Wine Career

STARTING YOUR WINE CAREER

One of the best things about the wine industry are the incredible people you meet, many of whom found wine and knew, that was it!

Just like you and I, they needed to make a career out of this passion. But how did they translate this love of wine into a business or profession?

Here are some wine career stories I've come across, that I hope will inspire you in your journey.

How Jancis got her start as a wine writer.

How Whitney became a sommelier

You can find more wine playlists in my YouTube channel - where I've put together over 60 video playlists for each wine region and type of fortified and spirit, to help with your studying.

Do you have a video or podcast to recommend about how a figure in the wine industry got their start? Please share your wisdom in the comments!

DÉCOUVERTES EN VALLÉE DU RHÔNE 2017

Have you heard about this incredible travelling trade tour in the Rhône Valley?

Taking place this year from April 10-13, it's a great way to explore this important wine region, and open to media & people in the wine trade.

Visitors will travel from Avignon up into the Northern Rhône to Mauves, Tain l'Hermitage, and finally to Ampuis, with trade tastings and seminars at each stop. The tastings and events are free, and you'll need to cover your own travel and hotel costs. What a way to learn more about the Rhône!

A trade tasting in Avignon

A trade tasting in Avignon

Of the over 650 producers who will be at the tastings (pouring an impressive array of 4,000+ wines), you'll find wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Beaumes de Venise, Tavel, and more from the Southern Rhône while in Avignon. In Tain l'Hermitage and Mauves, you'll explore wines from Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Cornas and Saint-Peray. In Ampuis, get ready to learn more about the wines of Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu.

Not a bad spot to taste wine in!

Not a bad spot to taste wine in!

You can find out more about Découvertes and register here.

For those of us who'd like to go but can't make it this time because we're busy studying, I found an educational game in the milieu of Carmen Sandiego produced by Rhône Valley Wines, called Le Rhône Valley Club. Once you register, you can log in to learn with all kinds of activities. A fun way to review the region!

 

All images courtesy of Rhône Valley Wines.

SETTING WINE GOALS FOR 2017

Do you set New Year goals? I pulled up my 2016 goals to take a peek at what I set out to achieve, and realized how many items related to wine, including finishing the WSET Diploma.

For 2017, I thought it would be fun to set a completely new set of goals totally specific to wine, and hope you can join in with me.

Last Year's Goals

Here are a few things I worked on last year:

Train as a wine judge: One of the most incredible things I set out to do was attend the International Wine & Spirit Competition, to train as a wine judge. The WSET has a program where Diploma students can apply to attend as an Associate Judge and learn firsthand how to judge wine. The application details are available in the WSET Global portal. I flew into London for several days of judging US and Canadian wines, and it was one of the coolest wine experiences I've had. I got the news a few weeks ago that I'd been promoted to Full Judge status, and will be back to London to judge this spring. Very exciting! If you're completing your Diploma right now, I highly recommend applying for this opportunity.

Become a VIA Italian Wine Ambassador: Vinitaly Academy runs a fantastic program in Verona, Italy each year. You get five days of classroom instruction from Ian d'Agata (author of Native Wine Grapes of Italy), and a full pass to Vinitaly wine festival, along with the chance to attend exclusive tastings around the city (our class saw Sting at a private performance in a palace at OperaWine!). It was wonderful meeting wine students from around the world. I also spent some extra time touring Valpolicella, Lake Garda, and Venice, and loved my time in what's called the Second Rome (aka Verona - it has lots of ruins and ancient wine cellars under the restaurants). If you're into Italian wine, you can apply to the program here. Caveat: the exam is very tough :O

Work on a vineyard: Last summer, my husband and I bought a five acre organic vineyard in BC's Similkameen Valley. It's a beautiful place filled with organic farms and orchards, just west of the Okanagan Valley, and a 3.5 hour drive from Vancouver. The Similkameen has all kinds of wildlife (hawks, quails, bears, coyotes), and skies that are always changing due to the winds blowing in from four directions. The vineyard is a fixer-upper project, and hasn't been pruned in a few years, so I'm looking forward to learning first hand how to restore the vines to productivity, and even graft new varietals. Phylloxera isn't so bad there, so many vines in the area are own-rooted.

