“We should get jobs in tasting rooms!”
Those brilliant words were uttered between me and my neighbor back in 2008, after enjoying a few glasses of box wine — that’s an entirely different topic — on her patio.
Have you ever thought or said the same thing? If so, I can help you get started.
First, let’s make sure you have the right idea: Do you think people who work at wineries drink all day? Do you think it’s glamorous 100% of the time?
If you answered “yes” to both of these questions, you will be very disappointed with a tasting room job. The reality of No. 1 is that it’s illegal for tasting room staff to imbibe on the job. Penalties are stiff, and there are fines if you are caught — depending on who catches you.
Second, working in a tasting room is hard work. You spent a lot of time washing/drying/ polishing glassware, doing dishes and lifting/ carrying cases of wine, which weigh about 35 pounds each and can be covered in dust.
If you are still interested, you’ve passed the first test. Read on!
A good first step toward working in a tasting room is getting some accredited wine education. There are a few entities that offer credentials, and I recommend the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and the Washington State University Wine Tasting Room Certificate.
The WSET program offers four levels of certification and taking Level 1 will prepare you for work in a tasting room. Level 1 covers the basics of how wine is made, elements of the grape, different varietals and styles of wine, plus food pairing instructions. The time commitment for Level 1 is about eight hours.
If you have already spent some time working in a tasting room, Level 2 might be the best starting point. Level 2 covers regions of the world where vinifera are grown, the conditions in which they thrive, and the influence of climate, soil, elevation and aspect. The classroom time commitment for Level 2 is 16 hours — after you have read the texts on your own. Levels 3 and 4 both require a serious time commitment, and the studies are detailed and rigorous. You can take WSET in person or online, and I recommend WineAndSpiritArchive. com to explore your options.
Certified Specialist of Wine is a self-study program. After you register, you’ll receive textbooks and get a year to sit for the proctored exam. It also covers wines from around the world, information about vinifera, winemaking styles, farming techniques, etc. My absolutely unofficial and not-endorsed way to summarize CSW is it would be a blend of WSET Levels 1 and 2 with some Level 3 peppered in.
Washington State University recently launched its Tasting Room Certificate program. It provides the basics of serving wine within an eight-hour online class. The four modules cover some history of the Washington wine industry, including how the Missoula Floods and our geology contribute to our ability to produce premium wine, background on the federally established American Viticultural Areas and share some of the skills required to sell wine. The goal of this course is to prepare workers with the knowledge specific to Washington state
and wine in general, allowing the employer to teach the specifics about their brand. The cost for this course is $249.
If you’re ready to find a tasting room job, use WineJobs.com. I suggest using the filters to can also search Indeed.com and other sites, but the filters and content are most specific on WineJobs.com.
Another low-stakes route is offering to volunteer at one of your favorite tasting rooms. Wineries often need a few extra hands for a wine club release party or a big event, and volunteering is a great way to check out the culture, see how things operate and decide if they are the right fit for you. Another benefit of volunteering is that the folks in charge of hiring can see if you are a great fit for them. Some- times, a job offer is made after a few stints as a volunteer.
Wine competitions also rely on a sizable team of volunteers. If you know someone who is affiliated with a judging, ask them if more volunteers are needed. It’s hard, physically demanding work — and your entire day might be spent washing glasses — but the payoff is to meet the people in your wine region who might help you find an ideal job.
Tasting room managers want to hire friendly people who are enthusiastic about wine, and flexible part-timers are the glue that holds a schedule together. If you can offer a few weekend days a month, and/or a few evening events, that’s valuable to a hiring manager.
Some people make the mistake of thinking, “Oh, it seems like fun, and I think I’d be good at it, but I don’t know enough about wine. They wouldn’t be interested in me.”
If you are friendly, flexible, have any retail experience and can list wine credentials on your résumé, you’re a great candidate.
Go find that perfect wine job and learn as much as you can. You never know what new and exciting opportunities it could lead to, and I would love to hear your story as it develops.