Hiring season has begun

It’s starting earlier and earlier each year.

Wineries, bistros, restaurants, bars, and many other businesses in — or related to — hospitality are already actively recruiting staff for the upcoming season, some even hosting bona fide job fairs to seek out the best candidates.

So, it’s time for my annual look at the statement, “I want to work in a wine shop.”

I’ve been behind the tasting bar for several wineries and at a handful of events, sometimes when a colleague simply needs an extra body to handle traffic.

It’s a great gig that often comes with fringe benefits:

  • staff discounts
  • going to events
  • flexible hours

The best part for me, though, is the interaction with people who are new to B.C. wine, or wine in general, and the opportunity to share my own enthusiasm for the industry.

At the end of a busy day in a tasting room, when you’ve probably answered the same question dozens of times, it’s important to remember that while it may not be your first pour of the day, it may be the first Okanagan winery your guest has ever set foot in.

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

As the industry matures, these gigs have the potential to morph into year-round roles.

If you’re passionate about wine and wine tourism, think about putting your name forward.

But first consider these tips.

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.

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.

Then, get to know the wines of the establishment where you’d like to work. 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 ultimately a sales job. You’re not just selling the wine, but the culinary experience of the Okanagan.

Wine world coming to you

If you’re game for a road trip or a short flight to Vancouver at the end of February, the wine world is in Vancouver every year as winter begins to make way for spring.

The Vancouver International Wine Festival began on Feb. 23 and runs through this weekend, as it has for four decades.

This year, there are dozens of events from dinners, to seminars, to brunches, to a trade symposium for those in the wine business, and around 725 wines to try at the International Festival Tastings, from 16 countries.

The number of wines doubles if you include those at all 54 events.

That’s a lot of wine. No wonder seasoned veterans of the “VIWF” map their route around the tasting room and perhaps go twice; one night for whites and rosés, one for reds. I end these tastings with a couple of fortified wines, or sparkling wine or two as a palate cleanser.

A number of Okanagan wineries have packed up for the big city. The VIWF often heralds the calm before the storm of our full-blown wine tourism season and provides ample networking opportunities alongside tasting bottles that are difficult, if not impossible, to find in B.C.

This year, the festival’s theme country is California. Last year, Spain and Portugal were the theme countries, and the year before, Canada hit the stage for the country’s 150th birthday.

Why, then, would local wineries take part when it’s not our year?

The early days of the festival provide 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, the business of wine, and wine tourism.

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 for the uber wine geek.

This year, Canada is represented almost exclusively by B.C., including one sake producer, with a few wineries from Nova Scotia and Ontario.

Those of us living here in wine country might be surprised to hear attendees commenting:

  • Canada makes wine?
  • There are how many wineries in British Columbia?

Many Lower Mainlanders may not know they are a mere four-hour drive to hundreds of wineries in the Okanagan, Similkameen, Shuswap, and Kamloops areas, not to mention a ferry ride away from wineries on Vancouver Island.

But that’s changing as knowledge of B.C. wines continues to grow. Attending the festival to create the Canada area of the tasting room is an opportunity to educate seasoned wine veterans about what we grow and do here.

It also reminds tasters that even though the Vancouver Wine Festival literature says, “the wine world is here,” there’s a beautiful little corner of it just a few hours away.

Love the wine you're with

It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, and that means, for some, choosing a bottle of wine is a paramount part of the preparations.

There are many B.C wines I could suggest for the occasion, but instead I asked a handful of winery folks to tell me about their favourite bottle and why they love it.

These bottles are tied to memories, and that’s really want counts, no matter the wine.

Jeff Del Nin, Winemaker, Road 13 Vineyards
Wine: Campbell’s Rare Muscat from the Rutherglen region of Victoria, Australia.
Why I love it: It is a fortified, and extremely old dessert wine that is aged for decades in a solera system.

The complexity and richness in the wine is mind-blowing, and it fills me with a sense of awe and respect that wines of such majesty and perfection exist in this world.

Drinking one of these wines always reminds me of the 10 years I lived in Australia and all of the dinner parties that ended with a Rutherglen Muscat and sticky date pudding.

