Career Options

Wine Jobs Canada has compiled a job description for a variety of different career options in the wine industry. There are approximate salaries and information about how to go about getting one of these jobs. Each one has been written by a person who does that job, and so we hope you will find these useful in your job search.  
Cellar hand: By Anthony Buchanan
Background: I started my wine education by taking WSET 1 and 2, ISG 1, Introduction to winemaking at UC Davis, did the Okanagan College winemaking program and now I am a Graduate of Washington State Enology Certificate program. I worked as a Cellar Hand for a few years and currently I am the Cellar master/Winemaker for Paradise Ranch Ice Wines.
Salary range: There seems to be a wide range in the industry, depending on size of production, your experience, ownership and the winemaker that you will be working for. On average $ 12-16 per hour is generally what wineries will pay.   
Career path: The best way to start is to get your feet wet during a harvest. Most wineries will hire extra staff during the harvest so these jobs are not hard to come by, even with no experience. This is a good way to get a taste of what it’s like to work in the cellar.
Ideal qualifications: It helps to have some sort of wine related education. Previous cellar work, WSET, and enrolment in an Enology or Viticulture program help. Drive and passion do go a long way so keep that in mind.
Job description: Every winery needs a great Cellar Hand as they do a lot of the actual work! In most cases you are the most hands on person in the cellar. You will work closely with the Winemaker and your responsibilities will include working the harvest, managing ferments and macerations, barrel work, rackings and toppings, taking samples and tasting,  wine transfers, preparing wines for bottling, driving a forklift, doing inventory, preparing orders for shipping and a lot of cleaning. This is a physical job so one must be able to lift 50 lbs, so being physically fit will help.  
How to get a job as a Cellar hand: If you are fortunate to live in a wine region one of the best ideas is to visit as many wineries as you can. Bring your resume and take a few minutes to speak with the winemaking staff. Wine tastings and Winemaker dinners are a good place to meet Winemakers, Owners and Reps.   
Winemaker: By Ashley Hooper
Background: I graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Oenology from Roseworthy Agricultural College in SA. This degree has now moved to the University of Adelaide. After my studies I worked in a variety of roles in Australian wineries located in the Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Hunter Valley, SA Riverland and Goulburn Valley. I spent almost 4 years in BC as the winemaker for Quails’ Gate Estate Winery from 2000-2003. I also worked a vintage in the Douro with the Taylor Fonseca wine group.
Salary range: From some recent research it seems as though winemakers in Canada are remunerated with packages ranging from $70,000 to $120,000 depending on the size and profitability of the winery. This is a fairly standard range in some other countries, although it can be much higher ($175k) if you are in charge or a major winery, or very high profile. Some consultant winemakers charge huge fees, like $150K per year per client, but they are also giving the winery the right to use their name in their marketing.
Career path: My time studying allowed me to make many industry contacts which were very helpful as my winemaking career progressed. At the start of my career I spent time working as a cellar hand and vineyard hand which I believe was invaluable. Working in various wine regions helped to broaden my winemaking outlook. A winemaking degree provides technical knowledge of the winemaking process but practical experience under respected winemakers is very beneficial. Working in different size operations expands your experience.
Ideal qualifications: A degree from a respected University such as Davis in California or Adelaide University in South Australia.
Job description: This will vary depending on the size and focus of the winery. Essentially a winemaker is responsible for ensuring the grapes are grown and processed into wine to meet market demands. The winemaker plays a central role in a wine business which requires a keen interest and understanding not only in winemaking but viticulture and sales/marketing. Winemaking can be physically demanding and requires technical expertise. Effective logistics planning, time management and staff management are also key aspects in winemaking.
Winemaking can be perceived to be glamorous but lots of hard work and dedication is required to be a good winemaker. The work never stays the same as each year is different, providing new challenges. Winemaking can provide a high degree of job satisfaction.
How to get a job as a Winemaker: I believe some education is critical as it gives a good technical grounding to your career. Get practical experience in reputable wineries and wine regions. Develop a focus on what winemaking styles you’d like to make and the region you’d like to work in. It’s a small world in winemaking and many jobs come up through word of mouth. So work hard, make great wines, and be in the right place at the right time.
Export Manager for a winery – By James Cluer
Background: I worked as an Export Director for a Bordeaux merchant for 8 years. 
Salary range: It would be rare for a winery to pay less than $100,000 per year as this type of job is usually only offered by mid-sized to large wineries. Many would pay between $100K and $150K, and if you land a job in charge of exports for a major Champagne house you could be looking at $250K plus. Export Manager/Director is usually one of the best paid jobs in the wine industry.
