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10 Tips to a Lasting Wine Industry Career

10 Tips to a Lasting Wine Industry Career

Rebecca Chapa | Chef's Blade

Almost weekly I get a call or email asking what it takes to be in the wine business. For awhile I even got calls saying, ok, so I just got in the wine business last quarter and I have taken a few classes, so I was wondering how I can do what you do?

I respond, “Well, it’s a long road!” And I explain my path… College education in food & beverage, great connections, lucky chances, bartending, retail experience, waiting tables, inventory, stocking, intensive study for the MW, money spent on travel, humility, etc. and then they say, “Well, I want to do what you do but in 3 years, not 10.”

WOW! Do they realize how insulting that sounds? I think to myself, “So do you really mean to say that I wasted all that time stocking and serving drinks and such, and that you could just take a class and be a professional. Really?” Sure if I had just had that bright idea of calling up a professional in the industry and asking for an informational interview I’d be Jancis Robinson today. NOT!

I was fortunate enough to be trained by the best in the business, those that were at the top of their game and I believe that if you ask most of them they will tell you that there are no short cuts into the wine business.

Of course there will be those that say, “But I have a fantastic resume!” And sadly a lot of those folks do get very impressive sounding jobs. I’ve been seeing a lot of that lately. Now that anyone can blog, who needs real world experience? Ironically many publications will hire someone just on a resume (lucky you!) and allow you to write a column or feature or whatever else because they think you have great credentials. But the truth is do they fact check? Do they know that your last five “gigs” were incredibly unhappy with your performance? Do they realize that REAL educators actually then have to step in and perform crisis control? Do they understand that you are actually a fraud? All too soon they will realize that not only is their new hire not qualified but they are not respected in the industry.

I may sound overly critical but I just really don’t want you to fall into the same trap. Credentials may help get you to the top, but you won’t be able to stay there, and it certainly won’t make you any friends. It reminds me of one of the greatest management concepts I learned at Cornell: the Peter principle, “In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence.” This happens more often than you can imagine and it’s a recipe for a quick rise in the industry and a quick fall from grace.

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