Over the years many people have asked me about working in the wine profession, not so much about working in the vineyards but more about working in a retail wine store or as a wine steward in a restaurant. Some of them are serious in their inquiries but most are just giving into a fantasy. They see the glamor of a refined dining room filled with beautiful people sipping on fine wine or a clerk in an upscale retail store overseeing a tasting. Their fantasy surrounds them with wines of all kinds just waiting to be sampled.
Such fantasy is not entirely fanciful, but it represents only a small part of such work, so I’ll share with you some of the more common elements in a job description for a retail staffer, who is expected to have some retail experience and minimally a love of wine with considerable knowledge desirable. They, as one should expect, must be able to sell wine and to engage customers in discussing wine.
But there is more, much more. There are wine deliveries to be accepted, inventoried, and signed for. The incoming wines have to be placed in their proper bins in appropriate storage areas. Wines must be shelved in show rooms, and employers always stress that an applicant be able to lift 40 or 50 pounds. Retailers almost always expect their staff to be part of the general cleaning team to make sure the place remains attractive, uncluttered, and overall appealing. Love wine? Fine, but there are brandies and whiskeys, and other spirits that must also sell. Learn about them. Unpack and stack them.
My first experience with the day-to-day work of a wine steward was with Serge Dubs, long-time sommelier at the three-Michelin-star Auberge de l’Ill near Colmar in Alsace. Serge took me to the “daily-use” cellar where every morning he arranges and rearranges the wines most likely to be sold that day to the 100 or so guests at both lunch and dinner. We then went to the long-term cellar to make sure everything there is also ready for the day, occasionally requiring the bringing of a case or two to the dining room to await the arrival of a special party. Before computers, Serge did inventory by hand, bill-paying by check, pricing by hand, and recording, also by hand, for tax purposes the bottles sold, broken, returned, or otherwise accounted for. In the course of my brief visit, he must have moved thirty or forty cases of wine and spirits from one place to another.
So there is a lot of physical work involved in fulfilling a dream job. Oh, and did I mention that whether in a restaurant or retail store, customers expect you to be there evenings, weekends, and holidays? And to leave the dream job description on a high note, most employers allow you a discount on your personal wine purchases.