{Do you have a suggestion for a red grape that will do well in a windy, short season area, where it can get to 40 degrees celsius in summer? Gamay, Zinfandel & Cabernet Franc are in the running}

The vineyard in autumn. You can see the Chardonnay vines are looking a little scraggly!

The vineyard in autumn. You can see the Chardonnay vines are looking a little scraggly!

Write a book: For several years, I've been dreaming of writing a guide to the wineries of the Okanagan & Similkameen. My book Winetripping was published last summer and it was a thrill to see this project come to life after visiting and researching hundreds of local wineries. Most important was how much I learned about BC wine and wineries, and supporting those wineries by promoting visitors and wine lovers to buy directly from them!

Setting 2017 Goals

Here are some ideas for planning your own wine-related goals for the upcoming year:

Travel to _____: Where's somewhere you've always wanted to visit, to try the local wines? For me, it's Portugal, to stay in Oporto and tour the Douro Valley. 

Try _______ wine: What wine have you always read about and wanted to try, and how can you make this happen? Or, what's a wine area that you want to get to know better? I want to try older vintages of wine from classic regions (such as Bordeaux, Vintage Port, and Champagne), something that doesn't happen too often as they can be expensive - I'm planning a group tasting so that everyone can share and enjoy the wine together. In terms of regions, I want to taste more wines from the lesser seen appellations of California.

Take the ______ wine course: Is there a wine designation or course you want to complete this year? Maybe it's the final unit of the WSET Diploma, the French Wine Scholar program, or becoming a Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Somm. Maybe you're thinking of applying to enter the Master of Wine program? That's my big education goal for the year - finger's crossed!

________ wine skill: What's the #1 wine skill you want to master in 2017? It could be sabering bottles, blind tasting, learning to make wine, or working a harvest. This year, the wine skill I'm working on is learning to care for a vineyard, specifically how to prune vines.

________ wine project: Do you want to set up a blind tasting group, a wine blog, write a guidebook, or read through a wine library - what's a wine project you want to create this year? I've got an idea that has me pretty excited, and isn't that the point?

I hope this list has inspired you to write out a few wine specific goals for the year! Let me know in the comments what your 2017 goals are :) I look forward to reading them!

Cheers,

Rachel

WINE CAREER Q&A WITH JOANNE DIGESO

This is the third Q&A in a series, wherein I'm asking friends I've met in the wine world about their experiences taking WSET and their career in wine. I hope you enjoy!

Today, I'm chatting with the charming Joanne DiGeso; we met while taking the VIA Italian Wine Ambassador program together in Verona.

Q Hi Joanne, can you share with readers about where you’re at in the WSET Diploma right now? What’s been the most challenging unit thus far (and did the difficulty level line up with your expectations)? 

A: The most challenging unit is the unit 3, in Level 4 Diploma, Light Wines of the World. The difficulty lay in the breadth of the course, and how much detail you needed to know for every wine-growing region in the world. Furthermore, I was working as the Wine Director at the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler and there were months of 15-hour workdays. So, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to cover enough. When the day came, my study group and I decided that if we had to take the exam over again, at least we would know those chapters so much more intimately. 

The difficulty did not line up with my expectations – ha! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an easy exam. I made some silly errors (such as I forgot to fill out the region of origin and the final analysis in the right section of one of the tasting papers) and I certainly could have done better. In fact, I won’t know until September if I passed. But I’m quite confident that I did!

Q What’s your best study tip? 

A: Start a tasting group right away! Meet every week and make sure you read the Specification guide. Your friends will help you with your weaknesses. Most people feel concerned about the blind tasting so it’s good to get on it immediately. After a few months, start writing timed essay questions together. Know that in fact more people fail the theory then the tasting. 

Q How do you feel the Diploma has impacted your career or presented you with career opportunities? 

A: Contacts. You form bonds with the people in your class and those contacts prove very useful in future job opportunities. You also have many different experts presenting each class. These contacts are invaluable as they are leaders in our field. 

Q You’ve been a sommelier at some of the top restaurants in Canada, what’s it like to manage such an impressive cellar, and what are the best and most challenging parts of the job?

