Tag Archives: joe roberts

Working in Wine — can anyone really make a “career” of this?


So, this is yet another wine blog.  Joe Roberts (aka 1 Wine Dude) is a wine blogger that I enjoy, and he kept yelling at me (and the world in general) to start a wine blog.  Never say that peer pressure doesn’t work!!  I’ve already joined the wine conversation via Twitter (@SirenaDiVino) and Facebook, so this is another venue to explore.

Really, though, I wasn’t sure that I had anything to offer to the blogging conversation.  I’m an involved commenter, but I don’t know if I have the “juice” for original posts.  I didn’t know how to start, or what to say.  I picked out a blog name over a month ago, and I have zero public posts to show for it.  This particular post I’ve started and stopped at least 5 or 6 times 😛 Yay writer’s block!

So in the end, I realized that I have to start at the beginning (duh).  I have to start at the beginning of my wine story……

Wine was an accident for me.  I wasn’t looking for it, and I sure didn’t see it coming.  I grew up in an alcohol-free house; neither of my parents drink.  Part of that comes from the long history of alcoholism in our family, so my family just chose to not engage with alcohol in general.  I was always scared growing up that one sip of alcohol would turn me into an alcoholic (after much introspection and experimentation, that thankfully seems to not be the case!).  I didn’t have my first drink until I was in college, and I didn’t get drunk for the first time until I was 19 (it was technically legal too — I was in the Australian embassy at the time).  So where does the wine come into it?

My wine story started 5 years ago in 2007 when I met a couple who owned a local wine shop.  I met them because I worked at the pre-school across the street from their Cellar, and both of their children happened to be my students.  I had turned 21 not too long before, had recently moved back home to Tampa from Washington, DC, and FINALLY decided that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up.  I’d been at the preschool for about 9 months when my colleagues decided to show some local small-business solidarity and start a wine-and-cheese night once a month after work (the fact that we worked with toddlers all day had NOTHING to do with our need for alcoholic beverages!).  That night, someone put a glass of red wine in my hand for the first time.  To this day, I have no idea what that wine was.  All I remember was thinking “Hey, this is pretty good.  Gimme another.”

Me as a wine “baby” — just startin’ to learn about this stuff!

I’m a naturally curious person, a fairly skilled student, and I HATE being ignorant and uninformed.  So every 3 or 4 weeks I’d go back to that Cellar on my own, I’d tell Shawn the owner “I have $12, what can I get for that?”, and then I’d pester him mercilessly with questions about wine and what I was drinking.  The preschool job ended a few months later, which the couple from the Cellar heard about.  They called me up that summer, wondering if I’d be interested in taking a part-time job working for them.  The Official Decision Time Clock reflects about 2.5 seconds for an affirmative “oh, HELL YES!”

After my lightning-fast snap decision, I got a bad case of the guilts (I blame my Catholic upbringing for that particular tendency), called Shawn and Mary back, and confessed that I knew absolutely NOTHING about wine.  I still wanted the job, I was over the MOON about the job, but I felt obligated to make sure that they weren’t under the impression that I was some kind of “wine professional”.

Shawn said “Don’t worry, just come to the Cellar this Tuesday at 11”.  When I showed up, there were 12 bottles of wine lined up on the bar and he said “We’re gonna taste them all”.  That day, he walked me through the basics of wine (which I promptly became thoroughly confused about and forgot most of), and I came to the conclusion that I obviously had the coolest job in the world (even though I hadn’t really started yet).  Shawn also gave me The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeill (my reaction — there’s a Bible for wine?!) and told me to read the first 100 pages.

After that, I became a stalker……….

Some members of the generous Cellar family and fellow geeks!

No seriously!  A stalker of wine and wine knowledge, that is.  Every time Shawn or Mary helped a customer with a selection, you could usually find me lurking around the corner, creepily staring and avidly listening to every word.  I continued my pestering of Shawn with questions and also expanded that annoying habit to any poor wine rep who happened to walk in the door.  When possible, I would even come to the Cellar early and “stalk” the weekly tasting meetings Shawn had with wine reps.  I attended every public class and tasting the Cellar put on.  I re-read the intro to the Bible again, hoping some of it would stick this time.  And I drank wine.  A LOT.  Everyone says (and in this case, everyone is right) that the best way to learn and put new knowledge into context is to have concrete examples to pair it with.  In our industry, that means incessant drinking and tasting — cheers, y’all!  Luckily, my new work atmosphere included many people who loved to share and talk about wine with me — the extraordinary largesse of fellow wine geeks, I salute you! This continued merrily on for about 3 years.

BUT! …… I was still in school at University of South Florida as an education major.  I loved wine, but I loved teaching too.  Life conundrum — which path do I follow?  Is wine just a hobby, and I”ll get a grown-up teaching job when I graduate? (My parents: Yes, pick that one, since that’s the degree we’re paying for!)  Or do I try to figure out how to get someone to pay me as wine geek for the rest of my life? I’m equally good at both, I love both, and I didn’t know which to pursue (Yes Mom and Dad, I know which you want me to pick…).  One troubling consideration was when it came to wine, I didn’t really know what my options were or how to make a life out of it.  If I picked wine, did that mean I was supposed to stay in a little suburb of Tampa in this neighborhood shop all my life?  Was that going to be my wine “career”?

In the midst of all this “what am I going to do with my life?” and “is wine really a viable career for me?” angst, I was promoted to Wine Retail Manager during the expansion of the Cellar to include an adjoining high-end, full service Bistro.  Without ever making a fully, consciously intentional decision, I found myself in the middle of 50-60 hour work-weeks while trying to juggle a diminished class schedule of increasingly irrelevant courses for a degree that I probably wasn’t going to use.  I found myself switching from an education focus at the last minute, giving up my final internship placement, and went with a straight-up Literature degree focus (the idea was to use the straightest, shortest path out of school so I could geek out more on wine).  It was also right around this time that someone dropped the Court of Master Sommeliers bug into my ear.  Life was in fast-forward, and I wasn’t sure if I was in control of any of it………

Seriously, won’t someone pay me to just do this?

End of Part 1