I remember watching cartoons as a kid and hearing those famous words from Bugs Bunny, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” and loving his willingness to change and become friends with whomever he was in opposition to. These days, I get a lot of people from many different professions and walks of life coming out to the wineries and asking me, “hey, how do I become a Wine Educator” and I say to them that it’s actually not as hard as they might think. It takes passion, knowledge, and a willingness to teach, but actually becoming an educator really isn’t too challenging. The challenge lies in continuing to improve yourself, improve your knowledge of wine and the industry, and to move ever upwards in the pursuit of something greater (but really, how different is that from any other profession?). I’d like to offer some insight for those who are truly interested in joining the Wine Industry, whether to become an Educator, a production member, a winemaker, a critic, a Sommelier, or something in-between.
First things first, there’s passion. Most wineries will not hire the dispassionate, favoring those who truly love wine and incorporate their passion into their daily lives. Passion about wine isn’t necessarily a love for drinking it; I know rather a lot of wine educators who rarely drink wine, favoring short tastings to prolonged drinking sessions. The passion comes not in the swallowing of mass quantities of wine, but in the tasting (and spitting) of a few choice wines, savoring the flavors presented and gaining a greater understanding of the winemaking processes involved and of the grape varieties themselves. So long as you have the passion for wine, getting a job in the industry becomes much simpler. In fact, you don’t even need more than a passing education, since most wineries will train you themselves. That’s not to say it won’t help.
On that note, let’s cover education. Generally speaking, the more educated you are, the better job within the industry you will get. Passion may get you through the front doors, but only knowledge will take you to the greatest and most prolific of the wineries. A combination of the two will give you the greatest advantage, of course. As for gaining the education, I personally recommend culinary school. I studied at the International Culinary Center in New York City for wine, and I regret none of it. In fact, it was undoubtedly one of the best wine educations I’ve ever received. Out here in Napa, I studied at the Napa Valley Wine Academy. Wherever you are, you can find a wine class that will teach you enough to get you into “base level” wineries, but the top echelons tend to require higher certifications, like CSW, CWE, WSET or Somm.
Lastly, the willingness to teach. Well, this one is tougher. A boss once said to me, “I can teach you everything about our wines, tell you everything about our history, and even teach you hospitality (to a point), but I can’t teach you to be a teacher”. This one is a little more innate, but if you have it, truly have it, you’ll excel in a way few do.
So, the next time you’re in wine country (and especially if you live in one), don’t just ask about joining the industry. We have the best jobs in the world, so far as I’m concerned.
Trust me: you can’t beat us. Why not join us?