Wine only moves from being a passion to being an employment opportunity for a select few. As well as dedication and a willingness to work hard, you need a good palate and a respect for process - a lot of hard labour goes into those bottles.
If you’re wondering how to get a job in the wine industry, we’re well placed here at Le Cordon Bleu to let you in on some insider tips and tricks to help you on your path into work in the wine trade.
There are hundreds of careers in the wine industry, but in simple terms, these can mostly be broken into the three key sectors:
- Wine Production
- Import and Distribution
- Sales and Marketing
With this in mind, one of your first moves might be to identify where your passion lies. Are you interested in helping the consumer choose the best wines, and your business to successfully sell stock? Or are you more fascinated by the process of winemaking, from vine to grape to bottle?
Many people won’t be sure yet, and that’s okay too. This can be an organic journey, developing and changing direction as you gain knowledge. The best option in this case is probably to invest in your learning - a Le Cordon Bleu Wine Diploma course, for example, can give you a solid grounding of oenological knowledge to apply to whichever route you end up following. For those even more tentative or unsure, the Le Cordon Bleu Certificate in Wine and Beverage Studies is perfect for beginners who are looking to understand and appreciate wines and beverages further, but aren't really looking to start a career in the industry.
A great way to get into production is to get a job at a winery during harvest, as a cellar hand. It’s ‘all hands on deck’ during the harvest season, so jobs tend to be available, and this is, of course, one of the most exciting times of year for the winemaker.
Then, just watch and learn. It’s a great idea to try to head for a vineyard that predominantly speaks a language you understand. If you don’t speak a word of French, France might not be the best option. You want to be able to learn, after all.
Try to speak up for yourself, too. Your experience will be all the more valuable if you can ask to keep moving around the vineyard/winery every few weeks, trying out lots of different jobs, so that you really get a fundamental overview of the process, and the myriad of jobs going on throughout the winemaking process.
Top winemakers are in charge of everything in production - from when to pick the grapes to choosing a yeast, deciding what style of wine to make and how long to age it for. They are decision makers. Many oversee this entire journey, right from grape to bottle - but the type of job a winemaker is really depends on the vineyard. A small vineyard will likely have a small team - so you’ll be clambering in, hosing down, and really getting your hands dirty. At a large winery, a host of people may split these jobs, or delegate them to cellar workers.
Skills required: Winemaking is an art as well as a science. You need to be creative; having the capacity to realise what you can create with the materials you have is key. You then need the scientific knowledge to follow this through.
A foundation of knowledge is clearly necessary here, whether you achieve it on courses like the WSET or Le Cordon Bleu’s diplomas or through years in a winery. You need both knowledge and experience.
Wine Import and Distribution
First things first, what exactly does a wine distributor do? Well, they're responsible for purchasing wine from a wholesaler, or directly from the vineyard, and selling it directly to off-lincences, retailers and restaurateurs throughout the country or even on an international scale.
A good wine distributor will possess a deep knowledge of wine, industry trends, sales, logistics and accounting amongst other attributes. While it's known for requiring plenty of hard work, it's also one of the most rewarding careers in the wine industry.
A career in wine distribution allows you to combine your entrepreneurial interests with your passion and love of wine. This means that you'll never feel like you're working when you're upselling your favourite pinot noir to a client or creating business connections in Bordeaux.
Skills required: Distributors require an in-depth knowledge of wine, the wider hospitality industry, as well as a strong business accumen. As someone who'll be liasing directly with vineyards and wholesalers, it's important that wine distributors have excellent communication and people skills.
The best way to gain valuable experience in the world of wine distribution is to work as a wine representative for another distributor. By doing this you'll get excellent hands-on experience, as well as opportunities to develop your contacts.
Wine Sales and Marketing
A great way to enter the industry with little experience is by going through sales at retail level. There are great national and international companies (think of names such as Majestic, Oddbins, and Liberty) whose retail jobs provide a strong pathway of education, forming a great foundation for your aspiring career in wine.
Another thing to perhaps bear in mind is that there is much more money in sales and marketing than in production, speaking generally - though you should only aim at a career in the wine business for love, not money!
Whether selling to businesses or consumers directly, a background in sales can never do you harm. The predominant reason to buy wine is to enjoy it - and if you can work out what makes the consumer tick, and how to deliver that, your journey into the wine trade is going to be more straightforward.
Working in retail gives the chance to taste lots of different wines (from lots of different price brackets, terroirs and varietals) and the opportunity to learn from more senior colleagues - all of which is invaluable. A graduate scheme, too, is an option for those with a university qualification seeking to enter the wine industry.
Skills required: Hospitality and retail experience. Understanding your consumer is everything.
How to get a job working in the wine industry
Here are some tips from us on getting that solid foundation to set you up for a career in wine:
1. Take the courses
Nothing illustrates your commitment to the industry like having a WSET or Le Cordon Bleu diploma on your CV.
2. Dive in!
Seek out experience in different sectors of the business to get a broad view and understanding. This usually requires significant travel from you, which can of course be costly - but the experience it affords is invaluable if it’s at all possible for you to do.
3. Try out what makes you uncomfortable
Are you a wine enthusiast who is obsessed by the barrel ageing process, or the effect of certain bacteria on fermentation? That’s great! But throw yourself right across the industry. Try retail and hospitality - this is a big part of what happens to wine and will be a significant hole in your experience and understanding if you have no idea how that end of the industry works.
4. Try unpaid work
Not everyone is in a position to get onto a paid graduate scheme. If this is you, you might consider taking on an unpaid internship. If this is an avenue you do consider, however, make sure it is paying dividends of some sort for you. It has to be populating your CV with experience, knowledge and contacts. You are not an unpaid workhorse - there has to be a real benefit in doing this. Know your rights and try to stand up for yourself, getting as rich of an experience as possible.
Is the wine industry for you?
There are amazing benefits to being in the wine trade, but there are compromises to be made, too. Wine salespeople and professional tasters are often required to travel quite intensively, which can be a real bonus for many, but will put some off. Salaries vary hugely across the industry, from minimum wage starting salaries in retail and basic physical labour in a winery, to the top tier sommeliers, producers and retailers.
Le Cordon Bleu’s Wine Diploma
Le Cordon Bleu qualifications help thousands of people to achieve their dreams, providing a navigable route into working in the wine industry. Our Wine Diploma was developed by renowned wine professionals, responding to the industry’s needs and desires.
Le Cordon Bleu London’s Wine Diploma is a full-time course in wine business management, preparing its students with an operational and strategic approach to the food and drinks business, setting them on track for success in the wine trade. Incorporating wine sensory analysis, wine production, food and wine pairing, marketing and wine business management, as well as field trips, the Diploma really is a cover-all foundation for your career in oenology, making it one of the UK’s most innovative and professional wine courses.
To find out more about our Wine Diploma in London, contact us today on +44 (0)20 7400 3900.