Career path: Typically you would have experience in sales and marketing starting as a sales rep, then a regional manager, and then you’re let loose in international markets.
Ideal qualifications: Depending on where you are exporting to, languages can be useful, especially Asian languages like Chinese or Japanese. Employers like to see BA’s and MBA’s, proven sales experience, wine knowledge, knowledge of distribution systems in different countries, networks of buyers, public speaking skills for when you pretend to be the “winemaker” at a Winemakers dinner, a willingness to work alone for weeks on end, and the ability to travel for 3-6 months of the year. So all this tends to favor those under 45 who don’t have a family. 
Job description: The most exciting part is going to a new country and finding an importer for your brands. This is usually done with the help of Chambers of Commerce, trade commissions, and letters of introduction direct to importers. During an initial market visit of say 5 days you may meet with a dozen companies. A few months later, you go back for another trip to have more meetings with the companies that liked you. It’s a rare event that an importer chases you. After much sampling, some negotiation and maybe a contract you get an order and return home to announce that you are now shipping to yet another country. After that it can get a bit boring. You return and work the market, going to stores and hotels and restaurants. Sooner or later you might get disappointed with your importer and decide to jump ship to another one.
This job can be a double-edged sword. At first it’s exciting to travel the world, meeting a diverse group of people, going to major trade fairs, staying in nice hotels, and eating and drinking well. But it takes a particular person to endure the enormous physical toll that 3-6 months on the road can take, working alone, and after 3 years most people start to loath the thought of another trip. Also beware of the fact that your skills are now in export, and so finding another type of sales job in the wine industry can be tricky. This is not a good job if you have a family, but it is an excellent one if you are young and ambitious. 
 How to get a job as an Export Manager: Going to trade fairs, sending out mailings, and general networking. You often need to develop a relationship and some trust with the employer as they’re about to pay you one of the highest salaries on the payroll and trust you not to spend weeks searching for an importer in nightclubs.
Background: I have a Bachelor of Business Administration, the WSET level 3 certification (currently working on WSET Level 4 Diploma) and have worked as a merchandiser/sales associate and a sales representative for a small wine agency in the past. I am currently a ‘Premium Wine Account Manager’ for a multi-national wine company selling a large portfolio of import and domestic wine to fine dining restaurants and boutique wine stores.
Salary range: Entry level positions usually start around $40,000 a year and more senior reps can earn upwards of $70 - $80,000 (corporate/national positions). Many companies also have a commission structure and/or pay out an annual performance based bonus. Perks often include use of a company vehicle/car allowance, extended health benefits, phone allowance, and the chance to travel to visit suppliers around the world.
Career path: Experience in the wine industry either in retail, or as a merchandiser, or in a wine focused restaurant helps to ‘get your foot in the door’ as an entry level sales representative, but is not always necessary. Naturally, more senior roles require sales experience and wine knowledge. A likely progression from a sales representative is to the role of Sales Manager.
Ideal qualifications: Many companies require a post-secondary education and increasing levels of wine knowledge with more senior roles, so you often see employers asking for WSET training.   Other important skills include computer literacy, strong presentation/communication abilities, interpersonal and organizational skills, negotiation and problem solving skills, and the ability to multi-task and prioritize. Most importantly, a positive, confident, and outgoing personality is THE key qualification. 
Sales can be frustrating and discouraging at times (though also highly rewarding) and so this job is not for the shy or the faint of heart. Get used to rejection.
Job description: Your job is to sell your company’s portfolio (could be 1 or hundreds of wines) by growing distribution, volume, sales revenue and market share. Some companies have a mixed portfolio that can include beer and spirits as well.
Some companies structure their business to have ‘On Premise’ reps who sell to restaurants and hotels and retail reps who sell to wine retail stores, private liquor stores and private wine stores. Others have reps covering a particular geographical area/territory and selling to both retail and on premise accounts. Arguably it is easier to sell to retail because the Buyer is almost always available, the volumes are larger, and you’re not always waiting for the elusive reprinting of the wine list.
The goal is to get listings by convincing buyers to bring in your product(s). This is easier said than done. In a highly competitive industry (where buyers are constantly pressured and persuaded), relationship building, organization, professionalism, knowledge, persistence and follow up are all critical elements of the job that come into play. 
Participating (pouring) at events and trade shows, often on evenings and weekends, are key responsibilities for many reps and depending on the size and corporate structure of the company, analyzing, reporting, presenting and managing a budget are also parts of the job. 
