Question from a student

Last term at Southern Oregon University I was asked by a student a seemingly (at first glance) trivial question about wine which, after some contemplation, didn't seem so trivial at all.

He asked me something like this, "So, what's the big deal about wine, anyway? Why the hype?" I really did not know how to answer that question so I asked him if I could defer that answer for a couple of days.

The student seemed earnest enough and was contemplating a career in the wine business at the distributor level, said he "enjoyed" wine but was a "pretty pragmatic" fellow and wondered if this was the business that he should pursue. He was studying marketing and wondered what kind of fit he'd make in a business which was about (his words) "money, romance and glitz."

After a few days I really wondered how I would answer him and reflected on my own life in the wine business.

What was it that had kept me in the business for so long and what about the folks around me who had stayed in for such a long time, like my distributor friends such as Jon Barbo, Ron Stringfield, John Wren, Laura Stout and the indomitable Gavin Gracey? Some of these folks had done retail, distributor sales and restaurants and had never left the world of wine. What was it about this business that kept them coming back for more?

I also reflected on the fact that this was a very important answer to give to this (close to graduating) student and I wanted to be fair, honest as well as pragmatic in my answer. One of the things we do not know as university teachers is just how much influence we actually have with students, so I weighed my answer with the understanding that he may well act on what I say to him! This is a grave position to be in and I never take questions like this lightly.

My friend Gavin agreed that wine is about the "good life." It just so happens that where there is good wine there is usually good food and good conversation as well as the opportunity to meet very fascinating people.

It is also true that wine is not only local in its production or grape growing, but is also regional, statewide, national and international in scope, so that the opportunities are seemingly endless for a person who wishes to work hard and/or wishes to travel the world. Where there is wine production, there are jobs to be had as well as opportunities to grow with the industry. This is true throughout the world and as consumption grows, science pulls ahead and more vineyards are planted, real opportunities in the wine business increase.

There are also the careers of wine judging, wine writing and wine education open to all who come to this business. This is the cerebral part of the industry, which attracts many talented people around the globe.

Those who wish the "outdoors" have vineyards to plant, tend and harvest with the great satisfaction of having fine wines made from their efforts.

Yes, there is "hype" in the wine business (as elsewhere) and a bit of romance and, if one is lucky, willing to do the easy as well as hard work and somewhat visionary, money. I do think that money has never been the driving force behind all aspects of the industry, as strange as this might seem. It is my firm belief that money is somehow transcended in this business by quite a few folks, not that they don't want a buck or two, but this is not the reason they tote a bag of wine from client to client, or clean barrels at a winery. I think it is a matter of balance, balance between earning a living and allowing oneself to relax with other folks with the same interests, vino.

It is true that most people who enter the wine business rarely leave this business and continue on for the rest of their working years establishing new clients and friends as well as finding new and exciting wines to sell, taste and share with others. All in all this is a good life. This was my answer to him said over a glass of red wine and he thanked me.

See you next week!

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