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Careers in the Wine Business: The Details of Retail

Aug 30, 2022 | Business, Careers, Education, Marketing, Retail, Sales

Interview by Nancy Rodriguez, chef and freelance writer. Originally from California, she graduated from culinary school in Portland and pursued a career in the wine industry. Having worked with wineries throughout the Willamette Valley and most recently in the Umpqua Valley region, now you will find her at the Rose Hill Bed & Breakfast in Lorane, Oregon, creating a culinary and wine experience for those who are traveling on the wine trail.

We recently talked with the owners of two wine retail businesses with different pathways that led them into the world of wine. They pursued a passion and followed the opportunities as they unfolded. Another wine enthusiast—now a buyer for a boutique market in Eugene, Oregon—tells of his pathway through wine distribution to find his place in retail.

Start at the (Wine) Destination

The Wine Destination is a wine bar and bottle shop in Roseburg, Oregon, owned by Sarah and Keith Everman. They define it as a labor of love as they worked from the ground up and accepted the ongoing vagaries of the business. They specialize in the wines of the Umpqua Valley, part of the Southern Oregon American Viticulture Area, and also offer wines from throughout the world.

Wine retail destinationQ1. What is your background in the wine industry? Did you begin working with wineries or other areas that were wine-related?

Sarah: Before moving to Roseburg, we lived in Phoenix, Arizona. There my husband, Keith, worked for a wine retail store similar to The Wine Destination, and I worked for a wine distributor. In addition, we both ran wine education groups. We also have some experience working in high-end restaurants.

Q2. What was your inspiration to begin the journey into the world of wine?

Sarah: That’s a long story! We both love wine and our passion for it grew over the years as we studied, traveled and experienced it more. Keith’s family introduced him to fine wine and I had my wine “ah ha” moment at a winery in the Applegate Valley (Southern Oregon) back in college. We also wanted to own a business so this was a perfect fit.

Q3. Do you have any formal training, wine studies or business management?

Sarah: Yes, we are both Certified Specialists of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators. We also both have other jobs. I am a university professor and Keith works in IT. My background in physiology has a surprising amount of overlap with wine.

Q4. What was a deciding factor in choosing to open your wine bar/bottle shop in downtown Roseburg? Who or what was most influential and did you have support from the local wine community?

Sarah: I grew up in Southern Oregon and we knew we wanted to live in wine country in Oregon. As we toured areas in Southern Oregon and up to Eugene we just fell in love with Roseburg. The people here are so welcoming and we feel that the downtown area is poised for growth. We found both a wonderful house and a great opportunity with our retail space, so it was meant to be.

Q5. Have you gleaned your experience from traveling to other wine regions and countries? If so, how has that influenced your decision to open the business?

Keith: We have traveled to many of the wine areas in the U.S. and we have toured the Rhone Valley in France. Travel probably didn’t influence our decision to open a business, but working in wholesale, retail and the restaurant aspect of wine sales in Phoenix showed us that we wanted to be on the retail side.

Q6. How do you see your role in the development of downtown Roseburg becoming a wine and culinary destination?

Keith: We are very involved in the downtown Roseburg community, and we absolutely see ourselves helping to develop downtown as a destination for locals and tourists alike. As they say, “If you build it, they will come,” and we think downtown has so much potential for growth and development. It is just waiting for the right investments to truly make it a destination. This has been a great opportunity for us, and we invite others to join us in the exciting future of this business. We are committed to bringing in anyone interested in advancing their career in the wine industry, mentoring those who want to learn, and providing valuable experience.

Our next stop is at The Spanish Table, owned by Andy and Tanya Booth

The Spanish Table is a specialty Spanish food and wine store with three locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, including Mill Valley, San Francisco and Berkeley. Just exploring their website, I had the experience of being immersed in Spanish and Portuguese cultures, as if traveling through Spain and Portugal. The idea for the store was born in 1985 at a dinner party with the original owners discussing an upcoming trip to Spain. Upon their return, it became their mission to bring the flavors of Spain to the new world. The Spanish Table was set.

Spanish table retailQ1. The story of how the idea for The Spanish Table came into being is a perfect segue into how the two of you entered the story. Could you elaborate on the decision-making process and where you were in your careers at that moment?

Andy: I took over managing the wine in the Berkeley location in 2003 after we ended up in the Bay Area with a career in high-end kitchens. We became friends with the owner at the time and became partners in 2005 to open the Mill Valley location. By happenstance, Tanya was working at a wine brokerage firm during that time and after we saw the store would be successful, she transitioned into that full-time.

Q2. Given your culinary background, was that a major factor in your vision for partnering with The Spanish Table? Did that also change the types of goods and services provided or was it the path you were already on?

Andy: My culinary and wine interest has always been focused on Spain from having lived there as a kid and Tanya was drawn into it after our first visit there together. We both love Spain and the diversity of food and wine that it offers and The Spanish Table was just a natural extension that let us make a living within that world. It was the opportunity we had been searching for to take our careers into the world of wine.

