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How to Start a Career in the Wine Industry (or Not)

Wine SnobMany people are surprised to find out that the majority of my students over the last decade have been career changers. The next largest student segment has been 20-somethings entering the workforce for the first time or trying to turn a part-time job into a career. I recently sat on a panel at Women for Winesense Grand Event and presented the audience with advice on career transitions. Here are a few pitfalls the panel discussed.

Don’t Even Think of It (Common Problems)

  1. EGO
    Have you ever heard any of these? “Are you a Certified Sommelier?” “You mean there isn’t a Certified Sommelier on staff?” “I’m a Certified Sommelier.” Although I have helped over 400 people pass the Certified Sommelier exam, I am clear with every student that they must be HUMBLE. Passing it is a great achievement but it is only the 2nd of 4 exams in the Court of Master Sommeliers. There are other highly respected credential programs and there are great wine professionals who learned at the school of hard knocks and do not have any credentials.
  2. IMPATIENCE
    Certified snobNo, you cannot do what I’ve done in half the time. Well, you might, but my journey was more valuable than the goals I reached. I cannot say it better than my friend and respected colleague Rebecca Chapa in her blog entry Resume vs. Reputation. There is a lot that can be learned doing inventory, stocking shelves, inputting SKUs, etc. Combining ego and impatience, there are too many newbies to the wine business who find some tasks beneath them. They often forget the service aspect of the business. All the credentials in the world and a top 10 list of famous employers cannot impart the service gene and it can’t be faked.
  3. NAME DROPPING
    It is fine to share the names of some restaurants that bought your wine, a few events you have been signed on to run, critics who gave you top scores, etc., but do not overdo it. Make sure the names you drop are eliciting the reaction you want, as well
  4. NOT LISTENING
    Whether selling wine to a restaurant, retailer or consumer, the key to sales is analyzing your customer’s needs and then meeting or beating them. There may be a big difference between what you think they need and what they want. Look, ask and listen
  5. ALL PASSION-NO PROFIT (or vice versa)profit wine
    The wine list should be a representation of the sommelier’s personality if and only if it delivers sales and profit. Wine geeks like me lament the corporate offerings in many stores and restaurants. We get equally excited by esoteric offerings. There has to be a balance though. Creative selections with periodic changes need to be priced, marketed and monitored effectively. Think of your customers, not yourself when you select wines. Analyze your sales and manage your beverage program. Excessive markups to cover up a lack of inventory control do not yield happy customers, either.

Have you witnessed or committed any of these or other career miss-steps? What are your best practices for success? Please share your comments and/or advice for those entering and progressing through the wine industry.

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