Have you ever wanted a career in the wine industry? This lofty-sounding goal is more attainable than you might think. Take winemaker Michael Dashe. More than a decade ago, he was an abalone diver who had only a passing interest in wine. One day, winemaker Bob Roudon asked if he could trade some wine for Dashe’s abalone. Months later, Dashe began bottling wine on the Roudon estate and discovered that he had a natural talent for winemaking. He pursued a winemaking degree at UC Davis, and within just a few years, he was working for Lafite-Rothschild. To find out whether you should pursue a wine career like Dashe did, consider the three most common career paths for collectors: sommelier, reviewer, or winemaker.
Benefits of a Wine Career
Making the jump from a wine hobby to a wine career has the benefit of giving you a top-notch wine education, no matter what career path you decide to take. A great education will stick with you even if your plans for a wine career fall short, and it can help you with your collection right now. In addition to educational benefits, pursuing a wine career allows you to fund your own collection and get paid to do what you love; advanced sommeliers make an average of $78,000 per year, while Masters make $150,000 per year. With a full-time wine career, you could add 40–or possibly many more–paid hours of wine research per week to your schedule, which is time you would otherwise spend working in a completely unrelated career.
Becoming a Sommelier
Although the path to Master sommelier is more difficult than becoming a wine reviewer, I recommend trying this option first for two reasons: the requirements are clear, and it opens the door to all other wine career opportunities. To get started, you’ll need to have at least three years of experience in the wine industry. The easiest way to get this experience is to take a few lower level WSET classes focused on the service industry in particular. Next, use those credentials to get an internship or job at a winery or restaurant. From there you can go through the full Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) exam program. The further you go with your credentials, the more money you will make and the more likely you will get into the most sought-after careers. You could work in a high-end restaurant, or write reviews for the top wine publications in the world, or open your own wine bar–the possibilities are truly endless.
Becoming a Wine Reviewer
The easiest career option for a wine collector is a wine reviewer, since this doesn’t require any formal training and you can get started right away. However, this is also the most competitive and lowest paying career path for collectors. To get ahead of the competition, go through our guide of the best WSET classes for beginners. After you have taken at least the first two levels of classes, write in our wine tasting forum to practice finding your reviewer’s voice. Go through the steps listed in our guide to writing effective tasting notes to further hone your craft. Once you feel confident in your ability to write clear reviews, start writing in your own blog at least three times per week, and post to wine forums whenever possible. The more blog content you have, the more likely you will be hired by a professional wine publication later; you’re also more likely to be hired as a staff writer if you have other credentials, like WSET certificates or sommelier status.
Becoming a Winemaker
The best way to start a career as a winemaker is to enroll in a traditional university that offers winemaking degrees. Schools like UC Davis give you a crash course in growing and fermentation techniques, while teaching you the business side of owning your own winery. Alternatively, you can volunteer at a winery now and work your way up to more complex jobs over the course of a few years. Some of the best winemakers started off in bottom-rung jobs like harvesting grapes, and slowly grew their knowledge with hands-on experience. However, in today’s competitive wine market, it’s both faster and easier to find work at a winery when you have a degree from an established university.
Choosing the Right Wine Career
Deciding on a wine career requires an understanding of your own personality. If you’re a collector who doesn’t have many contacts in the wine industry or aren’t sure what path you want to take yet, you should begin with your sommelier certification, since it’s useful for every wine career. I also recommend this option for collectors who enjoy interacting with people or who love the detective work needed to figure out what a customer wants. Those who like writing or who are good at putting abstract thoughts into words will likely gravitate toward a career as a wine reviewer. Finally, those who love to work with their hands or solve complex problems under pressure will get the most out of a career as a winemaker.
The benefit of choosing a career in the wine industry is that you can always change your mind without throwing away years of effort; every bit of education and experience can be used as a springboard for future wine careers. I know a wine bar owner who started off as a wine reviewer, only to realize that he hated writing. He moved on to a brief career in winemaking, but found that work too tedious. It wasn’t until he landed a job as a sommelier in a fine restaurant that he realized he loved serving wine most of all. When you decide to turn your hobby into a career, as long as you dedicate yourself completely to education, you’ll find a job that interests you and that improves your cellar in the process.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s best wine.
Harley is an Executive Wine Specialist for Vinfolio, helping collectors find the best wines for their collection. He’s a lover of everything outdoors and the proper bottles to go along with it. You can find him at any of the newest cocktail bars and restaurants in SF or on an adventure somewhere in between Lake Tahoe and the California coastline.