I’m often asked ‘How can I get a job in wine?’ Many of us are re-assessing the status quo these days. And with that in mind, quite a few are taking a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) wine course as a springboard to a new lifestyle. And recently, I have been able to match up students with roles I come across in the industry. Some are starting out, others are switching careers mid-life, and some are in the final chapters of their working life looking for part-time roles. Whatever stage you are at, here’s some general advice I would offer up:
What are my strengths?
When I discuss this with students, most are surprised when I ask them what they want to do. They haven’t really thought it through. And so they answer “anything really.” In fairness, one of my best friends confessed that he thought I spent all day sitting down tasting wine. I had to break it to him – there is no such job!
I would encourage you to assess your own personal strengths and experiences. What skills can you transfer to a role in or around the wine industry? The reality is that the wine business is a business like any other, where accountants, HR, IT people etc all have roles.
What kind of jobs in wine are out there?
WSET blogged about how some top jobs were landed in the drinks industry earlier this year. Worth reading.
In all cases, wine education, specifically, a WSET wine course, was a cornerstone to success. Hard work, networking and a certain amount of serendipity also help.
Here are some wine jobs to consider in this country. Each has its own skill set. It’s worth mentioning that personality plays a strong part too. Let’s look at some specific roles:
Hospitality – restaurants, wine bars and hotels
So many of my students are taking wine courses to give them confidence selling and serving wine. And that’s a win/win for the business – they sell better wine, give their customers great experiences, enjoy repeat business and recommendations to others. It’s not surprising that so many hospitality venues who win awards invest in wine education for their staff. That investment can be informal, on the job mentoring. Or it can be formal wine education like WSET or French Wine Scholar.
A wine qualification will make you stand out from your peers when applying for a job. And, if you are looking to diversify from another position, the hospitality sector offers lots of scope to find out if it’s for you. Busier venues will have opportunities for extra shifts. According to my students, there’s good money to be earned, plus great job satisfaction, for good sommeliers, particularly in the USA.
Retail wine jobs
This includes wine shops, independent off licences and chains, as well as the supermarket sector. Retail is possibly one of the easiest roles to find, give the number of retailers. And they need extra staff for weekends, and in the run up to Christmas. Like the hospitality sector, many wine shops and off licence chains have wine events like wine tastings, wine clubs and wine dinners, which can make the role more interesting. In addition, many wine shops are moving to a hybrid model, where they have a wine bar/cafe within a shop, making it a buzzy environment to work in.
Import/ Wholesale – Wine buyer
This is perhaps the dream job in wine. Wine Buyer roles are slim on the ground in a small country like Ireland. It’s worth knowing that there are very few companies in this country who have a dedicate wine buyer. Most dovetail this function with sales or running their company. Years of experience, hard work as well as product knowledge all come together in this. WSET wrote a blog about How to become a wine buyer.
You could work as a salesperson for an importer selling wine to restaurants, hotels, wine shops/off licences, and supermarkets. The company car, and insurance is a big draw for younger people starting out! Don’t be surprised to find yourself selling coffee or cantucci, or haggling the price of slabs of beer, while you are selling the virtues of your artisan Italian wine producer! If you aren’t confident in your product, and its selling points, you will be kicked down the line for the cheapest price. And that’s not a nice position to be in! Your customers want to be able to describe what’s special about this wine, so that’s where wine education helps you tell that wine story.
It’s fair to comment that being a restaurateur does not confer automatic wine knowledge. Many restaurateurs rely on salespeople to advise them.
What varieties should I offer as house wines?
Is my wine list missing anything?
Do I need special wines to go with my spicy food?
How can I train my staff?
These are all expected of a good wine salesperson. And that’s where a WSET Level 2 Wine course comes in handy!
And of course, these salespeople need a sales manager. As in other industries, sales managers need to deliver on sales targets and satisfy shareholders’ expectations! Contrary to popular myth, it’s not a series of long lunches and golf outings!
(A small number of wine producers employ a local person in Ireland to sell directly to retailers).
Merchandising wines in a retail environment can often be an indirect route to a precious sales job. Companies selling branded wines employ in-house or contract merchandisers.
Jobs in Wine Marketing/Wine PR/event management
I worked in this area for many years. Most importers need a marketing input to a greater or lesser degree. Smaller companies and smaller hospitality venues often have someone inhouse to promote their business. Larger importers and hospitality/retail chains have a marketing function. It’s probably fair to say that those with strong beer and spirit brands employ more marketeers. They sometimes use specialist agency staff to supplement that. There’s a number of agencies which specialise in food/drink/hospitality, often providing specific PR or social media support. You can tell which of these have had some wine training – it shows through in how they set up their wine events.
Wine writing/ Media
Traditional wine journalist roles are thin on the ground, and it’s a competitive environment, to say the least! WSET blogged about how to become a wine writer recently.
Social media gives everyone a voice and potential platform these days. I’ve had quite a few bloggers who have come to me to learn about wine, so they can get their facts straight when writing their blogs, or creating content. These areas have all multiplied in the last decade. If your skill is in this area, and you have a passion for wine, it’s something that you could develop either part-time or full-time.
Customer service & order processing. Trade customers still order wines the traditional way, phoning in weekly orders. I’ve had quite a few people whose order-processing job has been made easier, thanks to some wine knowledge.
Logistics –Forecasting, ordering, supply chain management all demand a degree of insight into wine. I’ve had some people working in shipping and freight who have got bitten by the bug, and taken an interest in learning about wine too. And I know some delivery men who know more about wine than the person signing the delivery docket!
Accounting, IT, HR – see note below on smaller organisations.
Wine Education, Wine Tastings
It would be extremely difficult to make a living solely in education or wine tastings in this country. These would normally be part-time or as part of another job in sales or hospitality.
Or do you want to be a winemaker?
Or in another hands-on role like a cellar-hand or vineyard worker? A couple of my younger students have gone abroad and worked in wineries and vineyards in Europe and North America for a spell. You can study viticulture and winemaking in Plumpton College in Sussex in England.
What type of organisation is best to work for?
It’s worth considering what kind of organisation you apply to. Some smaller, family-run business have less job demarcation, so it’s an all-hands on deck approach. HR, accountants, and everyone get to muck in, especially at Christmas. I was lucky to work in Findlaters for many years, and had the benefit of decades of knowledge from my ever-supportive peers. Some of these companies might be amenable to some part time help in the areas of IT/ social media – definitely worth investigating.
I’ve come across quite a few people working in smaller companies who are keen to learn about wine so that they can get involved in the more ‘social’ aspects of the business, like wine tastings & events. An outgoing personality can be useful in this situation.
How much will I earn?
Another consideration is financial reward. The wine business is not well paid. The person who earns most in wine is the Customs & Excise person!
I know some individuals who take weekend jobs or occasional shifts, while continuing to work at their main job. Others take a part-time role when they retire, or use their redundancy package to cushion a part time job. If you are need an income (and most of us have mortgages & bills to pay), I’d encourage people to push yourself and take on a temporary or part-time role for a period of time, to see how it suits. There’s upsides and downsides to every job, and dipping your toe is the best way to find out if it’s for you.
Here’s another WSET blog on building a career in wine.
I hope you found this useful. Feel free to comment, or share your experience or advice .