photo courtesy Gina Marano

Interestingly enough, Gina Marano wasn’t always a drinker of wines, and even four years ago, was certainly not a wine aficionado. It was a circuitous, curious journey that took her from a person who had had a glass of wine or two to a certified instructor with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and the owner of the only wine school in the valley, The Wine Academy of Las Vegas. 

You could probably say that this started out as a cerebral decision, rather than one of passion or delight in the senses. In 2015, Gina and three other students in the Harrah College of Hotel Administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, participated in—and won—the spa development competition at the Global Wellness Summit in Mexico City. Nine months prior to the final presentation of their proposal, these students started imagining the components of a new concept spa to be set in Mendoza, Argentina. And what is Mendoza known for? Wine!

The project’s focus quickly morphed into an integrated resort with the area’s wines to be the basis for the spa’s treatments and products. The team designed a logo, developed menus for the resort’s many eateries (with wine pairings), created wine-based spa treatments and researched the health and beauty benefits of wines. Much of the research into the region, its wines and the related health benefits was conducted by Gina. She also studied the financial aspects of a resort of this magnitude and made multi-year projections for income and expenses.

The final presentation highlighted Ch’ulel Mendoza: A Vinotherapy-Inspired Resort Spa. 

As Gina’s interest in wines was growing, she started taking advantage of opportunities for learning about wine: pairings, tastings and mini-workshops held at the college; a trip to Trinchero Winery for a three-day intensive education in growing grapes, making wine and marketing the finished product; and as a Ph.D. student, the opportunity to teach an online wine class in the college’s Master’s of Hospitality Administration program.

“I took my WSET Levels 2 and 3 courses while I was getting my master’s,” said Gina. “I flew back and forth to Chicago for Level 2 but took Level 3 online. I had a good experience with it, but it was difficult. This is where the idea for the Wine Academy got its start,” she said. 

Gina is currently 60% of the way through the 18-month Level 4 course. She flies back and forth to California for tests and classroom time, all while working on her dissertation for her Ph.D.

WSET’s program of study includes Level 1, Award in Wines; Level 2, Award in Wines and Spirits; Level 3, Award in Wines; and Level 4, Diploma in Wines and Spirits. Someone wishing to take an even higher level of study can become a Master of Wines through the Institute of Masters of Wines, but only after receiving the WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits designation or the equivalent. 

The inaugural class for the Wine Academy was held in March with 9 students taking WSET Level 1. This six- to seven-hour course provides a foundation in wine tasting and pairing and is great for anyone just wanting to explore wines in more depth. The course is also attended by longtime food and beverage professionals. “The mix of people in the class with different levels of experience made for great questions and discussions,” said Gina.

Level 1 and 2 classes are scheduled through December of this year. Level 3 courses are in progress, hopefully starting in the late summer; and future plans are being made for Level 4. 

In addition to in-person courses, The Wine Academy offers online courses. “Because I have both taught and taken online wine courses, I feel confident offering this,” Gina said. “There is a specific platform for accessing the information and there will be recorded lectures, assignments, required wine purchase lists for tasting, and a forum for group discussions,” Gina concluded. Students can take these classes anywhere in the world but are required to be in Las Vegas for the exam.

According to Gina, “The more you learn about wine, the more you are able to enjoy the wine you are drinking. You know the history of the wine, the producer, the style. It’s more enjoyable because you know the behind the scenes story – more than is on the label or the little placard at the store. It helps you get in touch with that wine on a much more personal level.” 

To find out more about the Wine Academy of Las Vegas visit or reach Gina Marano at