A: Haha, who’s going to be reading this?!

It is of course an honour and a very special thing to be in charge of a huge cellar. When you have access to a huge cellar with old and diverse wines, you get to taste them too. Having the ability to offer the best of everything to a customer is what makes this job interesting, and being able to surprise our customers with hidden treasures from the cellar, makes our nerdiness and passion shine on the job.

The challenging part for me was to coordinate the needs of my boss and the requirements of the accountants who wanted totally different things in regards to inventory and availability. There was also trying to keep the catering manager content and having to explain why wines for groups will not come in within a week’s deadline in the BC liquor ordering system. And then, of course there are the weekly stops at the BC Liquor store trying to find wines that haven’t arrived after 7 weeks. 

I think we all have a romantic image of a sommelier tasting wines all day and poetically waxing their attributes to guests in the restaurant. There seems to be a lot less of this than I previously thought! 

Q What’s the coolest wine you’ve been able to try because of your somm career?

A: My favourite was a 1945 Marques de Riscal Gran Reserva Rioja because it still tasted somewhat fresh and not completely tertiary. There was still some plum fruit in there!

Q Where do you see your career progressing as you complete the Diploma?

A: I definitely want to be even more engaged with wine makers all around the world and in traveling a lot more to meet them. I love hearing their stories, their challenges and the risks they had to take in order to make the precious liquid gold elixir that we get to drink.

I’m also looking forward to sharing my experience on the field with others through my website SommWine.com.  

Q Wildcard: anything else you want to share? 

A: WSET is definitely under-represented in the public eye. Movies such as “Somm” explain the path to becoming a Master Sommelier but most people don’t know about the Master of Wine program.

WSET is an internationally renowned program, widely used in the wine industry and I would love to spread the word on the big screen! You are thinking of doing your MW as well, correct? Maybe we should star in a movie about that together! 

Absolutely! The MW Journey: There and Back Again :) 

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Thanks for reading! I hope you gained some insight on taking the Diploma and working as a high profile somm from Joanne. You can catch her on Twitter @sommwine or Instagram @sommwine.ca and feel free to leave your comments and questions below.

Cheers, Rachel

WINE CAREER Q&A WITH MATTHEW LESLIE

This is the second Q&A in a series, wherein I'm asking friends I've met in the wine world about their experiences taking WSET and their career in wine. I hope you enjoy! Today, I'm chatting with Matthew, who was one of the strongest tasters in our WSET Diploma classes, and an all around great guy.

Q Congrats on completing the WSET Diploma! What did you find to be the most challenging unit (and did the difficulty level of the program line up with your expectations)? 

A: Thank you and congrats to you too.  It sure is nice to have closed this chapter and be looking to the next mountain to climb.

Personally, I felt that Unit 3 was by far the most challenging in the diploma programme. The breadth and depth required to excel in this unit really tested my resolve and forced me to study much more than in previous units.  Effectively, Unit 3 is the same scope of all the other five units combined.

As far as my expectations of the difficulty in the programme, I was under no illusions that this would be an easy course to pass.  There are less than 10,000 graduates around the world since its inception and some of these names are highly recognisable in the wine trade.  I feel that the biggest difficulty is the fluidity of the wine trade; everyday something new is available: studies, journals, new Regions and Sub-regions being defined.  This is the wonderful part of studying wine, but certainly provides some added anxiety when preparing for examinations.

Q What’s your best study tip for current WSET level 4 students?

A: Spend lots of time hitting the books. Spend lots of time practicing under exam conditions. Theory is by far the hardest part of the process and tasting is just theory in practice. However, don’t let the task burden you so that you lose your passion. Keep chipping away at your goals everyday, every week, every month. Read a lot. Taste a lot. Get a great group to study with, if you can. It helps keep up your motivation.  

Moreover, whenever I felt like I was losing my passion or getting tired of studying, I would open something delicious to drink and just like magic, my love of wine would come screaming back and I’d feel reinvigorated.

Q How do you feel the Diploma has impacted your career or presented you with career opportunities? 

