Three Paths That Led To Wine Industry Careers

Perhaps you’re seeing some new faces at your winery this summer, working their first tasting room jobs or getting involved as extra hands in the cellar or vineyard.
While some may just be interested in a job for today, others are likely intrigued by the possibility of turning wine into a career.
Since its first issue, Vintner Magazine has told a number of stories of the paths wine industry professionals have taken en route to their current roles at wineries. A subscription to the magazine is free to all wineries in the United States, and you can sign up here.
Here are three stories you can share with new employees who might be interested in making their winery job a career.

A Career Reboot

Emily Hodson, winemaker at Veritas Vineyard & Winery in Charlottesville, Virginia, said she was taking a year off from working in public health in infectious diseases when she caught the wine bug by accident.
Her parents, Andrew and Patricia Hodson, had just bought land in Virginia with the hopes of planting a vineyard and winery, and getting involved gave her a new perspective.
“I was planning on just being in Virginia a year to figure out my next steps career-wise,” she said. “In the process I was also helping my parents with a lot of the details of planting the vineyard and getting started.
“I absolutely fell in love with agriculture and being outside and all of the details of soil science and rootstock and varietals. It was a wonderful wormhole of science married with the beauty of actually creating something from crop that you spend most of the year tending to.”
Hodson stuck around to help the winery get off the ground and started coursework to obtain her Master’s Degree in Enology from Virginia Tech, completing the degree during her first three vintages of making wine in Virginia.
“I really loved the opportunity to study and work at the same time as it was a very tangible application of what I was learning in my Master’s Degree,” Hodson said. “I am not sure the degree specifically changed my approach to making wine, but it certainly allowed me to understand the practical and chemical side of winemaking.
“When you are comfortable with running labs and analyzing results it makes the creative winemaking side a lot more fun because you have a good understanding of the basic chemistry and stability of wine.”

Starting from Undergrad

Cole Stauffenegger, Assistant Tasting Room and Shipping Manager at Balletto Vineyards in Santa Rosa, California, knew before college that he was going to pursue a career in the business side of the wine industry.
He was familiar with it at a young age, he said. His dad was a sommelier from France who started a French wine importing and distributing company, and he said he was lucky enough to see different facets of the industry as a child.

“When it came time to decide what I wanted to pursue, I knew wine was my passion and saw that Sonoma State University was now offering a Wine Business Degree which was exactly what I was looking for,” Stauffenegger recalled. “So, it was an easy decision to attend SSU, and I am very happy I did because I learned so much from the curriculum.”
His junior and senior years included coursework focused on wine business, wine marketing, production, operations, and distribution of wine. He also completed an internship in wine business which led him to Balletto, where he works today.
“In these classes I not only got to learn all about the different aspects of the industry, I even got to taste wine in class with extremely knowledgeable teachers and learn how to dissect wines when tasting them,” he said. “This was a one-of-a-kind experience, that I will remember and hold on to for the rest of my life.”

He Just Needed a Job

Dennis Dunham, the Director of Winemaking at Oliver Winery in Bloomington, Indiana, was not originally looking to become a winemaker. He was just looking for a job and a way to pay the rent that didn’t involve waiting tables when he joined Oliver’s staff in 1996.

“I had a degree in chemistry, and I thought I was going to go to medical school. After I graduated, I didn’t want to go home, so I lived in an apartment in Bloomington with no furniture,” he said. “One night, after finishing a shift waiting tables, I sat down on the furniture I had and asked myself what I wanted to do to pay the rent for this place.”
He remembered driving by a small winery often, and knew that’s what he wanted to do.
Dunham applied and began his career working in the tasting room, but it wasn’t long before he knew he’d found his passion.
“I worked in the tasting room for eight months,” Dunham said. “Then they needed help in the cellar. Then, I was assistant winemaker, and now I’m the director of winemaking.”

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