Vector image credit: iStock.com/svinka.
If you’re thinking about getting into the wine industry, a fundamental first step is to get educated about wine, because the path to your ideal job in the industry may not reveal itself until you’ve realized the level of knowledge required.
Today’s industry is highly competitive. A basic understanding of wine might be enough to get you a job working in a winery tasting room, or possibly on the production side, but if you want to rise through the ranks or become a driving force in this industry–if you want those already invested to take you seriously–one of the most important steps you’ll take in getting an education is obtaining a certification through programs like the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), the Wine Scholar Guild’s three courses like their French Wine Scholar program or through Italian Wine Central’s Italian Wine Professional program.
But when is it the right time to take that step and get certified? It all depends on where you are in life and what career path you’ve chosen. And chances are you might fall into one of these three categories:
- You’ve obtained a high school education and are thinking of launching your career in the wine industry.
- You’re in the midst of another career and are thinking about turning to wine OR you’re already in the wine industry but you’ve never taken any wine education classes.
- You’ve already had a successful career and are eager to pursue opportunities in wine as a second career.
If you are about to graduate high school and are already thinking about a career in wine, you’re likely looking into college programs that support study in oenology and viticulture programs like those offered through U.C. Davis, Washington State University, Cornell or others. Alternatively, you’ve decided to major in English, or theater, or dance, or communications, or art history, or you’ve decided it’ll be you who writes the next revolutionary line of code, so you major in computer programming at Stanford or head off to a liberal arts college. If the former is true, and wine is definitely in your future, or the later is the reality, but you’ve got wine on the brain, it’s worth thinking now about advancing your knowledge of both wine and the industry.
Depending on whether you plan to go into wine marketing, wine hospitality, production, or wine sales, in addition to your college study you’d have a major leg up if you aimed to complete the WSET programs or the CSW program by the time you graduate. And here’s why: you’ll be in your early 20s and will already have a vast understanding of how wine is made, be able to pick up any bottle and decipher a number of things just by checking out the label, be able to talk confidently about how climatic and regional differences impact grape growing and wine production, and you’ll have tasted hundreds of wines in a classroom setting, under scrutiny of your peers and instructors–in short, you’ll be ready for anything. And if you’re not sure about an in-class intensive study, there are online study options available, like those through our wine academy.
If you are already out of any secondary schooling, be it a vocational school, college or university, and are in the midst of your career as an junior account executive at a communications firm in a big city, or as an English Major (ahem), or if you might actually work in the wine industry but you’ve not taken any certification courses, so too will the WSET program or CSW program be a good match for you.
But let’s say you are working in the wine industry and have had some education, perhaps even gone through the WSET up through Level 2, 3 or even Diploma, or passed your CSW exam. Is there more you can do? Should do? Absolutely. The more knowledge you possess, the more power and confidence you will attain, and the better you’ll be at whatever your job, be it: working as a sale rep for an importer or distributor, working the floor as a sommelier, managing a retail shop, working in hospitality at a winery or on the winemaking and production side, or even as a writer, journalist, critic or educator in the wine industry–whatever your profession, there are a handful of certifications that will elevate your knowledge by honing in on a specific country, and give rise to new opportunities you might not have realized. Those courses are the French Wine Society’s French Wine Scholar program, the Italian Wine Central’s Italian Wine Professional certification and our own proprietary American Wine Studies Course.
And what if you’re working in wine on the service side, perhaps hoping to make a life-long career at it while striving to become a Master Sommelier? You might want to look into the kind of courses that bolster your chances for passing. Alternatively, for those not interested in the service side and seeking the “Master of Wine” credential, all the aforementioned certifications are critical reinforcement for that incredibly hard, and long program.
Now, what if you already had a full and successful career? You were an attorney or lawyer, you were a financial advisor, or marketing executive, perhaps you worked in the medical profession or the technology sector–whatever it was, you did it well and you made a good living and with the life you’ve led you’ve really come to appreciate wine. You’re a collector, and now you want to take your interaction beyond being a collector. That passion is spilling over, literally (how many “wine-away” bottles have you gone through?) and figuratively. A good place for you to start is with an enthusiast course or a Wine 101 course, even a Know-Before-You-Go wine tasting course, something to help build a foundation of knowledge. Get your feet wet with education and see if you’ve got the desire to learn more. And if so, if taking that step toward working in a tasting room part time is of interest, look to those WSET and CSW courses because they will give you that foundation of knowledge about the wine industry that will empower your ability to inspire the next person that comes into that tasting room–someone who, like you, thinks that maybe a career in the wine industry is something they could make their life’s work.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Cristaldi is the Editor-in-Chief of NapaValleyWineAcademy.com. Prior to joining the academy, he was the Deputy Editor of two of the largest wine and spirits trade publications in the U.S.: Tasting Panel Magazine, The SOMM Journal and recently a farm-to-table magazine called The Clever Root. In addition to his work with Napa Valley Wine Academy and as a Contributing Editor to those print publications, he is a regular contributor to Vivino, Liquor.com and First We Feast. Cristaldi’s work has also appeared in Los Angeles Magazine, Liquid LA, Thrillist (National Edition), Tasting Table (National Edition), Time Out LA and most recently Psychology Today. He is the co-founder of TheNobleRot.com and founder of Winetology.com and the NobleRotTalks.com podcast. Cristaldi’s history of enthusiastic and sometimes avant-garde approach to wine education events earned him the title of “Wine Prophet” by Time Out NY. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is enrolled in the WSET Diploma studies program.