A: It is quite amazing how being a diploma graduate has already opened new doors for me.  I have begun teaching for Fine Vintage in Calgary and now in Edmonton as well.  I have had the chance to judge the Alberta Beverage Awards recently too.  I also own a consulting business which, when you are marketing yourself in a sea of competition, having the extra accreditation puts me at a leg up when looking for work.  Because of the relative rarity of graduates, it certainly gives potential employers pause on your resume when they see WSET Diploma. 

Q You're teaching WSET at one of the best schools in North America. What impact did the Diploma have on this? What are the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of teaching about wine?

A: I am the luckiest guy in the world.  If I had known that I could have made a life out of wine, I would have started down this path at a much earlier stage in my life.  I have previously taught ESL in Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia in addition to Phys-ed and ran staff wine trainings while I was running restaurants in Calgary and Toronto, which sparked the teaching bug in me a long time ago.  However, teaching wine professionally for Fine Vintage is equally, if differently, rewarding to me.  If not for the WSET Diploma, I would have never met James Cluer, MW, the owner of Fine Vintage, and I never would have been able to join FV as a teacher. 

I love teaching; it is stressful yet wonderful, challenging yet rewarding. It takes a lot of work by a lot of people to make sure I can stand up and run a course. And it takes lots of people caring to make it go off without issue. I get the fun part of standing in front of the group and making sure everyone is along for the journey.  

I often picture myself sitting where students are when I teach and how in a few short years they could be right alongside me, following their own dreams in the industry.  It’s the greatest feeling.  

Furthermore, I also love that it forces me to keep studying.  Students ask amazing and sometimes difficult questions that you need to have answers to, while conveying it in a language that is appropriate for the level that you’re teaching.  You can’t rest on what you know as new information is available everyday.

Q Where do you see your career progressing going forward?

A: Oh dear. That’s a tough question. There’s so much more available to me now with the diploma. Trade trips, wine judging, new job opportunities in restaurant and wine retail.  

I hope to continue teaching, judge more wine competitions and travel to more wine regions around the world.  Additionally, I have sent in an application for the Institute of Masters of Wine programme and I’m currently completing my Champagne Masters through the Wine Scholar Guild. I really like learning and want to keep progressing as a student of wine.

Professionally, I hope to get into a high level position in wine purchasing for a high quality retailer, respected import agency or restaurant group.  I’m keen to keep growing my consulting business too. And I also have a dream to make my own wine one day soon. 

Q Wildcard! Anything else you want to share?

A: It’s been said that the WSET Diploma is extremely difficult, which it is, but unlike Level 1, 2 & 3, where all the information is in the book.  At Level 4, it’s really up to you to find the answers and, more importantly, to ask the right questions.  Nobody will give you all the answers, especially WSET.  They merely guide you on what to study.  You need to find the relevant information and disseminate those parts that are useful and applicable.

There’s also something to be said for all the people that you meet.  I have met and stayed in contact with many of my classmates, teachers and guest instructors from the diploma group who are both in Calgary and further afield around the world.  At the end of the day, you will meet lots of great, dedicated, fantastic people who come from such diverse backgrounds and who all love wine at least as much as me.  To me, this has to be one of the best and most satisfying aspects of the diploma and all the hard work that goes into completing it.

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Thanks for reading! I hope you gained some insight from Matt's thoughtful responses. You can catch him on Twitter @mattyleslie and feel free to leave your comments and questions below.

Cheers, Rachel

WINE CAREER Q&A WITH COLINA MARSHALL

This is the first Q&A in a series, wherein I'm asking friends I've met in the wine world about their experiences taking WSET and their career in wine. I hope you enjoy! Today, I'm chatting with Colina, who was a superstar in our WSET Diploma classes.

Q Congratulations on achieving the WSET Diploma! What’s the biggest improvement you’ve seen in your wine-abilities since completing the program?

A: Thank you! I would say that the biggest improvement I have seen is my ability to speak to wine in a way that everyone can understand. At the winery we are constantly explaining the winemaking process to people of all levels of wine education and it’s really fun to make that approachable for all. I feel like I can do that in a correct, and in-depth way due to the diploma training, while still making it interesting and approachable. 

Q Which unit did you find the most challenging and why?

