Before we plunge into the intricacies of your journey to wine rep-dom, a few things about the profession itself. Well, one thing mainly: it’s hard. Harder and less glamorous than it looks.
It’s easy to imagine the life of a wine rep as some kind of nonstop, fancy free, wine-fueled traipse from restaurant to restaurant. There’s a lot more selling and a lot less wine guzzling on a daily basis.
That doesn’t mean it’s not a rewarding (and yes, awesomely wine filled) career. Not only does it get you ready access to a massive world of wine, but you don’t actually have to be a wine expert to be a successful wine rep.
That of course depends on the kind of wine rep you want to be. While the basic job of being a wine sales representative is moving bottles, there are a number of outlets you might be working for. Many wine reps work directly with wineries—sort of like the middle man between the wine maker, the retailer or restaurant, and, most importantly, your mouth.
Other wine reps work for large distributors, companies that bring in a variety of wines and sell them to retailers and restaurants—through the sales prowess of the wine rep. And still other wine reps work for retailers themselves, basically working out of a liquor or wine store. Except instead of selling one bottle to one customer, they’re trying to sell multiple bottles to restaurants and cafes and bars.
So how do you get there from here? Serious wine knowledge isn’t necessarily required—unless you’re working with high-end or wine-focused restaurants and bars, where, yeah, it’s helpful to be able to tell the difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy and maybe even pull out an esoteric find from, say, Georgia. But if you sell to a less wine savvy client, your only job is to know more than they do. Hard to predict that, but a simple grasp of wine vocabulary and some ability to “talk the talk” is useful.
Plus, since you are interested in becoming a wine rep, there’s also a solid chance you actually want to learn about wine—especially if you’ll be hosting tastings and wine dinners. Fortunately the job itself is a great way to learn, assuming it’s the kind of place where you can build your talents up as you go.
But a major, deal breaker component of being a wine rep is being able to sell. You could know everything there is to know about wine, but if you’re not a natural salesman, you’re basically just stuck with all that knowledge and no way to turn it into profit. (Because success for a wine rep is sales. A mild buzz is the cherry on top.)
Oh, and schlepping. There is a tremendous amount of schlepping in the life of a wine rep, and it has to be coordinated schlepping since you could have upwards of a couple hundred clients. Between keeping appointments organized and keeping your contacts personalized, you kind of should also have a fairly decent memory. Michael Scott, perhaps the greatest paper salesman of all time, had personal details on file for all of his clients. None of us can equal Michael Scott, but that kind of extra effort is the difference between good and great salesmen and women. Whether you’re selling paper or wine. (Hopefully wine.)
Alas there’s no way to really dive right into the deep end of wine sales-repping. Instead, you sort of have to get your toe in the door. Frequent your local wine bars or nicer wine retail outlets (not talking places where they sell jugs of Carlo Rossi). Talk to retailers and maybe even get yourself a job in a wine focused place (could be a restaurant, café, bar, store, etc.) And then, when the wine rep makes his or her weekly or monthly visit, don’t be shy—ask how they got into the business, take an interest in the wines—basically sell them on yourself. And then be willing to take the tough accounts and prove yourself. Do that, and you have a decent shot of being a wine rep.