How to Land a Job in a Challenging Wine Market

The statistics on US and global wine sales are at best mixed.  It appears consumers are drinking less wine – although the wines they do drink are higher quality and higher prices. The new generations that have come of legal drinking age in the last 10 years – Millennials and the older portion of Gen Z – look at all alcohol with an eye to its detriment to health.  When they do choose alcoholic beverages, they often tend to be ready-to-drink cocktails and hard seltzers.

If you are looking to enter the wine industry the trends described above may give you, as well as potential employers pause.  You may be thinking “will there be openings in the industry for me?” While potential employers may be skittish on adding staff.  Still, there are things you can do to maximize your chances at being hired.

First, think about what you do well and like to do.  Do you enjoy selling customers on wine?  If you enjoy customer service and talking to people about wine, you might want to consider a retail sales job.  Start by identifying wine shops in your area which you like, have strong reputations and often seem busy, particularly on weekends.  Go in and talk to staff there.  Ask them what it is like to work there, what owners look for in hiring and whether there is any part- or full-time opportunities.

Try to get a name and contact for the shop owner /manager. If they are not there when you make your first contact, then contact them and ask for opportunity to have an informational interview with them.  Ask them how they got into the industry and what they would recommend for you.  If you have a good feeling about them, ask if there are any even part time needs and be prepared to start at the bottom and work unpopular hours. If you do enough of these interviews you are bound to land some part time work.

If you are more into winemaking you need to research the vineyards in your area.  Find out who is in charge of bringing on interns and do the same type of informational interview.  Be willing to work for free as a starting point.  If they have no internships, ask if there are select days during the harvest where they may need extra help and let them know you are willing to come in at a moment’s notice.  Finally, if they seem to have no opportunities, ask who else – and what other vineyards – you should speak to.

Your success in any interview and ultimately entering the industry will be more successful if you have some respected wine education credential.  The educational experience not only tells the person you speak with that you know something about wine, but it also has a few other advantages:

  • It gives you more confidence at presenting yourself in an interview
  • It enables you to dig deeper in responding to questions
  • The classes allow you an opportunity to network with other students and teachers about opportunities.

The idea of creating confidence is behind all WSET course which is why we feel so strongly about them.  In a down wine market this type of education is even more valuable.  You can see everything we offer at https://www.grapeexperience.com.

WSET Level 3 Wine Certificate in Wine: The Perfect Course for a Career in Wine

The WSET Level 3 Certificate in wine is one of the most enduring and popular courses in wine education. Level 3 has been part of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) curriculum for over 50 years and is respected and by every profession in the wine industry:  sommeliers, retailers, importers, distributors, producers, and wine writers.  It is the perfect course for a wine professional or someone looking to join the industry.  It is also ideal for consumers who want a deeper dive into what is driving today’s wine styles.

The beauty of the WSET Level 3 program is that it has continued to evolve as consumer tastes, climates, technology, and trends have changed.  The course provides a deep and broad foundation on what drives production decisions – natural factors and human choices – that ultimately result in specific styles.  In doing so it delves into every major wine region and in the last 20 years that means greater attention to wines produced outside of Europe.

WSET Level 3 also focuses on tasting a huge range of wines –from global locations, price points and volume levels.  The aim is to help identify the objective elements that define quality, while also understanding through a tasting experience how natural and human factors manifest themselves in the glass.

For individuals studying to be a sommelier, WSET Level 3 provides the theory needed to be confident about wine facts and make the most out of food and wine pairings.  For anyone else in the industry that same confidence allows them to make better decisions and have substantive conversations with colleagues, producers, or consumers.

WSET Level 3 also attracts consumers who have a love of wine, food and culture because it goes beyond surface facts and really focuses in on how and why wines differ from each other.  The level of knowledge that one has after taking Level 3 is something that will last and develop for a lifetime.

For all these reasons and more WSET Level 3 is the perfect course for anyone with a desire to work in or just better enjoy wine.  You can see the next WSET Level 3 offerings at Grape Experience by clicking on this link: https://www.grapeexperience.com/advanced-certificate-wine/

What to Give a Wine Lover – or a Wine Curious Person – for the Holidays

The holiday season is here and if you are wondering what to give the people in your life who are into wine or those people who are just lovers of food, wine and culture we have some ideas.  A wine class is always a fun experience for someone who just wants to experience wine at a deeper level.  But for many people that might be too big a leap so how about a bottle of wine from somewhere unexpected?

Wine Classes
There are so many classes available out there and if there was anything good coming out of the pandemic it was the emergence of a wide array of courses that can be taken remotely.  At Grape Experience we offer WSET Level 1 Wine and Level 2 Wine (along with Sake Level 1) in a hybrid format.  For these two beginner wine courses participants get free tasting kits and several live online class sessions.  These live sessions are also recorded so if you miss the live class you can watch it on your own schedule.

Both Level 1 and Level 2 are fun beginner courses.  They look at the major styles of wines and how they differ throughout the world.  Partcipants come out with greater knowledge and confidence about choosing wines and how to pair them with food.

Purchasing a Gift Bottle
A gift of a bottle of wine is always appreciated but to make it not just something ordinary there are many things you can do:

  • Find a region that may be unusual: The country of Georgia, Greece, Uruguay, Corsica, Israel, Tasmania are all possibilities.
  • Find a know style of variety from an unexpected place: English Sparkling Wine, Alsation or German Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo from Virginia, Cabernet Franc from New York all come to mind
  • Purchase a style that the recipient might not but for themselves such as sweet wines from Tokaji in Hungary, White Port or Sparkling Shiraz from Australia.

