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Women in wine share career advice
Special to the Seattle Times
A female reader writes: "I am interested in changing careers and have an interest in studying wine.
I have been in customer service and sales. I read with interest your recent column where 'Deep Palate' (Jan. 11, 2006) said the wine business has 'always been, and still is to some degree, a boys' club.' I would love to get into this line of work; however, I am unsure of where to start. Should I take courses to learn the background of wine? Should I get a part-time job as an apprentice at a wine store or wine department? Any help or guidance you can give would be greatly appreciated!"
Mid-course, workplace corrections are quite common these days, and the wine industry, with its aura of glamour and its innate connection to The Good Life, holds tremendous appeal. In Washington, there were few formal pathways to entry until recently. Yes, the industry has been (and to some degree remains) a "boys' club," but I can truthfully say that I have met no one, old or young, who would wish it to remain that way.
You can tell me
Do you have a wine-related "True Confession"? I am especially interested in stories relating to wine and romance for a Valentine's Day column. Please e-mail your confession to firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Paul Gregutt, Wine Adviser
I took this reader's question to four women who have pioneered wine careers in this state. Fortunately, the theme for the Seattle Wine Society's January program was Washington Women in Wine. The Wine Society (formerly known as the Enological Society) hosts these monthly meetings for members and their guests, organizing them around topics such as "Roam The Rhone," "Out Of Africa" and "Discover Italia." Featured wines are served with appropriate food, and guest speakers offer commentary in a social atmosphere.
On this occasion the speakers were Kay Simon (Chinook), Joan Wolverton (Salishan), Annette Bergevin (Bergevin Lane) and Joy Anderson (Snoqualmie). They shared some advice on how one might make a career in wine.
Simon began working as an assistant winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1977. In 1983, she and her husband, Clay Mackey, founded Chinook winery in Prosser. This wife-and-husband team has won a devoted following for its beautifully crafted, true-to-varietal lineup of Yakima Valley wines, especially the lovely semillon and two cabernet francs.
At the urging of her husband, Linc, Wolverton left a career in journalism to plant pinot noir in southwest Washington 35 years ago. Their Salishan winery has been making pinot, chardonnay and (occasionally) cabernet since 1976. The wines are sold only from the winery. The pinots are especially noteworthy: inexpensive renditions of a grape that has never really found a place for itself in this state.
Pick of the Week
This is the gold standard for $8 merlot from anywhere in the world. Very pretty cherry fruit is set up with bright raspberry scents. It's smooth and creamy in the mouth, with flavors of sweet cherry and milk chocolate. (Young's-Columbia).
Bergevin and her partner Amber Lane moved to Walla Walla and started Bergevin Lane winery in 2001. Winemaker Virginie Bourgue completes the all-woman team at the winery, which makes the well-known Calico Red along with a selection of well-crafted red and white varietal wines.
Anderson has been the winemaker at Snoqualmie vineyards since 1991. During her tenure, that winery has dramatically ramped up the quality of its wines, added a lineup of reserve wines, opened a splendid tasting room in Prosser and earned a place as one of Washington's best value-wine producers.
I tossed out the questions of how and where to begin a career in wine, and some good ideas came out. There was general agreement that the first step for anyone considering such a move needs to focus on a particular segment of the industry. A vineyard manager has one set of skills, a laboratory enologist another, a winemaker another. If your goal is sales, you need to consider whether import, wholesale or retail (wine shop or restaurant) is your best starting point. If you have an interest in marketing, then you would need to become familiar with trends and consumer preferences, so you could properly position your clients' wines.
The women suggest one way to find your best path would be to take on an internship at a winery where you can try your hand at many different tasks. Anderson says Chateau Ste. Michelle has a good internship program, which attracts both students and older folks looking for a new direction. The program offers a chance to work at a variety of tasks and to change venues from time to time. "You can get a feeling for what you like," says Anderson.
Such winery internships are available throughout the year, but the biggest demand is during crush (September-November). There is some pay, though not a lot, says Simon, and most wineries also will provide lodging and meals.
It is certainly possible to learn winemaking without getting a formal degree, notes Wolverton. But what is really valuable, she says, is learning how to fix winery machinery: "Don't be afraid to get dirty."
Anderson agrees. Her Snoqualmie interns may be asked to do everything from small-lot fermentations to data collection. "It's oftentimes tedious, menial kinds of things," says Anderson, "but I don't think there's a better way to learn."
Enthusiasm and interest will get you started, but if you want to intern at a winery, you must be willing to do hard work while remaining cheerful and committed.
Another path is through a more formal education. There are far too many options to list, but here are a few good leads:
Web sites for internships and employment opportunities: The best all-purpose Web site is the Washington Wine Commission (www.washingtonwine.org). Under the "Useful Links" dropdown menu, see "Classes and Schools," "Clubs and Organizations" and "Employment" for links to many resources.
The Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers (www.wawgg.org) posts job and internship opportunities on its Web site. It also offers occasional seminars on topics such as Wine Sales & Marketing and How To Start A Winery.
Web sites for formal educational programs: The Northwest Wine Academy at South Seattle Community College www.nwwineacademy.com offers programs in Winemaking, Wine Marketing & Sales and Food & Wine Pairing. These are aimed at people who want to make a career in the wine industry. The Web site is in need of updating; for current information, it is best to call: 206-764-5344.
The Institute for Enology and Viticulture: (www.wwcc.edu/programs/proftech/EV/) — an adjunct institution of Walla Walla Community College — has one- and two-year programs offering hands-on experience in winemaking, viticultural practices and wine sales. Study may begin in the fall, winter or spring quarters. Here's a telling requirement: "Students enrolling in courses focusing on winemaking must be 18 years of age or older and must be able to lift 50 lbs.(!)"
Paul Gregutt is the author
of "Northwest Wines."
His column appears weekly
in the Wine section. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company