Though it can be tough at times, the people, flexibility, glamour, travel, and continuous education involved in wine make this job very fun and engaging.
How to get a job as a Sales Rep:  The wine trade is a small village, so go to wine events, make connections, talk to people in the business, and use the trade directories like the or the equivalent in Ontario to send out masses of resumes. One of the best places to get jobs is at trade events where you can chat up the Sales Manager, especially after they’ve had a few drinks.
Sales Manager: By Tim Wispinski
Background: I am the District Manager for Renaissance Wine Merchants Ltd. I have held this position for the last 9 years.
Salary range: You can start out as a Sales Rep/Manager earning around $60,000 but from it could range up to well over $100,000 if you manage a large team or a large portfolio. There are usually incentives to hit targets and other variable forms of compensation that could boost your earnings in a good year. Car and cell phone allowances vary by company but are usually included in some form.
Career path: You need to have demonstrated success as a sales representative. All of your experience doesn’t have to be with wine as other beverage alcohol experience such as beer or spirits is an asset. You must have shown a desire and ability to lead and a willingness to take responsibility.
Ideal qualifications: Larger companies will like to see a university degree and preferably a post graduate degree (MBA), but these are not mandatory. A strong sales background is mandatory but is complemented by experience in Marketing and Human Resources. You will need to bring a positive attitude with you every day and the ability to separate emotion from the real issues so you can make clear decisions. You’ll still need to bring your passion, but you need to temper that with patience in order to achieve your goals. Wine training (WSET) is a good step but I know many sales managers that have learned about wine on the job and done extensive reading to improve their knowledge. Learning about wine is a life long journey so the path you take isn’t as important being interested and motivated.
Job description: You need to communicate your vision to your team. Even if the vision is not your own, as is the case in most larger companies, you need to be able to incorporate the vision into your own style so you it flows from you in all of your words and actions. The sales reps that you manage need this so they can be clear on what their focus should be. 
You will have to be a part of hiring your team of sales reps and often administrative personnel as well. That means you will be there when people quit or get fired. You will conduct travel days with your sales team to do in market coaching. You may not “mentor” all of your employees but you are responsible for their development and well being.
You will need to plan sales targets and sales activities over the course of a year. As the market changes you may need to adjust your plans throughout the year. You will need to understand what revenue your sales create and the cost of your sales activities in order to generate a profit for your company. 
You will liaise with Winery Export Managers in some way. Larger companies will have General Managers that handle some of this but the wineries will want the input of the sales team on the street when choosing which wines to list and what prices to charge. In smaller companies, you will be the winery’s only point of contact and will handle all issues from pricing to marketing and sales plans. You need to be the “expert” on the market that you are responsible for to be able to answer a wide range of questions.
Ultimately, you are responsible to get sales results for your company using the resources at your disposal. If you are below target, it is up to you to create plans that get you to target by maximizing the potential of your people and the processes in your organization. When things aren’t going well, you can’t blame the economy or market forces - you need to step up and be responsible to make things go in your direction. When things are going well and sales are above target – give the credit to your team.
 How to get a job as a Sales Manager: Get some experience as a sales representative and become an expert at what you do. Look for roles that broaden your knowledge of different aspects of the wine business and different geographies/territories. Find a mentor and get their advice. Don’t expect to move into a sales manager role after 2-3 years – there is too much to learn in our industry to get it all in that short of time. After 5 years, assess your skill set against your peers and sales managers you know.    You should network at industry events to learn when new positions are being created or when positions have become vacant. Check out industry websites for “Winejobs” as these roles are rarely advertised in the career section of the newspaper.  
Sommelier – By Brent Fraser
Background: I have worked as a sommelier for 15 years at many of the top restaurants and private clubs in Toronto and Vancouver and as a Beverage Manager for 5+ years. I am part way through the final exams for the MS.
Salary range: Very few restaurants have their sommelier only take care of the wine program, so most sommeliers double as restaurant managers. Top places will pay around 75-80K for a highly regarded sommelier/manager. If you are an MS in charge of a major hotel in Vegas then you’re into the $150-$250K range.
Career path: You should have experience waiting tables and be able demonstrate an ability to sell. From there you will ideally gain experience working on purchasing, inventory management and cost control before taking control of a beverage program on your own. Restaurants with large wine programs often have a Wine Director responsible for the vision of the program with floor sommeliers responsible for the grunt work of cellar and inventory management, but all will be on the floor each night for service. From here, you may move into a Beverage Manager role with a company that has multiple outlets.
