CITY SIPS | Get some hands-on training to be a wine professional
Thursday, May 30, 2013 11:14 AM
So how does one go about getting a job in the wine industry here in Seattle?
First and foremost, make sure it is a career path you would like to take.
A lot of people these days love wine and want to turn this love into a career. Many people are successful with this; others are not.
I would start by volunteering at a winery; there are many in the city proper and more than 100 in Woodinville. You can pour wine during releases, help during crush (harvest of the grapes), help with bottling, among other things. In doing all or any of these things you will be more immersed in the wine industry, and it will give you more of idea of which direction to go.
Do you love talking to people about wine as you are pouring that new release? Do you enjoy the physical labor of being on the sorting table as grapes are rolling past?
After you have figured out exactly what interests you in the industry, all you need to do is figure out how to get to where you want to be.
There are many options for employment in the industry. You could study and become a sommelier (a trained, knowledgeable wine professional, commonly working in fine restaurants, who specializes in all aspects of wine service, as well as wine and food matching). You could learn about marketing and work for a distributor. You could be a “cellar rat” and work in a winery as a tasting-room manager or part-time pouring wine. Or possibly work for a winery managing its wine club.
Getting a taste of it
My journey to becoming a “wine guy” started with waiting tables. I worked with a server who was very knowledgeable about wine, and she took me under her wing. I remember her saying, “Do you taste the cherries in this Merlot?” I would answer, “Tastes like grapes to me.”
After sampling many different wines and having someone tell you the flavors, you eventually get to the point where you can start picking up the flavors yourself.
If you don’t want to work in a restaurant beforehand, consider taking classes and going from there. South Seattle Community College has numerous courses for anyone wanting to get into the industry, from winemaking to becoming a sommelier. Seattle Central Community College has classes, as well.
There are also many local wine shops that have classes, as well as frequent tastings. When people ask me how to learn more about wine, I tell them to drink it. Go outside your comfort zone: If you are a red-wine person, try some whites or sparkling. If you are an oaky-Chardonnay person, try some Chardonnay without oak or some other white varietal that doesn’t have oak on it; Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps?
Remember, variety is the spice of life: What a great way to expand your palate and learn more about wine.
The formal way
The Court of Master Sommeliers (www.mastersommeliers.org), which was established in 1977 to promote excellence in hotel and beverage service, is a great source for education and accreditation. Sign up for its Level One class; The Introductory Sommelier Course & Exam is open to all beverage and hospitality professionals interested in pursuing wine service in a fine dining-room setting. Candidates come from restaurant, wholesale and retail backgrounds, according to the website.
So whether you want to be a winemaker, a tasting-room manager, a sommelier, wine director, a wine steward in a local grocery store or a representative for a distributor, there are many routes to becoming a wine professional. If you are passionate about wine and dedicated to your career, the options are endless.
JEFFREY DORGAN, the Washington Wine Commission’s 2009 Sommelier of the Year, is the wine director at the Space Needle. To comment on this column, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.