A great wine experience

Pouring for patrons – working in a wine shop

You’ve probably noticed a plethora of job ads, social media postings, and other alerts from wineries throughout the Okanagan.

Not only is it pruning season in the vineyard, but hiring season is in full swing in the tasting rooms.

There is a strong demand for wine shop associates, winery hospitality managers, wine club coordinators and others who look after the customer experience after the wine has gone into the bottle.

It’s often seasonal work (May to October), and part-time. Both parameters are a challenge for those seeking “regular” work, not to mention the oft talked about housing issues for employees.

As the industry matures, though, these gigs have the potential to morph into year-round roles, likely with a break in January or February. And they can offer a lot of flexibility in scheduling, plus access to numerous events, industry discounts, and educational opportunities.

I’ve worked in a few tasting rooms over the last decade, and stepped behind the table for wineries at events so their staff could take a break, as long as I knew about the wines and could speak about them intelligently.

If you want to work out front in a winery, the first piece of practical advice I can give you is take a wine class.

Your application should go to the top of the pile if you have taken a WSET class or two. This is the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, and having the Level 1 certificate, usually a one-day class, will give you some basics. Getting serious about winery work?

Go for Level 2 and 3, and if you’re really, really serious and wine is your new career path, start saving tuition money for the WSET diploma.

While you’re at it, get your Serving It Right certificate. It’s easy to do online, and teaches you the basics of serving alcohol in B.C. It’s a requirement for many reasons, and believe it or not, it comes in handy for other purposes, such as when you need a special occasion licence to pour booze at a public event.

Have a look at a few classes at Okanagan College, particularly the Wine Sales Certificate program, or a few continuing studies sessions on food and wine pairing, wines of the world, as well as beer and spirits.

Well-rounded knowledge will help you direct guests to restaurants, nearby libations, or choose a wine to pair with dinner.

The second piece of advice? Get to know the wines of the establishment where you’d like to spend the summer. You’re preparing for a job interview. Do your homework.

  • How many wines do they make?
  • What do they not produce?
  • Are the grapes all grown on the property or other parts of the valley?

Never forget, this is a sales job, and you have to be able to read people. You’re not just selling the wine, but the culinary experience of the Okanagan, looking to create repeat visits.


Uncorking the Okanagan

A sign of impending spring wine releases at Okanagan wineries? Pruning? Bottling?

Or braving the interior highways to get to Vancouver?

It’s a combination of all three. In our recent frigid and snowy weather, dedicated vineyard managers, wine makers, and even winery owners have been out pruning the vines in between inside duties on the bottling line for upcoming vintages.

But a couple of handfuls of Okanagan wineries have packed up this week for the Vancouver International Wine Festival. Now celebrating four decades and at just under two weeks of educational seminars, dinners, galas, and large-scale tastings, the VIWF often heralds the calm before the storm of our full-blown wine tourism season.

While last year VIWF celebrated Canadian wines for our country’s 150th anniversary, this year the festival has two theme countries, Portugal and Spain, under the unofficial umbrella of wines of the Iberian Peninsula.

Why, then, would local wineries take part?

As a wine-producing country, the Okanagan being just one region in Canada where vineyards roll over the landscape, Canada is young. Very young. We are the middle school child just getting used to the complex world of the playground that is wine.

The early days of VIWF provides our winery principals with numerous seminars during the trade days conference. Here, they attend exclusive tastings aimed at educating attendees about wine production and winery management in the theme countries.

Wine geeks from around the world can unite, this year, during Port (Portugal’s signature fortified wine) and Cava (Spain’s signature sparkling wine) seminars.

Winemakers also socialize and exchange business cards at receptions at the coveted trade tastings. Coveted because, unlike the evening festival tastings, there are fewer people crowding the tables, and much more time to chat with your cohorts about varietals, yeasts, and barrel aging.

Think of it as professional development. With booze (and plenty of spittoons).

Of the 173 wineries attending this year – pouring 1,450 wines, in case you were wondering – Canada is represented almost exclusively by B.C., including one sake producer.

The lone booth from outside our province is from Nova Scotia’s sparkling wine region. The lone B.C wine producer from outside the Okanagan is from Vancouver Island, with 23 wineries from the interior ready to pour.

Those of us living here in wine country might be surprised to hear tasters wandering through the 16 countries commenting, “Canada makes wine?” or “There’s HOW many wineries in British Columbia?”

Vancouverites attending may not even know that the are a mere four-hour drive to hundreds of wineries in the Okanagan, Similkameen, Shuswap, and Kamloops areas.

But believe it.

We’re the new kid on the block and attending the festival to create the Canada area of the tasting room is an opportunity to educate seasoned, worldly wine veterans about what we grow and do here.

It's also to remind our big-city neighbours that even though the Vancouver Wine Festival literature says, “the wine world is here,” there’s a beautiful little corner of that world a short drive or flight away.

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About the Author

A creative thinker with more than two decades of experience in communications, Allison is an early adopter of social and digital media, bringing years of work in traditional media to the new frontier of digital engagement marketing through her company, All She Wrote.

She is the winner of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association's 2011 and 2012 awards for Social Media Initiative, an International LERN award for marketing, and the 2014 Penticton Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award for Hospitality/Tourism.

Allison has amassed a following on multiple social networks of more than 30,000, frequently writes and about social media, food and libations as well as travel and events, and through her networks, she led a successful bid to bring the Wine Bloggers Conference to Penticton in June 2013, one of the largest social media wine events in the world, generating 31 million social media impressions, $1 million in earned media, and an estimated ongoing economic impact of $2 million.

In 2014, she held the first Canadian Wine Tourism Summit to spark conversation about the potential for wine tourism in Canada as a year-round economic driver.

Allison contributes epicurean content to several publications, has been a judge for several wine and food competitions, and has earned her advanced certificate from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

In her spare time, she has deep, meaningful conversations with her cats.

She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.