A: Unit 3 was definitely the most challenging for me. I think it’s because of the sheer volume of knowledge expected and the minutiae of regions that I previously didn’t even know existed, like the wines being produced in Japan, Romania and Croatia. One of the biggest obstacles is not falling into the so-called ‘rabbit-holes’ and remembering to always think of the entire world of wine. 

Q How did the Diploma compare to WSET Level 3, and was there anything that surprised you about the curriculum?

A: I remember at the time when I was taking WSET Level 3, I felt so intimidated and overwhelmed. This was especially true for me as it was the first time I had done a blind tasting under exam conditions. Comparatively to the diploma, now, it feels like it was a piece of cake. I think the most important difference for people considering the diploma coming out of Level 3 is that the Diploma demands a large piece of your time, I would not recommend having a full-time job while doing it, if you can keep your work week to <20 hours, do it. It’s not only having the 10 hours/week, to devote to studying, it’s having the time and energy to fully immerse yourself, not to mention the group tastings that are invaluable.

Being a part of a tasting group is one of the best tools I was fortunate enough to have, but it does take a time commitment. The other aspect that requires more time is sourcing the wine. While I really LOVE shopping for wine, it can be a bit of a challenge when you’re looking for some of the more esoteric pieces, luckily Calgary is such a great market there were few things I was unable to taste. 

Q You did very well in the program. Could you share your favourite study tip? {I believe I remember you mentioning writing notes on different surfaces!}

A: Forgo everything. I mean everything. Take whole days where you literally eat, sleep, study, nothing else, have meals prepared in advance for this. For the days when you can’t do this I ended up writing study notes on my glass shower door and also on my sliding glass patio door. For a while I had all of the major appellations in Burgundy listed on my shower door so I could memorize them in the mornings. Always be running through the pieces of information that are memory work, whether it’s in a line up at a grocery store, while you’re driving, always keeping them top of mind. 

Q What was your career/role while going through the program, and what do you do now? Did having the Diploma factor into getting your new job?

A: Ha, this is a bit of a loaded question for me. When I decided to start the programme I was a server at a restaurant in downtown Calgary, moved to another restaurant to manage, then went back to serving at a different location (as I didn’t have the time I needed to commit to the programme), subsequently took on a role managing a wine boutique and the time needed to study disappeared again, so as I had initially budgeted I was able to take the last month and a half of the diploma off of work to focus on studying.

After the programme I was at a crossroads. Do I stay in Calgary, the city I was born and raised in with an amazing wine culture and incredibly informed and passionate professionals? Or do I try something completely different and see the production side of the wine industry? My curiosity took me to the Okanagan where I am now employed at a working Vineyard/Winery as a tasting room and administrative assistant.

The Diploma factored into the new job as it really sparked the curiosity wanting to know more, but also has a significant amount of weight when an employer sees it on your resume. I was fortunate enough to have several options to choose from before deciding which vineyard/winery I would be working at. 

Q Can you tell me a little bit about a typical day at the winery? What’re the best and most challenging parts of your role?

A: If there is one thing I know, there is no typical day at the Vineyard/Winery. Being a part of a small team is always a quality I have loved in the roles that I’ve had, the versatility of the role and the teamwork that goes into it is motivating. Since I started almost 3 months ago I have done a range of tasks including website development, hosting tastings in our tasting room, suckering vines, bottling, shipping, balancing accounts, making arrangements for the new on-site vineyard vacation rental and, oh ya, removing snakes and birds from the tasting room. Everyday is a new adventure truly, and the variety is amazing. 

Q You recently moved from the city to wine country. What’re your favourite things about living in the heart of the Okanagan?

A: It was a big change, and to be honest it is in line with a lot of my values. I have always tried to eat local as much as possible, where in the city that can almost seem like a novelty at times, here it is just a way of life because of the amazing access to local products. The trail systems here are outstanding, there is never a shortage of activities to fill your time with. Really, if you get the opportunity to move to paradise all you can say is ‘yes!'

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Thank you for reading, and thanks Colina for your most excellent responses. You can follow Colina on Instagram @colina.k.marshall or Twitter @colina_marshall.

Please leave your comments below, I love reading them!

Cheers, Rachel