How To Find a Job in the Wine Industry
Ok..so you want to work in wine.
First some admissions. Yes, it can be glamorous. For a number of reasons the industry attracts personalities, well-heeled types, iconoclasts, upper classes, accomplished types and not a few stars. The perks are good too. Good food, great wines, an amazing natural setting. Plus, the product you are producing or selling generally makes peoples’ lives better…or at least more enjoyable.
The downside? Generally the pay isn’t great. Yet, like any industry if you excel as your craft, you will get rewarded. But entry level work and even mid level work is not going to get you that house you really want. In fact, chances are given the cost of housing in wine country, you are going to have a difficult time finding a decent place to live nearby, let alone that palace you’ve always wanted.
You still want in? Ok.
Best Entry Level Positions
1. Tasting Rooms.
They are a great place to get a wine education and there are always positions open. It’s a pretty good place to start if you want to get into the marketing or retail side of the business. However, be prepared. You will spend your days saying the same thing over and over again, pouring the same wines, looking out at the same view. The hours are generally good, accept weekends will have you at work. And, the pay is not great either because it doesn’t take a PhD to pour wine and memorize the percent of the wine that went through malolactic fermentation and the percent of the wine that was aged in new oak. Still, it’s a good place to start and a good place to learn if you keep your ears open, get yourself working on other projects and become involved with the regional organizations for wineries.
2. Distributor Sales Representative.
You are a sales person. If you have sales experience and are good at it, this is a good entry point. It’s a fairly independent experience too. You are on the streets meeting with wine buyers at restaurants and retail shops, pouring new wines for them, filling orders, working hard to move a case of that new $60 Carneros Chardonnay, and working to meet quotas. However, you will be exposed to a number of different wines. And that means you need to know more about wine than a tasting room person. You will also be exposed to retail and restaurant operations. This is important because they may prove to be how you move up in the industry. Pay is base plus commission usually. If you do well, you make good money. If you aren’t a good sales person to begin with that knows how to close, you might struggle.
3. The Harvest Worker
This is a good way to get into the production side of the business. Most wineries, even smaller ones need extra work during the crush. It’s very long hours and its very hard work. You are hauling hoses, pushing down grapes in bins by hand, cleaning up the skins of grapes. You are a mess at the end of the day…if the day ends. You are at the mercy of mother nature and you have to be willing to be at the winery when necessary. However, helping make the wine, and you are, can be thrilling. You also have the opportunity to work with some very talented people in the cellar. Finally it can lead to full time cellar work.
Best Sideways Moves into the Wine Industry
1. High End Retail to Wine Retail:
If you ‘have worked in high end retail where specialized knowledge and the care and feeding of people with expensive tastes is the norm, you might make a move into wine retail. This presumes that you have a good knowledge of wine. But in the end, retail sales is about merchandising and selling. If you have these talents a wine shop owner will talk to you.
2. Hospitality to Event Management.
One thing we do a lot of in the wine industry is put on events. From weddings to corporate meetings to seminars, the industry is a magnet for people who want to sit down with other people. If you have experience in hospitality, either in hotels or restaurants, you might want to consider making a horizontal move to event management. There are a number of event management firms and catering companies that specialize in wine country events. They need people who are versed in logistics, planning, waiting tables and sales.
Industry’s that Serve (Specialize) in the Wine and the Wine Industry
1. Graphic Design.
It’s not all packaging and label design, those these are the prestige jobs. There are a number of graphic designers that specialize in catering to the wine industry be it for brochures, advertising, newsletters, you name it. Be warned, packaging and label design demands specialized knowledge including knowledge of government regulations
2. Photography. I just got done having photos taken for a client of their new line of wines. I knew exactly who I wanted to shoot the photos. He has been doing it for many years and understands the difficulties of shooting round glass. However, a good photographer can break into the wine industry through persistent marketing and a good portfolio.
3. Web Design and Coding.
Any winery that doesn’t have a website at this point just isn’t trying. There is regular need for good, creative web designers in the industry. You are better off if you have a background in code (html) AND graphic design.
4. Public Relations.
If you have a strong background in public relations, you can get into the wine industry. Some wineries bring PR people in house, others farm it out to agencies. Most agencies tend to be small, but there are some larger ones. Keep in mind though, you will have to bring a bank of experience with you. Want to open your own shop? That can be done too. Keep in mind, the wine industry has a more specialized and unusually large group of media dedicated to its coverage than most other industries. Knowing this media will be key to your success.
Where to Find Wine Industry Jobs
For what it’s worth, I started my career in wine this way.
Having graduated with an MA in History from San Francisco State University, and realizing that there was little work for a Churchill/Roosevelt specialist, I evaluated my talents and realized I was suited, theoretically, for marketing and public relations. I then realized that there were PR firms that specialized in different industries…including wine.
Well, being a lover of wine, I decided that’s where I look. I started by calling wine writers and simply interviewing them. I asked what was really wanted from a good PR person and who in the industry I could call to talk with. Armed with names and info, I started calling PR firms and asking for nothing more than a chance to speak with the owners about the PR world and particularly the wine PR world. I spoke with about 5 different PR people.
Everyone said, you have to write well and you have to be a good sales person. Ok. So, I put together a portfolio of my writing. I wrote fake press releases, fake book reviews, fake wine reviews. Then, I bundled up my writings along with a resume and letters of recommendation and started to write letters to wineries and PR firms asking for an interview. I sent out over 100 letters. Finally, I met with the owner of a PR firm in Santa Rosa, California who, though she liked what I had to offer, had no position available. A month later she called and said she had a project I might want to work on. I took the project and eventually came on full time.
If you really want to work in the wine industry it’s critical you learn as much about it as possible. Read. Then read some more. Finally, read more. Read the trade publications the wine magazines, the bulletin boards on line, yes, even read the blogs. Arm yourself with information and form a base of knowledge.