The 1st Step Struggles
So I may have thought, "O, jumping into the wine industry will be easy, I've been working in the food and beverage industry for 15 years." Yea, I was wrong about that entirely. It's a whole different ball game, and a frustrating one at that.
So I had a plan when we moved to North Carolina ironed out in my head. I would go back to Johnson and Wales University for their continuing education program and get my WSET certifications (Wine & Spirit Education Trust). I knew there were three levels, and figured I could get through them within the first year of being there, especially since I was still unemployed at the time and just home with our infant son during the day. Then, once I had my education down, I would pursue going back to work at a local winery or vineyard to get hands on experience.
Well, almost a year of living in North Carolina, and I still haven't enrolled in classes. Covid struck and ruined the chance of going back to school, because less popular classes were being cancelled and all schooling went virtual. Well my first thought when that happened, was "I refuse to do virtual learning." I figured if I sat down comfortably in my home, tasting multiple wines while reading content from a book, and listening to a virtual teacher, I would just end up wine drunk and not retaining any real knowledge. I also saw the struggle that my kindergartner went through her first few months of virtual schooling, trying to stay focused and sit still in front of a screen for hours, and I figured it wouldn't be much easier for me honestly. So I just passed off enrolling until things went back to normal, at first, but then here we are going into March 2021, and Covid is still here.
With schooling being pushed off, I decided to just go ahead and start applying for jobs in the wine industry, and hopefully I could play off of my years of customer service and restaurant experience, making the lack of wine knowledge a non-issue. Well it's been an issue. The job market during Covid in the service industry was something I have never seen before. I have had many jobs in the industry, and have never had any issues with getting a job I've wanted or just good jobs being available period. But with businesses running with skeleton staff to save money, and keep their operations afloat, it made it a struggle to find a good paying position to work around my schedule requirements with my kids. Everyone was looking to work nights and weekends, because they were doing virtual schooling during the day with their children and needed those times off.
I kept hitting walls with jobs needing me to be able to work around what my availability actually was, and it was frustrating. When my daughter finally did go back to school in person, I had better hopes of being able to go back to work full time, and put our son in daycare now that he was not so tiny. But then I realized that every time a kid sneezed or coughed, they may send them home, or shut school down. Within the first couple months of her being in school, in person, they closed school down twice for a quarantine period when a positive case arose. I realized that I couldn't go into a new job, and keep it, if I suddenly couldn't go to work for two weeks at time, because school kept closing. So my new plan was to start working an opposite schedule from my husband. I would work the evening shift, starting around 4:00 pm, so that way I was home with the kids during the day.
I hit another wall, because most wineries and vineyards within driving distance of where we were living, were only open until about 6:00 pm, and also were only open a few days a week because of Covid restrictions. So I then had to shift gears again, and accept that I probably needed to just go back to serving at a restaurant for now, until restrictions eased on the service industry, and childcare was more secure. I tried my best to find positions at restaurants that had a heavy wine influence, so that I could at least be gaining some wine knowledge in the process. I'm pretty sure I searched for the right job for weeks and weeks, had several interviews, didn't get called back, and was getting extremely frustrated. I started doubting myself, because I didn't have the wine education or sales experience that most places were looking for. I hadn't really felt that feeling in a long time, because I had been successful in the food industry for so many years. I had an interview at an upscale restaurant, Napa on Providence, that was going very well, until I was put on the spot to open a wine bottle. I nervously took the bottle and wine key with shaky hands, because I was so use to half-ass opening bottles that were sitting on my kitchen counter, or pulling the cork straight through the foil, or using the non-professional bottle openers. It took me a bit to get the foil off the bottle, definitely not in one swift movement, and then I proceeded to break the cork off in the bottle. The hiring manager, brushed it off as if it weren't a big deal, and explained that I would get better with practice, but needless to say, I didn't get that job.