Ideal qualifications: The top restaurants require you to have achieved certification through one or more of the main organizations – such as the WSET or The Court of Master Sommelier. Having some courses in F&B management helps too. Some important skills are being able to sell effectively, having the ability to read people and being diplomatic, gracious and unobtrusive.
Job description: The job is essentially broken down into pre-service and actual service. The hours are generally early afternoons through the dinner period and your days off will mostly be Sundays and Mondays. On any given day you will meet with reps to taste product, receive inventory, ensure the inventory is stored and catalogued correctly, enter new wines into the POS system, ensure there’s adequate par stocks on the restaurant floor, update lists and conduct staff training on new products. Once dinner service begins, you will work the floor handling wine and beverage inquiries, upselling, opening wine, dealing with guest issues and ensuring the restaurant runs in a smooth manner.
How to get a job as a Sommelier: Most restaurants looking for sommeliers will want to see some certification along with experience. Networking is always the #1 way to get your name out there. Getting into the top restaurants requires skill and good fortune since these jobs are highly coveted.
Retail Store Clerk – By Marnie Harfield
Background: I have worked in various boutique wine stores as a manager and a sales clerk. 
Salary range: I don’t think anyone works in retail for the money. The wealth comes from the vast amount of wines one is exposed to as well as the opportunity to gain knowledge from those around you, which is priceless. As a clerk, the salary is around 40K a year. On an hourly basis at a private store the pay is around $10-$15 an hour. If you work for one of the government liquor boards then pay can be $20 an hour or more and many people work here because of the benefits, including the excellent pension plan.
Career path: You have to embrace retail to make it a career path. From store clerk you can become the assistant Manager, and then the Manager itself. You do meet a lot of people, and can establish a client base, and meet the reps from the agencies. You have a direct impact on people’s wine choices and the opportunity to broaden their horizons, which is very satisfying. 
Ideal qualifications:   It is a physically demanding job, so good health and a strong back are essential.   Many places will hire with no to little experience, but knowledge and a sincere love of wine are assets. Most retailers prefer you have some WSET qualifications, and good customer service skills. Some stores like a grungy look, whilst others prefer you to be well groomed.  
Job description: Responsibilities are varied. The most obvious is to sell wine. But you may also be involved in inventory control, stocking shelves, working the cash, doing off-site sales, deliveries and give input into wine buying. Conducting tastings for the public is often a part of a clerk’s job. One of the major benefits of the job is travel as trips to wine regions are sometimes offered to retailers.       
How to get a job as a clerk: As it is often an entry-level position, you just need to just stop by and apply. People often don’t stay long in retail and so there are lots of jobs.  Experience in the service industry or other retail operations would be an asset. 
Retail Store Manager: By Lynn Coulthard
Background:  I was a Manager at a prominent local retailer for several years.
Salary range: Depending on your experience, and the company you are working for, you can expect to make anywhere from $40K to $70K per year. This would also depend on the job expectations as some Managers are only required to manage, and they are not responsible for purchasing. If you get in with a good company there can be plenty of perks such as medical/dental, paid trips and an expense account for attending wine related events.
Career path: As a rule you are not offered the position of Manager unless you have spent some time working as an Assistant Manager first or you have a great deal of wine knowledge and management experience. The best way to go about it would be to focus on your wine knowledge and to work in a retail environment as a store clerk. This gives you the opportunity to decide if this is the right position for you while you are learning the ropes.
Ideal qualifications: Management experience with strong people skills. An advanced level of wine knowledge (i.e. WSET Advanced or Diploma) is required for this position as you will be acting as a buyer, seller and staff trainer.
Job description: You must be able to lead and manage a team of people. This is potentially a challenge because most people working in retail do not get paid much, and are simply there because they love wine. It is up to you as a Manager to be able to provide a fun and motivating atmosphere for them.
Duties would include all staff hiring, firing, discipline and training, scheduling, customer relations, maintaining inventory levels, keeping inventory count and all purchasing for the store. The fun aspect of the position is the opportunity to taste and learn about wine during the course of your work day.
The downside of the position would be the physical aspect, which many people do not take into consideration. You can be on your feet for most of the day and delivery days can consist of unloading 6 pallets of wine. This is not a 40 hour per week position.
How to get a job as a retail store Manager:  The first step would be to secure a position in a retail store, take all the WSET qualifications, progress to Assistant Manager, and then apply for a position as Manager.
Wine Buyer – By James Cluer
Background: I am a Consultant Wine Buyer for airlines, hotel chains and retailers.
