At some point in your life, you wanted to be a movie star because everybody wanted to be a movie star, or President, or Captain Kirk. But as you wound your way through your younger and more vulnerable years and looked to higher education, those dreams likely morphed into a career path that your parents and teachers encouraged would be more grounded–like marketing, law school or political science.
But when you’re 17 or 18 years of age and trying to predict what you should become for the next five decades before you retire to your home in the hills, for most people that early prediction doesn’t pan out. College ends up being either a rude awakening or four years of partying before that awakening. And in that time you’ll amass a pretty impressive amount of debt for something that might not serve a grand purpose in the grand scheme of your life.
Right now, the wine industry is one of the most exciting industries to consider as a career path. By making the choice to go into wine, you’re charting a course that gives you the potential to branch out into a multitude of areas within the same industry. Everyone starts out at the same place–unless you’ve come from a wine producing family, or have a parent that encouraged you to really learn about wine because it was ingrained in your lifestyle growing up–learning the basics. What is wine? And how is it made? And seeking the answer to those two questions alone will lead you down your own vinous path and set you on a narrative in life that ends with a chapter about owning a vineyard, a winery, a brand, or having changed the world of wine because of some innovative claim to fame.
Here are 5 reasons we think you should consider a career in wine:
1) YOU WON’T HAVE TO DEAL WITH STUDENT LOANS 40 YEARS AFTER GRADUATING
ME: “$160,000 what?”
YOU: “That’s how much I owe in student loans.”
ME: “Well, I’m sure your medical practice will pay it off in no time.”
YOU: “I majored in English.”
ME: “At least you didn’t major in theater.”
YOU: “Actually, I was a double-major. And yes, it was in theater.”
Okay: so, not everyone goes on to major in English and Theater, but many do–and many do much worse (like Poetry majors). I didn’t major in English, but I tell people all the time that I may as well have because the theater program at SUNY Purchase College–the Drama Studies Major–was really like a glorified English major, focused on the history and literature of theater, playwriting and directing (it also afforded me the opportunity to produce improved shows that were in-depth studies in drinking on-stage, so, just imagine how that helped me when I decided to interview for a public relations day-job in Mid-town Manhattan). And what fueled my enthusiasm for college life? It was college romance–yes, that kind, but also another kind…a romance of the grape kind. I discovered wine in college, and even though it was a discovery of magnums of Yellow Tail Shiraz, I had no idea it would lead me, eventually, down a vinous path. Sure, I owe about $43,000 still, but it could’ve been worse. I could’ve gone pre-med, and then found out I’d rather write about wine.
2) ONCE YOU’RE IN, YOU’VE GOT OPTIONS
Once you’ve got a foot in the door in the wine industry, it actually becomes relatively easy to move around. Unlike many professions, like, say, public relations, where once you’re in you have one kind of job and have to shuffle from company to company to get the title you want, the raise you deserve, the boss you prefer, the veritable ladder you want to climb—in the wine industry there are many more options for shifting your career within the same career. Say you started out in hospitality but are jealous of the production team–they get to work the crushpad, the vineyards, the barrel room, and it might be hard work but it interests you. One conversation with the right person at the winery and you could be showing up to work the next day wearing boots and gloves rather than dress shoes and a tie. And that works both ways. Or, say you decide to be a sommelier, working in a restaurant? Many of today’s career sommeliers decide to move on from working the floor and go into sales and marketing, or even make their own wine (look at Rajat Parr and Josh Nadel for instance). And what about becoming an educator? The industry is in need of great educators and you could be the next best one–inspiring and educating people in ways no one predicted. So, once you’re in, you’ve got options.
3) THE OLD ADAGE THAT TO MAKE $1 MILLION IN THE WINE INDUSTRY,
YOU NEED TO START WITH $2 MILLION, IS OLD NEWS
Actually, it’s gotten worse. Now you need about $10 Million just to make about $500,000. But that’s for people who leave Big Business to become vineyard and winery owners. Most of these people are forced, by their own will, to spend gobs of money on things like: planting a vineyard; building a winery; digging out caves; paying a staff to run a hospitality center; paying a marketing company to create a branded voice and image for the wine; paying a salesforce to learn the marketing material and then infiltrate the market with word of their revolutionary new wine that breaks down barriers, that changes all the rules, that demystifies wine and is worth drinking now, or perhaps, in 10 to 20 more years. But, look at that: all those jobs that need to be filled–and the idea of making a very good living in the wine industry is not a foreign one. There are jobs in the technology sector and in content-creation, branding and marketing, public relations, or on the flip side in production, hospitality and sales–and once you’re in the business, you will network and you will meet people who will tell you about their $10 million dollar winery idea, and you’ll sympathize with them because they might be looking for a new Director of Sales & Marketing. If they hire you, it’s kind of like having your own SuperPac supporter. Sort of.
