Superb wines and elegant foods have been complementing each other for centuries. Many chefs and culinary professionals have some direct experience with wine – either as a complement to a meal or cooking with it directly. Many culinary arts programs and schools now offer a wine course as part of the curriculum, and a select few offer specialized certificates related to wine education. If you are serious about a career in the wine industry, the possibilities are vast.
There are many career possibilities in the wine industry as a whole – from production to distribution to retail selections. In a culinary setting, the positions that most frequently have direct experience with wines are sous chefs, executive (head) chefs and in very fine restaurants, a sommelier.
Many wineries have their own restaurants, and pair delicious foods with their own wine selections, affording clientele an opportunity to taste a myriad of wines and ultimately purchase more bottles. The chefs in these restaurants have a wine-centric focus; the entire menus are developed to accentuate and promote the wine. This means it’s imperative to pair the right dishes with the appropriate wines to create the ultimate experience for the customer.
Hospitality management roles offer additional opportunities within the wine industry. If you work in a smaller venue, such as a small inn or bed & breakfast, or a larger setting that hosts special events, you will have a greater chance of participating in wine selection, tastings, incorporating wines into the menu and the decision-making process.
Higher-end restaurants (typically in larger cities) sometimes hire Sommeliers or wine stewards. A sommelier is a person who is knowledgeable (usually well-trained) in all aspects of wine – including wine pairing. The sommelier is part of the brigade team, and is responsible for developing the wine list, training staff on service, and pairing and suggesting wines.
There are also many opportunities available within the wine industry itself. If you determine how much time you want to spend with food versus wine, you may decide that a position in the production or distribution of wine is an additional option for you.
A winemaker is responsible for every part of the winemaking process – a farmer of wine. From the decision on which grapes to grow, determining harvest times and all aspects of bottling, marketing and distribution. Degrees in viticulture are a good way to start, and experience is highly recommended. As with most jobs – work in the field for a few years before making the decision to invest time and money in education and purchasing land or vineyard.
A Cellar Master is a position responsible for production once the grapes arrive at the winery after being harvested. Cellar Masters work with winemakers and cellar rats, manage equipment and supplies.
A Cellar Rat is an entry level position that does the majority of the manual labor in a winery. Cellar Rats transform the grapes into liquid, drain and shovel out tanks, clean equipment, prepare and monitor barrels. Cellar rats work long hours and the work is physically demanding – especially during peak time (crush).
An importer/exporter of wine bolsters relationships with wineries in the U.S. and internationally. They develop and maintain a portfolio of fine wines from all over the globe. In addition, they have an extensive salesforce to manage, as well as needing a delicate hand in dealing with vintners all over the globe.
Distributors are the middle-men who are responsible for getting product from the wineries to the retail shops (wine stores, restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, etc.). Distributors buy many types of wine from a multitude of producers, store it in a climate-controlled warehouse, and ship it (as ordered) to their clients. Distribution is highly competitive, and there are many state and federal regulations in play – some very different between states.
You could also open your own wine store in your area. Similar to opening a café, you would be accountable and responsible for all aspects of the business – from crafting and maintaining a wine list, hiring and training knowledgeable staff, adhering to laws and guidelines, and keeping abreast of trends. In addition, you will need to be skilled in many aspects of business, including accounting, payroll and inventory, as well as customer care and management.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in wine, you should first determine exactly how much time you want to spend with food versus how much time you want to spend with wine, sales and management. There are a multitude of educational possibilities, including types of degrees and certificates for each area of focus.
If you are passionate about wine, start by working in a venue at an entry level position. Learn all you can about the process of making wine – from the growing through bottling and distribution. Take classes through your local wine stores and community offerings. Once you determine a definite career path, then invest in the degree program to support your choice – whether in a culinary school or vintner/enology program.