Here’s How To Get Into The Wine Biz

I don’t know what the best job in the wine industry is. However, I do know which job is in most demand and also the job most likely to allow you to break into the wine industry: Sales. Specifically, street sales.

I make a point of heading over to Wine Business‘ "Wine Jobs" web site now and again just to see what kind of people the industry is looking for. They list jobs under a number of different categories: Winemaking, Vineyards, Hospitality, Administration, Finance, etc. But far and away the category with the most jobs listings is "Sales & Marketing"

In the month of February there were 140 listings on this job site offering work in the wine industry.

While public relations and market analyst and marketing director jobs fall under this category, by far most of these positions are with companies that want you on the street, visiting restaurants and retailers and selling a number of different wines. Some are listings by wineries who employ their own sales people. But the most common job offer is as a sales person with a distributor.

Good sales people are few are far between. In the first place it is very hard work. You are often schlepping around bottles all day, running from one appointment to another, working with a widely varying personalities. Add to this the fact that a good sales person is expected to know a great deal about each of the wines in their portfolio. This is not difficult if you are working for a winery, but if you are working for a distributor that probably means knowing all about upwards of 100, 200, even 400 different wines.

Then there is the sales aspect of the job. One doesn’t just walk into a restaurant with a checklist and pencil and start taking orders from the wine buyer. The best sales people know the restaurant or retailer, understand their niche and customer base, and understand which wines sell well in this particular account. Without this knowledge the salesperson is wasting the buyers time, the kiss of death for a salesperson.

As the number of distributors in each state has been reduced, sales people at the remaining distributors have been given more and more brands to represent. At the same time, the number of brands available to the market has grown. The salesperson’s job is made all the more difficult under these circumstances and explains why turnover is the biggest difficulty that managers at distributors have to manage. But it’s also the reason why very good sales people can make very good money.

Yet few people want to be sales people all their lives. The best salespeople do tend to move up from sales. The path is often to manager or district level manager or state level sales manager. From here they have a number of paths they can take if they want to stay in wine. They might move to the winery side and become a Director of state sales or National Sales Director. Or, it’s possible to move to the buyer side working for chains or hotel. Or, a move into marketing is a common path.

If you are thinking of getting into the wine industry, sales is by far the easiest way to get there. is a great source for openings in this area. Most jobs are listed in or near large metropolitan areas and particularly in California and New York.

8 Responses

  1. Rick - March 1, 2006

    Yeah, but how much are these people making? From the people I’ve met, they’re scraping by in the Bay Area market if they work for a distributor and making even less if they’re working for a single winery.

  2. Fredric Koeppel - March 1, 2006

    I’ve seen many wine salesmen for distributors who know very little about wine in general or the products they sell in particular. I have been to trade tastings where these people guzzle wines and get bombed, never taking notes or asking questions. The turn-over in these jobs, considering the pay, as Rick mentions, and the talent involved, is very high. I would say, in other words, that the ideal you describe, a man or woman dedicated to the products and to educating themselves and their customers, is rare.

  3. johng - March 1, 2006

    Some of those jobs are okay, but some really suck, from what I hear. I’ve heard of salesmen having a Jeagermeister quota they have to hit. (shudder)

  4. Tom S - March 1, 2006

    Actually I think the easiest and best way to get into the wine business is to get a job giving tours (or in the retail room) at a winery. Both my wife and myself did this years ago. She moved on into the cellar then lab, I eventually moved into sales (first local, then regional sales manager) Granted the pay isn’t great (in retail)but you find out quickly if you really want to make a career out of it.

  5. Zinman - March 1, 2006

    The average wine only sales representative working for a distributor in a major market makes 30 to 40 K per year plus benefits and usually a small car allowance and a cell phone rebate.
    High end on – premise territories can make up to double that but it takes a while to break into the accounts.
    If you ask me those aren’t bad entry level jobs. Sure they don’t pay executive money, but the only way to get to be an executive is to know sales inside out.
    In markets where the sales reps sell both wine and spirits, being a unionized sales rep can be a job worth keeping.
    A lot depends on the individual market and the distributor, the lines they represent and the quirks of the territory.

  6. Charles - April 1, 2008

    I am looking at taking over a wine boutique and was given a list of vendors to talk to before I move forward. I was wondering what types of questions I should be asking the existing distributors when I meet them for the first time? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  7. Ravindra kumar tiwari - August 26, 2010

    Hello sir iam ravindra from jhansi in u.p.;i am MBA passed with marketing & finance

  8. Jennifer - July 8, 2011

    We would like to inform you of 3 new wine job websites just launched by James Cluer, MW.
    Employers and Recruiters – During our introduction, we offer FREE job postings for wine and hospitality industry employers and recruiters.
    Job Seekers – Find jobs in hospitality and wine including restaurant jobs, hotel jobs, winery jobs, wine sales reps, winemakers, Sommelier jobs and more. Job seekers, sign up to receive job alerts by email.

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