Getting into the Wine Industry: Redux
The most popular post on my blog is Getting into the Wine Industry that I posted back at the end of 2010. With over 9,000 views of that post, I’ve gotten a great response over the years, and also have learned about a lot of successful transitions into the wine biz that the post facilitated. Recently, a finance professional reached out to get a bit more personalized information on that. Here’s his query, along with my answer for today’s job market.
I hope this note finds you well. After spending 15 years in finance across various industries (wine/alcohol not being one of them), and getting my MBA along the way, I’ve decided that I want to work on the business side of wine. However, getting the transition started has been rather difficult. I wanted to reach out to see if you can provide any advice on how I can make the transition.
My ultimate goal is to be CFO of a winery but I understand I may have to take some intermediate steps before landing a finance role at a producer. I live in New York City and job postings for companies in any part of the wine business seem to be few and far between. And relocation most likely isn’t an option, although my wife has said she’d be willing to relocate if I land the right role in the right geography (i.e., northern California). I’ve contacted the very few alumni from my business school who work in the industry and scheduled one informational interview so far. I’m also considering sitting for Level 1 of the WSET certification so that I can add it to my resume.
I wanted to see if you have any additional information to offer, or if there’s anything you can recommend specific to my situation, such as types of companies I might not be considering, how to go about finding networking opportunities, or anything else I can do to make myself more attractive to potential employers. I’d greatly appreciate any guidance you can provide.
Dear NYC MBA,
I’m glad you found that post from 2010, and it is definitely time to put up a new take on getting into the wine business. Reading my post from 2010, I think a lot of it is relevant for your situation. First of all, finance experience translates well to a broad array of businesses, including wine. Having your MBA, from a very prestigious east coast school, is also very impressive and gives you a great foundation in business management that many companies will find valuable. So you have a strong footing to get this transition going.
As you mentioned, networking is key. I’m glad you put out calls to fellow alumni. That’s a great first start in building your network. And you’ve reached out to me, which is helpful for us to build a relationship and for you to gain more industry information. Keep doing that with others. I would recommend reaching out to finance people at some of the wineries you like, and see if they would be up for an informational interview. Most likely it would be a phone interview, given that you are in New York City.
You mentioned that you would relocate to Northern California. What about looking at finance positions that are in smaller markets? Sometimes there are more viable candidates in the epicenter of the wine business than there are in smaller geographies, and you could set yourself apart by bringing an MBA and business experience to an underserved location. And some of the other markets outside of Napa have major players in the wine business including Oregon, Washington and Upstate New York.
But perhaps your goal is also to work in the wine industry in Northern California. There are bigger companies that have more finance and business management needs in the major winemaking areas. They also are facing fierce competition from their neighbors for the same talent. The salaries and compensation packages do tend to be better in the bigger winemaking regions, with Napa Valley leading the way (please see the Wine Business Monthly Annual Salary Survey for more information). Also, larger companies tend to be more willing to bring in professionals from outside of the industry, partly because many industries are so closely related, especially in finance, and because they have more ability to train and develop employees than smaller companies do.
Now, while the product wineries make gets all of the attention, there are a lot of ancillary businesses that need finance professionals. Vineyard management companies, equipment suppliers, software development companies, fulfillment operations and packaging suppliers all support the wine business. Don’t forget to look at positions with companies that sell products and services to the wine industry.
And with three-tier distribution still alive and kicking, most states have importers, distributors and brokers supporting wine suppliers efforts to sell their wine. These companies also need finance people, and have locations nationwide. New York City has many importers and distributors right in your neighborhood.
I do encourage you to dip your toe in wine education. Right now, your LinkedIn profile doesn’t reflect any wine knowledge. Getting a first level certificate from WSET or the Court of Master Sommeliers will be a badge you can put front and center on your LinkedIn profile, and on your resume. As I’ve blogged about before, you must show some interest in wine in your job search communications and your resume needs to show your strengths.
I hope this is helpful, and I look forward to staying in touch. Keep me posted if you head out to Northern California!