Wine Industry Career Series: Salary Reality

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People want to enter the wine industry for a variety of reasons. Some do it to follow their passion, and compensation is not a priority. Others want to turn their talents into a lucrative career in an industry that interests them. And some need to make a reasonable wage but are hoping more for a lifestyle change.  

There are great paying jobs in the industry, but compensation varies based on the position, experience/knowledge, and location and size of the company you are hoping to work for.

Start by asking yourself:

  • How important is income to you? This might seem like a silly question, but for some, money isn’t everything. Generally speaking, the bigger the company, the better the opportunity for higher compensation and career growth. 
  • How much income and benefits do you need to support yourself or your family? Make an honest budget to determine what salary range you can live with. Consider what benefits you need or want, as they can add up and are often worth more than sheer dollars.
  • Are you relocatable? There are wine jobs all over the country. If you are relocatable, then “fish where the fish are,” but be sure to consider the cost of living and housing and ask if the company will cover your moving costs. However, if you need to stay put, be open to all opportunities and step up your networking game.  

Here are a few examples of some of the most sought-after roles wine industry jobs:


Winery Roles

If you want to be a Wine Educator in a tasting room, you can generally expect to start a bit over minimum wage, but this varies around the US. Previous experience and in-depth wine knowledge are not often required but preferred and may lead to an increase in starting wages. Benefits are often available for full-time employees and may include health care, PTO, and product discounts.

Other winery roles, such as Hospitality Manager, Concierge, Marketing Director, and HR, generally pay commensurate with other industries. Many of these roles don’t require prior wine knowledge but previous experience in a similar role may be required.   


Distributor Sales

Sales wages vary widely from one state to the next, due to the cost of living in a particular area and size of the distributor. Often a company will start a sales rep out on a base salary and then move them to straight commission once they start generating enough sales to exceed their base. Or a company may offer a salary/commission hybrid structure. Be sure and get the details in writing regardless of their compensation scheme.  

In addition to your general compensation, sales reps (and managers) are often eligible for bonuses and/or incentives based on hitting target sales goals or achieving new placements on specific products.  These can be quite lucrative and sometimes exceed your regular pay.   

Large distributors generally offer good wages and benefits (car and cell phone allowances, 401K, and PTO). And they have many layers within their teams, which means more opportunities for advancement.  Be sure your hiring manager knows of your aspirations, as management roles can be quite lucrative.  

Lastly, before you accept their offer, ask to see the history of the territory or account list they are offering you to be sure it’s generating a reasonable amount of sales for you to build on. This way, you will know what’s in store for you.

Wine Buyer/Sommelier

These are great roles to put your wine knowledge to work, and, in the right restaurant, they can be quite prestigious. Wages are often driven by the size and location of the restaurant and/or the size and scope of the wine list. Compensation might be paid as a salary but can be tied to overall wine sales, and sometimes commissions may be paid on your personal sales as well. Keep in mind, restaurant work is hard, and you will likely work long hours and wear many hats. Before you accept an offer, make sure you know exactly what will (and won’t) be expected of you and get your compensation package in writing.  

Click here for a new report on Wine Salaries from Remember wine jobs come in all shapes and sizes, and so does the pay scale. Before you settle on one job, do your research. Visit a few wineries or restaurants that interest you. Connect with sales reps on LinkedIn and ask questions. Talking to someone who has a similar role will help you get a clear picture of what your life will be like after you say “yes.”  

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.



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