Twelve years ago, Liz Thach left her career in corporate human resources, moved to Sonoma Mountain, Calif., and started a new career in the wine industry. Currently, she is the professor of management and wi nd pitfalls of life among the vineyards.
What’s the best way to get started in the industry?
There are many jobs in the industry that are not at a winery: wine shops, restaurants, distribution, suppliers, et cetera. It tends to be a small family-oriented business, so developing relationships goes a long way. Developing a background in wine helps you speak the language. Continuing education is a wonderful start [see sidebar]. If you want to be a winemaker, you’re going to have to get a degree in it or work your way up as an apprentice. Working in a tasting room is one of the best places to start.
Why does the wine industry require a special knowledge base, apart from a standard business education?
There are more than 60,000 different wine labels out there. There’s no other industry that can be so confusing, from a marketing and sales standpoint. Music is the only industry with more labels than wine. Plus, it’s a regulated industry. Each state has different rules about how it can be sold.
How is the culture of the industry different from the typical business environment?
So many people want to work in the industry because of the romance associated with wine and the beauty. It doesn’t pay as much as high-tech or biotech. But most vineyards are in the most beautiful places in the world. Lovely buildings, nice architecture. It’s a nice lifestyle. So there’s a trade-off there.
Know your grapes
Cornell University, Fresno State University and University of California, Davis have revered programs in winemaking at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels.
The Society of Wine Educators (www.societyofwineeducators.org) is a nonprofit that specializes in certifying wine specialists at multiple levels of expertise.