They key is to be creative here so that the person gets something that is memorable.

There are so many options for anyone who is interested in food, wine, pop culture or just understanding trends in each of these areas.  Have fun with your gift choices!

3 Things Needed to Become a Sommelier or Wine Expert

The question that I am most frequently asked is, “how do I become a sommelier?” or “how do I become a wine expert and get a wine job?”  Although there is no silver bullet answer that I can give, there are three elements that anyone can work towards that will make entering the wine industry more successful and enjoyable:  confidence, knowledge, and tasting for quality.

Confidence is something anyone can achieve by building a knowledge base and developing a key set of skills.  The more you study wine the more you realize there is more to learn.  However, by building a foundation of information on wine production, you gain confidence.  That confidence helps you express yourself and react to others’ ideas with conviction. It also provides a solid base on which to continue to learn – be it in a classroom, during winery visits and on the job.  Confidence will help you appear stronger to potential employers by being able to understand, answer and build off their questions.

So how do you get that confidence or the knowledge base from which confidence comes?  There are two skills that are critical:  explanation and discussion of winemaking concepts and learning how to taste wine for quality.

Many people want to be in the wine industry because they like the pleasure and taste of wine.  They find theory interesting to a point but then lose interest.  The truth is that most of wine work does not involve tasting but rather focuses on theory.  If you work in wine retail or distribution it is unlikely that you will taste all of wines in your portfolio or inventory.  Even sommeliers who, at lease initially, taste most of the wines on their list, may not have tried everything or the latest vintage that has been produced.  The way to fill that gap is to understand the theory behind that wine.

Confidence comes from looking at any major wine label and, without having tasted the contents of the bottle, be able to convey what that wine should taste like and why.  The best way to achieve this is to take a comprehensive wine survey course.  There are several classes that may fit the bill, but we recommend the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 course.  This program has been taught around the world for over 50 years and is specifically designed to build expertise and confidence.  You can find out more at: Wine Courses for Beginners

Tasting is the element that most people both look forward to and at the same time dread!  First, let’s define tasting at the professional level.  This type of tasting is not about “do I like this wine” or “do I want to purchase a bottle.”  Rather, it is about is this a good wine for the purpose for which it was made and is it representative of its region and style type.  There are several wines that are made for mass market retailers or restaurants that are not meant to be complex or age worthy.  It is just as important to distinguish quality here as it is when looking at premium wines.

Why do people dread tasting?  The answer is lack of confidence.  Most people doubt their ability to taste accurately thinking “what if I mistake a Grand Cru Burgundy for a Napa Cab?”  The issue isn’t tasting blind but rather understanding the key components that make up a wine:  appearance (color), Nose (aroma), Palate (acid, tannin, body, finish, etc.).  All of this can be learned and the way to make it easier is to have a specific system and process to do so.  WSET’s Systematic Approach to Tasting does just that.  Other courses should do so as well, or they are not worth taking.

By building confidence through theory and tasting skills you will not only enjoy wine more and make yourself more suitable for a wine job, but you will also be better informed as to what part of the industry – if any – you would like to join.

Wine and YouTube

The proliferation of streaming services available to everyone has certainly expanded the way we can learn about wine.  Just searching for a wine type, wine region, winemaker or brand will bring up a number of options.  We can add on top of that searches for advice in wine careers or the process of grape growing and winemaking.  The number of channels is seemingly endless!

Given all options, I have a few favorite You Tube/content channels and suggestions for how to navigate all the content that is available.

WSET Bitesize – https://www.youtube.com/@WSETGLOBAL

This is a channel developed by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust to give people short spurts of information on a wide range of wine topics.  Because it is from WSET you know that it is accurate and not just some random blogger’s idea of what is correct.  The short format makes it easy to watch and remember and the production value is really good.

True Wine – https://www.youtube.com/@TrueWine

If I have a personal favorite YouTube wine channel this is it. Kyle Billings makes wine easy to understand especially at the most technical levels.  His approach and style are clear, friendly and he demystifies wine.  If you are beyond the beginner stage this is the channel for you.  That said, even beginners will benefit and love True Wine and Kyle’s approach.  From Champagne to Australia to passing WSET exams to picking out wedding wines, Kyle covers it all.  This channel is like talking to a friend who really knows their stuff and will make you excited to learn more.

Wine Masters – https://www.youtube.com/@WineMasters/videos

This channel often goes on site to speak with winemakers or taste wines.  There are several hosts, one of whom, Christy Canterbury MW is a personal friend.  What I like about Wine Masters is that you never know what you are going to get, and it is always at least interesting.

Jancis Robinson – https://www.youtube.com/@jancis.robinson

Jancis is the Dean of wine experts in my mind and someone who I admire beyond words.  She was the first female Master of Wine and writes on Wine for the Financial Times.  Her web site jancisrobinson.com is a compendium of articles, reviews and a literal encyclopedia of everything in the wine world.  Jancis is one of the most respected wine professionals in world and her selection of videos – many over 10-15 minutes in length – are invaluable.

Of course, just putting a wine subject into the search box at YouTube will bring up many more channels and content.  Some of these will be great and others you can take with “a grain of salt.” I recommend using the search function if you have a specific subject or process that you are interested in.  See what comes up and then check out the channels above and see if they also have something about that subject.  The more you explore the more you will learn what content is accurate and what is exaggerated of incorrect.

The important thing is to have fun with all of this.  Wine videos can become addictive.  Keep exploring, tasting and never ever be intimidated. Wine should always be first and foremost about fun.