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Friday, July 23, 2010

So what's it like to work in a tasting room?

You see your dream job while on vacation.  I've been there. You visit somewhere great like the Kona Coast and you see somebody working the hotel desk with the lobby open to the sea and you say to yourself, "Man, I could do this job!" Really? You get sucked in the the environment and that's great because it means you loved your visit.

Getting your dream job

As an ex-tasting room manager I can't count the number of resumés received from Back East from folks looking for that dream job. Only problem was somehow they all expected a $45,000 starting salary. I don't know where they all got this number and I know California's wine country is an expensive place to live, but I was starting people at $11.50 / hour. Sorry.

Though I did occasionally have someone come to work for me from the snow belt who accepted what the job was and what it paid, but these folks were rare.

If you are comfortable with a competitive sales environment a few tasting rooms work off sales commissions where you can make significantly more.

The not so dreamy tasks

There is menial labor like sweeping floors and dusting. There is heavy work in hauling cases of wine.  You may even get to clean a toilet.

The not so dreamy people

When some people drink they aren't as nice as they are sober. Ask any bartender. Luckily, this is a very small minority of winery visitors. Like any job where you have direct access to customers there is an occasional bump. Ask any help desk agent. You just have to be the type to shake it off and not take anything personally.

Are all tasting rooms alike?

As with any other businesses there are differences.  One is that some are corporate-owned and others are family.  The biggest difference is the smaller out-of-the-way wineries vs. the big guys along Highway 29 in Napa, for instance.    Some only take people by appointment so they have built-in crowd control. Others have people are standing three-deep at the bar on Saturday afternoon.

Some of the larger corp-owned wineries may seem a bit bureaucratic like any large company.  Some of the small ones are run by people with no formal business management training.

If you've ever visited Napa during the busy season you may come away with a feeling that those guys working there are just not very friendly.   I can tell you it's a rare person who can put up with the madness all day long for months on end.  The stress of the crowds and the noise can be tough especially when you throw in the customers who don't believe they are getting the service and attention they deserve.

The importance of the job

The underpaid folks behind the bar are are the face of the winery and the most important asset a winery has for direct-to-consumer sales. They are on the low end of the totem pole because they are considered retail sales help. They are paid like a Penney's store clerk while being expected to act like a Nordstrom's sales associate.

Why it's a great job

People are there to have fun and it's easy to have fun yourself when the customers are having a good time.   Not many retail jobs are like that.  Not many jobs at all really.

Most of the people are great as they're on vacation or at least a weekend trip.  It's certainly a more happy crowd then say the waiting room at the doctor's office.   And you occasionally get to see somebody doing something they wouldn't normally because they are a bit loose and having fun.  I won't be too explicit, but you can use your imagination.

You get to talk about wine with people.  How fun is that?   And they even think you're the expert!!