Wine jobs: a day in the life of a wine agent
Do you love wine? Do your friends and family members call on you for your heightened sense of taste? A career in the wine industry may be for you. From recommending wines at the poshest of restaurants to sourcing Chateau Neuf du Pape from the Rhône region in Southern France, there’s a lot more to the industry than you might imagine.
To find out more, we spoke to Carolyn Balogh, a wine agent at the Stem Wine Group Inc. Here’s what she had to say about working in wine:
Workopolis: How long have you been in the wine world?
Carolyn: I’ve been in the wine world for about ten years now.
How did you get started?
It wasn’t something I planned. I was modeling and I had a part-time job in a wine bar, but I was looking for something else to do; I could see the future of my career as an older model. And it was while working at the bar that a wine agency offered me a job.
How did that happen?
They thought my sense of taste was really outstanding, which is funny because even though I accepted their offer, I didn’t feel like I knew enough about wines. I ended up taking a sommelier course, actually, and it was only while taking that course that I realized I really did have a keen sense of taste. And as soon as I had that realization, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
What makes a good sense of taste? Does it involve a sense of smell? A trained palate?
Well, unless you’re actually tasting things amongst your contemporaries, you have no idea that you have a good sense of taste, or a really good palate. But I will say that women, more often than not, have a better sense of taste than men. We’re genetically blessed…
What does sommelier training involve? Is the goal to develop that sense of taste?
Sommelier programs are actually extremely intense. There is a lot of theory involved: you have to memorize different wine regions around the world, the variety of grapes grown in each area. There’s also a lot of blind tasting, so you’ll be tasting chardonnays from around the world. And then there’s also a service component to it, which means being able to decant a bottle of wine or open a bottle of champagne. There’s a way to do it safely and professionally.
Those three elements are really what makes a good sommelier. You have to be able to read your guest, and what they want. But you also need to know the wines you’re selling, and then open and present them properly. You need to be able to discuss them.
What did you find the most challenging out of those three elements?
The service component. I don’t have the experience involved in opening and presenting bottles of wine, like some of my contemporaries do.
And what kind of career prospects can someone expect once they complete a sommelier program? Is it a challenging field to break into?
I’d say it’s challenging to find a job as a sommelier – there are only so many positions available. But you can get into wine sales and become a wine agent, like I did.
What’s a typical day for a wine agent? Are you working with restaurants primarily?
I work with restaurants, hotels, bars, but I also have private clients. All the wine is stored down at the LCBO so we have tight timelines to get orders in on time for the next day. I’m usually at my computer between 8-10 in the morning, placing orders for that hard cut off. Then I’ll respond to emails until noon. The rest of the afternoon is spent tasting wines at restaurants. Basically, tasting wines and talking about each wine is a majority of what I do.
But I’m also a wine buyer…I get sent on trips to source wine and bring them back to our company. That’s very satisfying. You go on these trips looking for the trifecta of price, quality, and packaging, which can be a challenge to balance. So to see a wine you’ve sourced take off in the market is very rewarding.
That sounds amazing.
You know what, it is an amazing job, because if I’m tasting with someone that’s just as passionate as I am about wine, then we can get into these big, meta, philosophical debates about wine, and why a New Zealand sauvignon is better than another sauvignon…I love it.
What advice would you give to job seekers looking to get into wine industry?
The best way to get into the wine business is to keep drinking wine. I’ve been in the wine business for 10 years and I’m still part of a tasting group. I meet up with a group of sommeliers every other Tuesday for two hours, and we taste wine blind, and we discuss why we like them. It’s a way to taste and stay up on everything because wine is always changing.
Click here to see available jobs in the wine industry.
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