4) LEARNING ABOUT WINE IS FUN
When was the last time you heard someone complain about learning about, say, grapes?
SOMEONE: “Can you believe this bullsh#t? Grapes require a bunch of sunlight and water and some other freakin’ scientific stuff just to become grapes!”
SOMEONE ELSE: “I know! I know! And what’s all this waste of stainless steel? Stainless steel tanks and stainless steel barrels for making wine?”
SOMEONE: “And don’t get me started on class today! Can you believe they made us sit in a private room of a winery and taste and talk about wine all morning long! All before lunch!”
SOMEONE ELSE: “Never in my life…”
Yeah. Learning about wine is exciting because it’s hands on–especially when tasting is involved–and is instantly gratifying. You’ll discover something new about the industry, or about how wine is made, that will tie in other elements of daily life. An education in wine–learning about how it’s made and what forces require an entire industry to package, move and sell that wine–will help make you a more conscious consumer of everything in life. You’ll gain new perspectives on farming, and on what it means to grow grapes that are organic vs. biodynamic and you’ll soon discover that there are legitimate reasons for why some countries impose strict regulations on growing grapes as well as regulations on the production of wines from those grapes. There are reasons why Italians make wines that are righteously high in acid, fresh and fruity, just as there are reason why producers in Santorini, Greece make bright, high-acid, mineral-driven wines. An education in wine is also an education in world culture, world cuisine, and global lifestyles.
5) THE INDUSTRY IS CHANGING AND NEEDS MORE THOUGHT-LEADERS
We are legitimately on the cusp of a new era in wine. You might hear talk about the “Old Guard” of personalities in the wine industry, and rather than stick your nose up at them, consider all they’ve done for the wine industry. Old school sommeliers, like Fred Dame, MS, and Tim Hanni, MW, and scores of salespeople, sommeliers, winery owners, winemakers and more, all the men and women who have made this industry their industry and have done everything in their power to see it overcome the obstacles of prohibition, and old prohibitionary laws that make it difficult to sell wine in the U.S., and who have fought to change negatively charged stygmatized perception of the industry.
We’re seeing a unified effort now of Old Guard and New Age teachers who believe that the Sommelier is leading the battle of education and brand awareness at the restaurant front, who also believe in the power of the retail chain to shape wine trends of the future. But the Old Guard is getting old and the industry, like all industries, can only evolve when new life is breathed into it–when new ideas are taken up by a few, perhaps eventually adopted by many, but an industry will die along with its Old Guard if there isn’t an influx of new energy and new personalities.
The best example to help illustrate this is in the story of critic Robert M. Parker Jr.–the most famous, or infamous, critic of them all. Parker was a beacon of light for consumers who were afraid of making a bad choice when selecting a wine. Then Parker’s fame, a result of his prediction that the 1982 Bordeaux vintage would be the best of the century, elevated him to the Parker we know now–the Parker that many big buyers would align themselves with and leverage as their Messiah, leading them toward the best wines the global industry had to offer. And yes, there are plenty of other critics who have also driven purchasing decisions in the industry, but none are so powerful or as well known as Parker. And who will fill his shoes? It will not be one person–it will take an army of people to fill his shoes. And it’s not that industry needs another all-powerful critic. What we need are people like Parker, who can touch hundreds, thousands and millions of people with a piece of information about a wine, or about a wine region, in ways that inspire a new wave of wine drinkers–a Great Society of Wine Drinkers–a wine-minded community of the future that is educated, that is curious, that is always seeking the next best thing, but, that has one foot rooted in the knowledge of the past. Without the good and bad that is the past, we cannot know the right way forward.
What an exciting time! What other industry tells such an American story so rich with history, so connected to the land, so eager to bloom into the industry it was always meant to be? You can be part of a movement of new voices that are helping to shape the wine industry of tomorrow.
Oh, and did I mention the fringe benefits? Well, if it wasn’t already clear, they include… wine, wine and yes, some crackers, but also wine.