After researching several wine certification programs and schools, Jennifer Curry chose to further her education with the Napa Valley Wine Academy because she said was impressed by our instructors’ credentials and of the “array of certifications and programs available. She also “loved that the Academy was in the heart of Napa Valley!”
Curry says that her initial goal was simple: “I wanted to take my fundamental wine experience and immerse myself in theory, knowledge and any hands-on experience for exposure.” After leaving behind a career in recruiting she was in exploratory mode and “starting the WSET program gave me the jump-start I needed to enter the wine world,” she said.
Those initial intentions would lead to an incredible opportunity just one year later.
In August of 2015 Curry started an internship at RARECAT Wines with Sharon Kazan Harris, Owner and Director of Winemaking at RARECAT Wines. Harris put Curry to work, focusing on business development, production, and the launch of a new consulting business called RARECAT Professional, a program devised by Harris, which designs programs for businesses using wine as a business tool. “I’m excited to share that my internship morphed into a full-time position in January of 2016 at RARECAT Wines!” she told us on a recent visit to the Academy.
We sat down with Jennifer when she was in town last week and talked about her new experiences beyond the classroom. Check out the interview below, in which Curry divulges details on a new initiative she’s spearheading called the RARECAT Ambassador Program–this could be your first foray into wine–and pay close attention to how RARECAT is re-shaping their client experiences. It’s a bold move for a winery.
NAPA VALLEY WINE ACADEMY: Tell us about your experience at RARECAT and the fact that you ended up making a wine!
JENNIFER CURRY: I interviewed with a few wineries seeking interns and chose to work with Sharon Kazan Harris, Owner and Director of Winemaking, at RARECAT Wines. Sharon is a huge proponent of women in wine, thrives on providing wine education, shares my love of the blend of science and art in winemaking, and produces wine representing two viticulture worlds that I really enjoy, California and France. The internship was very well rounded allowing me to work all areas of an established winery from production, business development, operations, and creating special client experiences. The weekend I arrived from North Carolina I jumped right in and met some special RARECAT clients and helped to pour wine.
Q: What kinds of work were you doing right out the gate?
With the early harvest in Napa, I started working almost immediately with our consultant winemakers Joel Aiken for the production of RARECAT’s 2015 Old Toll Cabernet, and Rollie Heitz for RARECAT’s 2015 Rosé. The Rosé production was my pet project and for the next six weeks I worked with Rollie and Sharon, relating what I had learned in class to the winemaking process. I sorted, crushed, pressed, racked, pulled samples, blended, and bottled. I was able to work with and learn from two extremely well-respected winemakers in Napa. The RARECAT 2014 Rosé was named “Brigitte,” after Brigitte Bardot because she was a rarecat–a woman of such magnificent beauty, a rarity. My internship ended with Sharon’s offer to work full time at RARECAT and to eventually put “Jennifer” on the label! I do not look like Brigitte, however, Sharon told me I was a true “RARECAT” and that’s good enough for me!
Q: That’s quite an honor! How much rosé did you make?
We produced 335 cases of RARECAT 2015 “Jennifer” Rosé. It’s made with Grenache and Viognier in a Provence style–bone dry with beautiful acidity. Our total production for 2016 is 1,200 cases, comprised of our pedigree RARECAT Old Toll Cabernet, RARECAT Bordeaux being produced in St. Emilion, due to arrive the end of March, and RARECAT vintage Blanc de Blanc Champagne being produced by our partner Michel Gonet in the Cote de Sezanne with expected delivery the end of May.
Q: During your internship, Sharon brought up the idea of an “Ambassador Program” and asked you to work on it. Tell us about the program–who is it intended for? What do Ambassadors do? How long do they hold the position?
Yes, Sharon is a visionary. She thinks big and executes! Sharon realized she needed help to make the RARECAT Ambassador program come together. The program was designed to provide certified wine experts, job re-booters, and people with a love and food and wine an opportunity to work for a fine wine producer in Napa Valley. Ambassadors are part of a network of wine stewards and sell all RARECAT wines and products such as RARECAT Professional educational seminars and at the RARECAT Villa in Bordeaux, for those seeking a wine excursion in the heart of St. Emilion. The most successful Ambassadors leverage their contacts and earn all their income on direct to consumer sales.
Q: Is an Ambassador a full-time employee? Or contractor?
All Ambassadors are “at-will” independent contractors, self-starters, and love connecting and collaborating with others. They have the flexibility to work and earn as much or as little as they want and earn healthy commissions on their sales. The ideal Ambassadors are perceived as wine experts, referred to for wine recommendations, have a large network of contacts to share their love and expertise of fine wine, and can demonstrate with excellence their knowledge of our products and services. We just completed a two-day training retreat for our new Ambassadors so they have the tools and resources to be successful. RARECAT Ambassadors can work with us as long as they want. We understand that lives change and no matter what, we want our Ambassadors to still stay connected to RARECAT in other ways!
Q: You mentioned that RARECAT is also changing their sales model and this involves the new Ambassadors?
Creating beautiful client experiences at RARECAT are important. All of our clients will be assigned to an Ambassador and those Ambassadors help to facilitate all sales transactions. Therefore, we have removed the option to order through our website. A client’s Ambassador can enter an order or that Ambassador can send a special store link for them to order. This is part of the RARECAT experience, making special connection points with every RARECAT client!
Q: How do people sign up for the Ambassador program?
We would like to grow the RARECAT Ambassador program carefully and with intention. Our goal is to find the right people that share a joie de vivre and RARECAT’s vision of making the world a better place by connecting people over a glass of wine and mission to create artful, inspired experiences that connect us to community through wine, education, charitable contributions, and stewardship. Our goal is to create beautiful memories by crafting elegant wines that can be shared. Interested prospects can apply by starting here: https://www.rarecatwines.com/Connect/RARECAT-Ambassador