I had another interview at a local wine shop. It was the most embarrassing interview I have ever had. They were asking me so many technical questions about wines and spirits, that I just had no idea how to answer. I tried to keep bouncing back, and continue on with confidence, but it had been shot pretty early on in the interview. To my surprise, I was actually offered that position on probationary terms, while I went through the proper wine education I needed for the job. I was excited and grateful to be given the shot, but ultimately when I did the math, the starting salary was not going to be enough to cover the bills I was handling at the time.
I realized at that point, that starting out in a new industry, pretty much on the bottom of the totem pole, that I was going to have to be in a position to take a much lower pay rate than I was use to having with serving and catering, since I did not have the qualifying experience. That wasn't going to work at the time, so I took a shot at applying for management roles as well. I got an interview for a tasting room manager position, which went well. The operation had a lot of wine and food service priorities, so I was able to play off my strengths in management from the restaurant industry. Ultimately they offered me an entry level position, with the possibility of getting the assistant manager role when they opened to full capacity and had two management positions instead of one. Again, the salary was not going to be enough at the time, so I had to turn that opportunity down as well. At that point, I just wanted to stop all together with the job hunt, but unemployment benefits were soon to be over with, and I could not just sit around not making any money.
During the job search process, I had put out multiple inquiries into working at a local urban winery, Davidson Wine Co. I had wanted to get a position there for a while, because I was impressed that it was owned by a black female, which you don't see much of in the wine world. Anytime I saw an open job position, I sent in my resume. I didn't hear back at first, but eventually I got a call from their Chef about an open prep cook position. I was a bit disappointed at first, because I was not looking to get back into the kitchen, but I thought at least it was a foot in the right door. I was able to work out a mixed position with the owner, Lindsey, to where the majority of my shifts would be in the kitchen, but I also would be able to be a wine server out front some shifts, and work with her to get experience from her wine making facility as well. She also told me about a scholarship program she would be doing for the wine certification programs at Johnson & Wales, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to avoid paying for more schooling while getting hands on experience. I took the position, which had me working nights and weekends, not being home with my family all together that often. It was a hard adjustment to make. I was however optimistic about finally having a wine oriented position.
I quickly fell into a routine with my shifts there, being back in my original element of the kitchen. I enjoyed helping create special menu items for guests to try to pair with Davidson Wine Co wines, and enjoyed the wine service side of it as well. The wine bar always had fun events going on like sushi and wine pairings, live music, 90's brunch, taco Tuesdays, and more, which was fun to be apart of. The staff was great to work with and the support for a black business with the Black Lives Matter movement gaining so much traction in 2020 kept us busy on prime nights. Guests would travel from pretty far just to try Lindsey's wine, and treated her like a celebrity, wanting to take pictures and get autographs with her all the time. It was so impressive to see a female in this industry go from a completely different field, into owning her own wine business because she had a passion for it. I also saw a different side to the winery industry. Most that I had visited had full vineyards, producing the grapes for their wines. Davidson Wine Co however was an urban style winery, without the vineyards, and had the grapes shipped into their facility to produce their unique wines. It opened my eyes up to there being multiple avenues I could go about my wine business one day.
Red Wine Poached Pears with Red Wine Syrup, Candied Walnuts, and Marscapone Filling
Goat Cheese Stuffed Local Figs with Crispy Prosciutto & Toasted Pistachios
Unfortunately, the scheduling of that job just wasn't going to work out. We were moving to another city in North Carolina because my husband found a better job opportunity, and the drop in childcare I was using for the overlap in our work schedules was going to be too far away to use. So I had to go back to square one, after only being their for a couple months. Ultimately I decided to press pause, and go back to a regular restaurant where I could make quick cash serving and have a flexible schedule. I would revisit getting a job in the wine industry once I got through my schooling, to hopefully have a leg up in getting a higher level position.
So here I am now, a waitress at a nice restaurant, making good money. I decided to work Friday through Sunday, and cut down on weekly childcare cost. But I have my dates of enrollment for my wine certification courses, back at a wine shop in Charleston, where I can get through the programs faster. And instead of working my way into a position at a winery or vineyard, my husband and I have big plans to just start our own businesses while I hone my wine education and skills on my own time. So I may have hit several bumps trying to get my foot in the door of the wine world, but I have not given up!