Christie Mavety, Proprietor, Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars
Wine: La Moussiere (Sauvignon Blanc), from Alphonse Mellot, Sancerre, France.
Why I love it: Fond memories of a visit to this domaine many years ago. After seven hours and many vintages, I will always have a special spot for this wine.

John Skinner, Proprietor, Painted Rock Estate Winery
Wine: 1998 Burrowing Owl Merlot and Cabernet Franc
Why I love it: In the early 1990s, my wife, young kids and I holidayed for the first time on the lake in Osoyoos. I asked a neighbour what that huge excavation was that we could see on Black Sage road. He explained that it was a new winery called Borrowing Owl; he then told me how the government had a new policy, paying wineries to pull out hybrids and plant vinifera to improve the quality of our wines.

I went home and explained to my wine club “if the wines coming out of Burrowing Owl are any good, maybe, there would be a good market timing investment opportunity to get in the industry.”

In 2000, my family and I returned from a European vacation in August. Several days later, I found two bottles of wine on my doorstep with a note asking, “are you getting in?”

My friend had dropped off a bottle each of the ‘98 Burrowing Owl Merlot and Cabernet Franc. I opened both bottles and phoned him.

All I said was “yup!” and that was the beginning of our journey.

Mary McDermott, Winemaker, Township 7 Vineyards and Winery
Wine: 1990 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne, from Maison Ruinart, the first established champagne house.
Why I love it: Dom Ruinart Millésimé is entirely made from Chardonnay grapes. It is a blend of different terroirs but all without exception Grand Cru. Tasting this wine was a revelation and the beginning of a love of champagne and sparkling wine that has continued to this day. The mousse was creamy with fine bubbles and the aromatics were divine.

This wine sent me on the journey to now producing sparkling wine.

Evan Saunders, Winemaker, Blasted Church Vineyards
Wine: Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Blanc de Blancs (chardonnay), from Champagne Larmandier-Bernier, France.
Why I love it: Latitude takes me back to France and a small wine bar in Paris’ Bastille. My little bit of French, their little bit of English, and plenty of gesturing brought my wife and I to this wine.

We shared it with friends in Beaujolais, and each time I have had it since it brings me back to eating spectacular bread, cheese, and charcuterie in their sun-filled kitchen in Villefranche-sur-Saône. Amazing!


Join the (wine) club

Like me, you’re probably seeing more invitations to join wine clubs.

No, not a neighbourhood gathering to share bottles, but the option to sign up for a winery’s well, club.

And you may hear the acronym DTC more frequently in the wine world — direct-to-consumer (shipping, is the usual meaning).

While there are still barriers to the totally free and open movement of wine across provincial borders, trends in the industry indicate DTC sales are up.

What does this mean for the average wine drinker?

It’s time to join the club. Or maybe a few clubs. Numerous benefits await, especially if you are building a cellar or enjoy sharing a bottle on more than just special occasions.

Benefit No. 1? Discounts.

Most winery club members receive reduced prices on wine purchases both at the winery and when buying online, not to mention special rates for events; as a club member you may get front-of-the-line status for signature dinners or concerts at your favourite winery.

You’ll get a better shot at tickets for popular events.

No. 2? Access to exclusive wines.

Wineries may not put all of their wines out for purchase, but will hold back hard-to-find vintages, often wines that may be bottles from a smaller production, or unique blends, or library wines they’ve kept hidden away for a few years.

The latter may then go into select packages for members only.

If you’ve found a winery that you love, but never seem to pick up enough bottles before your favourites sell out, benefit No. 3 is frequent shipments.

No more worrying that you won’t be able to get to the winery to replenish your stock. Most clubs have different shipping frequencies and you choose once, twice, or more over a year.

Look for clubs that offer options, including how many bottles you need to purchase per shipment or annually, and keep in mind that while it’s typically free to sign up, you will need to buy a few bottles.

Finally, the fun perks: pick up parties!

Join your fellow club members for member-only get-togethers to pick up your bottles in person. You’ll get wined and dined, probably meet the winemaker, maybe get a behind the scenes tour, and enjoy an afternoon comparing notes with fellow aficionados.

As B.C. wine continues to rack up awards and recognition, more wine tourists make their way here, and wineries hang their “sold out” signs earlier each year; having your club card can help to ensure you get your favourites, conveniently packed, shipped, and delivered.

More Okanagan Taste articles

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.

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