Salary range: There are several different types of wine buying roles. It might be for a retailer, restaurant or hotel chain, cruise line or an airline. You could be a full time employee or a Consultant. There are not many of these jobs around, because retailers usually have the store Manager do the buying, and restaurants give that role to the Sommelier. Major retailers like Costco have a role for it, as do some restaurant and hotel chains.
The pay varies depending on your role and experience. But a major retail store in Alberta or BC might pay between $55K and $85K for someone talented, the government monopolies typically pay between $65 and $80K, and Consultant’s pay varies so much it is hard to ballpark. Major companies that hire Consultants typically pay a monthly retainer, which is usually anything between $2,000 and $10,000 per month.    
Career path: A wine buyer has typically worked their way up through the commercial side of the business, often as a sales rep, retail clerk, or a Sommelier. You don’t just magically become a wine buyer without knowing the mechanics of the trade.
Ideal qualifications: The highest level of wine qualifications are typically a pre-requisite for major companies, who like the assurance that their buyer is an MS or MW, or holds the WSET Diploma. Skills in negotiation, an understanding of margins, a sense of what your customer wants, the ability to motivate and train your sales team, and people skills are usually the requirements. Having in-depth knowledge of producers is a must, although this can be developed over time. Obviously you need to be an expert taster too.
Job description: It’s often seen as a dream job, and people imagine you sit around all day sipping on wines and deciding on what to buy. There is some truth to this, and there could be worse ways to spend your time and get paid. The day is usually spent organizing samples, investigating pricing and volumes and sales trends, meeting with suppliers, replying to emails saying that you haven’t tasted the samples yet, and then doing the tasting itself. This can be done in isolation or with a panel.
The downside of this job is that it can be detrimental to your health. It’s exhausting to taste large volumes of wines (sometimes 60+ per day if time is an issue), and takes massive amounts of concentration. Once you’re done with the tasting, which is usually by lunchtime, you are not 100% sober and the rest of the day is a struggle. Also, although you’ll have hundreds of people suddenly being nice to you, you’ll never please everyone because for every wine you buy you might reject a few dozen.   Many buyers are perplexed why they are no longer invited out for dinner by suppliers when they leave that job.
How to get a job as a Wine Buyer: Depending on your experience and credentials, you might either approach a local wine store or a major hotel chain. Typically what you are proposing is that you will improve the quality of the range whilst reducing cost. You would also pitch that you are giving your client a marketing tool, because they’ve had their wine selected by an expert. Mailings, networking at events, and making proposals is the way to go.
Wine Educator – By James Cluer
Background: My company Fine Vintage runs 7 WSET schools and I give seminars on cruise lines and have 2 government contracts to deliver training.
There are several different types of business in wine education. You could run tastings for private households (not recommended as it is more hassle to organize than it’s worth), work for a professional school or college, be the “Wine Educator” for a major winery, or you could be one of the few that charge big bucks for a seminar an at event (Exhibit A: Jancis Robinson) .
Salary range: Some companies will pay as low as $125 for a 3 hour lecture at a school, and when you consider the prep you have to do buying the wines, organizing the lecture, getting there early to set-up, well, you’re making about $10 an hour for imparting your wisdom. Others pay more like $350 for a 3 hour session which starts to make more sense for the work involved.
Obviously there can be some very high paying gigs if you are contracted to speak at a major trade show, or a dinner event, which can be upwards of $3,000 for 1 hour. A major winery might pay even more if they are looking for you to somehow endorse their products by co-hosting an event (dangerous stuff). But those are few and far between and you need a certain USP for someone to pay that. There are only a handful of wineries that have a Director of Wine Education, and the salaries would be in the $100-$150K ballpark. So the pay is all over the map. 
Career path: The ideal path would be to have all the WSET qualifications, and then either the MS or the MW if you want to get serious. Also, you should have some vintage experience, ideally at a top estate, and you must have visited most of the major regions of production.
Ideal qualifications: In addition to the wine credentials you should have some public speaking skills, which are almost as important as the wine knowledge.
Job description: It can be lucrative, you’ll get to taste tons of wines, constantly learn about something you love, and fulfilling in that you can inspire people. But don’t underestimate the fact that it often takes place in the evenings and so that means late nights, and it is draining to entertain crowds of people, especially at all day or all evening events/courses. Also, you may not always feel like tasting wine, but if a course kicks off at 8.30 am then that’s what you’ll be doing. If you don’t like public speaking then don’t sign up, although people get more comfortable with this over time.
How to get a job as an Educator: Get qualified and then approach schools, universities, and any other education providers or potential partners.


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