classes will be available?
CY: Our classes are split into three “series” – the Vineyard Series, Winery Series, & Cellar Series. The Vineyard is where it all begins for wine so this series is aptly named. These classes will encompass broader topics and theory basics. All classes are individual and not structured as a progressive course so you can join any class that interests you. We will also be offering masterclasses with special guest educators and panel discussions with industry professionals on an array of topics that affect the wine world and the people within it. Starting in November we will begin a rotating six week “Southern Hospitality” course geared towards anyone that has just entered (or wants to enter) the restaurant, retail, or distribution industry and is looking to know more about wine quickly to further their careers and increase their income. It will be covering viticulture, production methods, the major grape varieties and producing regions, service standards & selling techniques, current trends, and the business of wine. But like anything at The Oenophile Institute – all are welcome. I’ve also started the paperwork to be a WSET approved program provider. I’m on track to be offering certifications by early 2023.
SP: And aside from wine classes, what other resources will you provide to Atlanta’s wine community?
CY: We also offer: personalized Private Events, Staff Trainings for any area of the wine industry; Blind Tastings in group settings or one-on-one with an educator to prepare for exams; along with mentorship opportunities and a community job board. And my personal favorite – cause I’m a nerd – a library of every type of wine book (reference material to anecdotal) that can be accessed during our weekly “Study Hall” or anytime the Institute is open.
Atlanta’s wine community welcomes this new school with hope and excitement. We hope to see you there!