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My Life in The Wine Business

Posted: Dec 15, 2006 11:40am ET

Since this is Wine Spectator, I thought it only fair that I write least once about wine.

When I was growing up, wine was consumed like food—always a part of dinner. Friends of the family would occasionally bring exceptional bottles, over which there would be so much excitement that a part of the meal might be changed or added to at the last minute to more perfectly complement the wine. Occasionally my father would put the wine in the cellar for a future dinner, and believe me, I’m still waiting for a few of those. Sometimes I'll impatiently wonder what he's saving it for, but his restraint with great bottles has produced some outstanding results. He has some California reds that are 15 to 20 years old, and are starting to be great! (The California whites, however, haven't held up so well.)

I began working in the wine industry almost 15 years ago. I was eventually made a "brand ambassador," (which is an elegant name for "non-commissioned sales person"), and given Manhattan’s top 50 restaurants to work with. If you're wondering how anyone would dare to pick what those restaurants should be, my strategy was simple and relatively democratic: I bought a Zagat guide and worked from that list. It was, I have to say, a great job.

People might think that a sales person sells a product, but the truth is, a successful sales person wins the trust and respect of his or her clients by listening and presenting. My attitude was, if the wine I was presenting was a good fit for their list, they would buy it. No real hard pitch necessary—just consistency and follow-up.

I learned a lot from the wine buyers, sommeliers, restaurant managers and chefs that I had the pleasure to meet with in the course of each day, even if they didn’t always buy what I was selling. There was one buyer in particular who was really tough. He hated the company that I worked for, so just refused the wines, period. It was his right to do so—his house, his list! But that experience taught me a lot about the inevitable politics of the industry. (Nope, I'm not going to name names.)
Wine, like food, makes people happy, and I was always grateful to be a part of someone’s happiness. It was a crazy and fun lifestyle, one that I thoroughly enjoyed, although now, as a parent, I can't help but sing a modified version of that old country-western radio hit: "Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be wine reps…"

Tim Kirchmann
The Quiet Corner of CT —  December 15, 2006 12:43pm ET
Claudine, Thanks for your insight into the business. As a lover of wine but by no means an expert, your work in the wine business sounds fascinating. And you bring up a great point: it is all about the people. Wine production is about the passion of the grower, serving and drinking wine is about sharing the experience with friends and family, and as you say, even selling it is about building a relationship of trust and credibility with the buyers.Some days, when job frustration hits 11 on a 10-point scale, I envision myself with my own wine store, recommending great wine to repeat customers and serving a niche in my community that way. Ah, dreams!
Claudine Pepin
Colorado —  December 16, 2006 2:44pm ET
Tim- Live the dream!!! It may never make you rich with dollars but certainly you will have a rich life! Cheers!
Claudine Pepin
Colorado —  December 16, 2006 2:57pm ET
To All -I will be out of town for several days enjoying some holiday cheer with my parents. Please forgive me if I do not respond to your comments and questions until after Christmas! Cheers and Merry!!
Dan Liguori
West Palm Beach, Fl —  December 17, 2006 12:43pm ET
That's perfect! I too, could write the same story, working as a brand ambassador, now supplier in the sunshine state. It really is a labor of love, dealing with people in the industry is great, and seems less like a job and more like socializing with great people, passionate about food and wine. I think most of us in this industry are service oriented and enjoy the satisfaction gained from providing a memorable experience. I measure my success in this business by the relationships I make with my wholesaler, building brands and people... that, I believe, makes me as rich as I could possibly ever imagine!

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Dec 21, 2006
Farewell and Thanks

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