Q3. In establishing the additional stores, was it a leap of faith or was it the natural progression for the business?

Tanya: In answer to the first question, a little of both. We felt it would do well, but also, there is always a leap of faith when investing in an additional store.

Q4: In growing the business, do you feel that you have been able to help others decide on a career direction?

Andy: We have several former employees who have gone on to some very impressive things and they can say that the beginning of their wine career was at the Spanish Table. For several, it was the very first job in the wine business and for others, it was early on in their careers. We have former staff members who now make wine—one here in California and one back in his native Spain. One of them also gained experience as a national salesperson with an importer of Spanish wine. Another employee, who began their career at The Spanish Table, has been able to build on that first introduction and advance to managing a Spanish wine portfolio for a good size distributor. We also had a team member become a partner in a wine bar.

It has been great to see the growth! Once, at a wine dinner with several different wine buyers, I mentioned several of the people who had come through our shop one of the buyers said, “All those people worked for you? You are like the Chez Panisse of Spanish wine! A very generous compliment for sure.”

Q5: How has it enhanced your own careers?

Tanya: How has it enhanced our careers? I guess we are fairly well known as being a resource for many in the industry when they have questions regarding our little world of Iberian wines.

Q6. The Spanish Table is such a unique business, encompassing so many levels of retail but with an attention to the details that integrate it all. What would you tell someone who asked how you like running the business?

Tanya: Running three stores is a handful and is difficult at times, especially managing staffing. But we will work with people, with experience or not, who want to learn about wine. We love to eat, drink and dream of Spain.

A long and multifaceted career

So far, we’ve visited two retail establishments centered around wine, with one specific to Spain. Now, we’ll head to Eugene and the Capella Market—which claims to “proudly offer the best local, natural, organic and gourmet foods available.” In addition to the more than 150 regional microbrews and imports, James Daugherty oversees a selection of more than 550 wines—Northwest favorites alongside great finds from around the world.

At the beginning of his career, James was a self-described “on-sale beer-drinker.” His introduction to the world of wine was courtesy of a colleague and the discovery of an early vintage of a HillCrest Vineyard Riesling, made by pioneering winemaker Richard Sommer, of the Umpqua Valley. He credits this wine with establishing the trajectory of his career—which ran parallel with the growth of the wine industry in Oregon. Along the way, he relied on mentors in the business who were also instrumental in changing the wine landscape and turning Oregonians into wine drinkers.

James DaughertyQ1. What was your deciding factor in entering the wine business? Did you have an “ah ha” moment?

James: My “ah ha” was the introduction to different wine varietals, styles and regions by a wine steward at a local Bi-Mart store. The wine was a Valpolicella, and it started me on a journey that began in that store aisle and led to my Italian adventure of discovery in the “old world.”

Q2. Have you been able to create new opportunities for yourself throughout each phase of your career as you moved through the different aspects of the wine industry?

James: In the early years, I was a driver for a distribution company tapping into the burgeoning Oregon market. The company, Grape Expectations, had begun doing business in the 1970s. It was a stepping stone for me to become an importer representative and develop relationships with domestic producers, bringing in other regions, and eventually traveling to other countries, which greatly enhanced my wine knowledge. It allowed me to focus on specific regions and varietals. I brought to the job the advice of the owner, “Sales are relationships, develop them and the wine knowledge will come.” It is advice that has served me well in learning the language of wine and taking comfort in the realization that I will never know it all.

Q3. Describe your experience as owner of a distribution business.

James: I was in search of a new direction. I was able to bring my years of experience to establish a distribution business that allowed me to build one-on-one relationships and trust with clients. As an independent broker, I could focus on bringing new wines to consumers and restaurants. In my position now, as a wine steward/buyer for Capella Market in Eugene, Oregon, I can use that experience to create loyalty with the producers and the decisions about what goes on the shelf. Working for a smaller, specialty market allows for an integration of knowledge and experience that is a perfect fit for me now. It is the right place at the right time.

Q4. What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in the wine business?

James: Develop a good work ethic and realize your efforts will give you an advantage. Take comfort in the fact that you will never know it all; learning about wine is an ongoing process. Find what works and integrate long-term goals with relationship building. Trust your internal drive and do the next, right thing for the business.

James’ career is a testament to the longevity that can be achieved by building on each opportunity. He was able to parlay a job delivering wines into one of becoming a wine professional, amassing a long list of credentials along the way. It was a gateway that opened upon a world of food, wine and all those who bring it to the marketplace and to our table.

If you want a career in wine but don’t want to grow grapes or make wine, retail is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the business of wine. And as in any aspect of business, it requires a vision and commitment to achieving it. A career is built like a good wine, growing and nurturing the fruit, carefully blending, finding balance and savoring the long finish. Cheers!

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