By Karen Wetzel
Have you ever been to a wine tasting room and left wondering what it would be like to work there? Pouring and talking about wine all day might seem like a dream come true. But, like most jobs, there’s a little more to it than that.
Today I’ll introduce you to Sofia Escobar. She’s the Tasting Room Lead at Markham Vineyards in Napa Valley. I first met Sofia when I brought some friends there for a tasting. She was so impressive that I asked if I could interview her and share her insights and expertise with you.
Before getting into the wine industry, Sofia attended Sonoma State University and worked in hospitality and catering. After visiting Markham Vineyards a few times, she got to know the Manager. One thing led to another, and after an impromptu interview, Sofia was offered a “Wine Guide” position in the tasting room. Besides personal enjoyment, she had no real wine training or credentials, so she had to dive in and learn on the job. She describes herself as the “curious type” who loves to learn. So, she became a sponge, asking questions and absorbing information as quickly as possible. And, she’s a quick study.
I asked her about her role as a Wine Guide, and she said, “It’s so much more than serving wine. You are a personal teacher to your guests. I engage with them and ask them questions. Where are they from? What brought them to Napa and to Markham? Then I walk them through each wine as they taste, peppering in information about Markham’s history, vineyards, and winemaker. These are the things that help me deliver a great experience for them.”
What about sales, I asked? Escobar said, “It’s not hard to sell wine as long as I help my guests have a good time. Just be yourself and know your wines. If you do, they will always take a few bottles home with them.” Her answer made me think. People come in to taste your wine. They expect you are going to invite them to buy a bottle or two. It would seem strange if you didn’t ask, right?
And what about selling wine club memberships? Sofia answered, “I don’t wait until the last minute to bring it up. I mention it right up front and tell them how it adds value for them. This is a more natural approach and works really well for me.”
Aside from engaging with her guests, I wanted to know about some of her other daily responsibilities. She said she works closely with her manager, planning for the day and setting things up for success. She also helps other Wine Guides and makes sure tasks like stocking wine, polishing glasses, and clearing tables are getting done throughout the day.
Lastly, I wanted to know what type of person makes the perfect candidate to work in a tasting room. Sofia said, “It’s not just about wine knowledge. You must genuinely like people. You need to be comfortable talking in front of others with the goal of making a connection to your guests.”
I hope that Escobar’s story and insights provided the kind of insider’s-look into a world that could be yours.
If you like working with people and talking wine, get going. Wineries are still struggling to fill their rosters, and wages are up. There’s no time like the present to find your dream job.
For one-on-one career coaching with Karen Wetzel directly click here. And be sure to check out Wine, Work & Passion, the podcast where we inspire you to make a career out of your passion for wine. Available on the Apple Podcast app or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Karen Wetzel is an employee of the Napa Valley Wine Academy. The views expressed in this article are hers alone and may not reflect the views of the Napa Valley Wine Academy.