My Career in Wine

Whether they’re making wine, distributing it, selling it, or writing about it, people in the industry have one thing in common: passion.

Nine months ago, the subject of this column was “Wine Wants You.” In it I discussed the wide variety of career opportunities in the wine industry. I also provided an e-mail address so that interested readers could tell us about themselves and their ambitions in the industry. To say the least, the response was overwhelming. Thousands of letters poured in. Obviously, many of you are interested in what the wine world has to offer. And your strong response inspired our cover story for this issue. “Careers in Wine” by Peter Kupfer is one of the most informative and enjoyable summaries of the wine industry I have ever read. See if you agree.

Your heartfelt letters and the article in this issue got me thinking about my own career in wine and what motivated me to found both the Wine Enthusiast catalog and Wine Enthusiast Magazine. I am a second generation member of a wine-related business. Fifty years ago, the wine business was not as glamorous as it is today. Few Americans understood the value of delicious table wine. The vast majority who did purchase wine chose fortified dessert wines. It was at this time—1950—that my father Joseph came to work for the exclusive New York-area distributor for the wines of Ernest and Julio Gallo. Twenty-five years later, Joseph’s son, Adam, armed with his MBA, joined the same organization, Premier Wine Distributors.

After 12 years as a representative of Premier Wine Distributors, working with retailers and restaurateurs, I decided to develop my own business model, and found an opportunity in wine-related products. The Wine Enthusiast catalog was born. Working out of my home, I was able to offer the most comprehensive array of wine glasses, corkscrews and wine cellars available anywhere in the world. The idea caught on. American consumers warmed to the benefits of well-cared-for wine in wine cellars, poured from elegant carafes into stylish stemware. American cuisine grew up also, and the twin phenomena fed each other.

Eight years after the catalog was born, in 1988, we determined that there was a dearth of wine information for intelligent, sophisticated readers who wanted to know more—there needed to be a magazine that informed, entertained and spoke to wine enthusiasts in language that didn’t intimidate, on one hand, or patronize on the other. Wine Enthusiast Magazine is now celebrating its 13th year.

During my 25 years in the industry, I’ve experienced an array of wine careers firsthand: with top-flight retailers, restaurateurs and distributors in my first life, then wine writers, editors and publishers in my second. Since that time, I’ve had the privilege to meet and observe consultants, winemakers, marketers and winery owners all over the world. What ties these disparate enterprises together is that they’re all a labor of love. I hope you enjoy our “Careers in Wine” article, and that it will inspire you to determine if there is a place for you in this challenging and constantly changing industry, whether in fact or in dreams. This is a vocation in which you can enjoy the “fruits of your labors” almost every day.

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If any people in the world have enjoyed their careers in wine it’s the Dillons, the sophisticated and worldly family who own Château Haut-Brion and three affiliated properties. You’ll enjoy reading about them, and about an incredible vertical tasting of Haut-Brion wines dating back to 1919. Also in this issue, Senior Editor Joe Czerwinski takes you on a tour of New Zealand; this is a country that is associated with one wine, Sauvignon Blanc, but as Joe discovered, there’s much more going on there.

If you’re confused about the controversy over interstate shipping of wine, you’re not alone—it’s a mess. But I think you’ll find that Steve Heimoff’s article will clarify matters, since he interviewed prominent spokesmen for both sides of this tangled, complex issue. Gary and Mardee Regan dispense some great advice on duty-free shops—but not only on bargains, which are, as many travelers know, a fleeting thing. Rather, they’ll help you discover spirits that you might not find elsewhere. Michele Anna Jordan looks at wine and cheese from the ground up—specifically, cheeses produced in the same region as grapes used in wine, and the natural affinity one has for the other. Eating fine food and drinking great wine—Ms. Jordan has made a career of this sort of thing. See what I mean?

-Adam M. Strum

Published on May 1, 2001