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Break into the wine industry - how I got a job at a vineyard

Get a job in wine

Two years ago, I was just finishing my fourth year as an investment banker in New York.  I knew I was going to leave banking to start business school in the fall, and wanted to do something interesting with my summer.  I always had a passion for and interest in wine, and so I decided to try to get a job at a vineyard. The only issue was that I had no actual wine industry or vineyard farming experience at all!  So how did I get an awesome job at Sullivan Vineyards, a small, gorgeous vineyard right in the heart of Napa Valley?

The first step was to make a target list of wineries. I'd been to Napa and Sonoma a couple of times before, and also asked as many people as I could for suggestions on whom to reach out to. I limited my search to smaller, family-owned places, as I thought I'd be more likely to get responses from those places than from the big guys. I ended up sending 80+ emails to various vineyards and wineries, and got about 15 responses of various types. Here is what my email looked like, along with the initial response from Sullivan Vineyards, the place I ended up working:

My initial email:

Dear Sullivan Vineyards:

I am writing to inquire about doing an (unpaid) internship at Sullivan Vineyards from May to July of this year. A little background about myself – I am 25, male, graduated from Dartmouth College in 2007 and for the past 3.5 years have been working as a financial analyst at J.P. Morgan in New York City. I am leaving my job at the end of April before starting business school in the fall, and was hoping to work at vineyard before then. Food and wine are the two big passions of my life. While I have significant experience tasting wines, both at vineyards and through various classes and events, I have never worked in the wine industry. I would be more than happy to do anything and everything at Sullivan Vineyards, from helping create/manage databases and financial spreadsheets, doing field or maintenance work, stocking or moving boxes and cases, helping out in the tasting room, or anything else that might be helpful. I realize that this may seem like an odd request – but I honestly feel like I can contribute a lot to Sullivan Vineyards, and would love the opportunity to prove that. If you need any additional information, I’d be more than happy to send that to you or set up a time to talk.

Best regards, Pooneet Kant

I knew I was in for a good summer when I got this response:

I am quite interested. Please email me back, as a reminder, of your request next Tuesday. You see I am 60 and drink for a living so memory is not my strong suit.

Look forward to a chat.

Cheers

I emailed back the next week, and they agreed to have me work there for the summer!  I was extremely excited - but also a bit terrified, since I really didn't know what I'd be doing at all. In fact, I showed up the first day wearing a button down shirt and boat shoes (see picture above), and was almost laughed out of the place. Eventually I got some farm-appropriate clothes and got down to work - and it was one of the best experiences of my life (which I'll write more about in a future post).  

So, if you're flexible and persevere, you can definitely get a job in the wine industry! Having that initial experience, even though it was unpaid (except in lots of wine, which is not bad thing), made it much easier to get more actual jobs in the industry, like the one I currently have at Winestyr. And at the very least, you'll have an amazing experience, learn a ton, and get to drink some great wines along the way!

By Pooneet Kant

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