I have not been a part of the wine industry for a very long time (a full four years to be exact), therefore I am very cautious to make generalisations of what I find and experience in industry. But after having some discussions with friends that have also had the glorious job of being a wine tasting room assistant, I have learned that there are certain things and people that are bound to cross your path if you find yourself presenting wines to at least 20 different people in one day.
Let me start by putting things into perspective, as I used to be a tasting room assistant myself. Back in my second year at varsity, I worked part-time in a tasting room for about six months to gain practical experience in the wine industry. The farm was on the smaller side and situated on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, thus the tasting room did not have an extremely large capacity. On the weekends the operations were singlehandedly run by one of the tasting room assistants, which usually led to either one of the following two extremes: a) a chaotic day of running around like a headless chicken or b) dying of boredom and wishing that one of the security guards at the gate would decide to come up for a tasting. Lucky for me, the latter situation occurred less frequently.
Given this experience I am well aware that presenting tastings and selling wines is not always a fun job- especially if you work on your own. But having said that, I also believe that it is one of the most rewarding jobs you can have as a student. The abundance of different people you meet is an assurance that there will never be a dull day as long as you meet someone new. Don’t get me wrong, I know that every now and again you will come across a know-it-all customer that claims to have a degree in Pinotage, but he (or she) can’t tell a Pinot gris from a Pinot noir. And of course there are the dreaded days when a group of 20 students arrive to create havoc in the bite-sized tasting room. To the great relief of tasting room staff, more often than not, the general public is curious and eager to learn more about the farm and the wines- regardless of their own level of wine expertise.
My personal favourite customers were always the “wine tasting virgins”. They were easily identified as they were usually confused by the placement of a spittoon on the table or used phrases such as “What should I be smelling in this wine?”. Although they were cautious and unsure individuals at first, they quickly warmed up to a person and always had interesting questions to ask and showed a genuine interest in what you were telling them. It was self-satisfactory to know that you are passing on some of your wine knowledge and you experienced a sense of proudness as they left the tasting room to move on to the next farm, almost like a parent must feel when their child moves off to college- I have done my job the best I could, the rest is up to you (queue single tear drop from left eye).
Working in a tasting room also presents you with the incredible opportunity to meet and mingle with winemakers from other farms that are keeping an eye on the competition. Hearing their personal philosophies about winemaking and views about the industry instilled a new sense of excitement in me and reminded me that our industry is surely one of the most unique ones in the world and certainly one to be very proud of.
So even though being a tasting room assistant isn’t seen as being one of the most glamorous jobs in the wine industry, it does expose you to a great number of people that find themselves in it- from the amateur wine taster to the winemakers and producers that are making waves and revolutionising the way we produce, market and sell wines and everyone else in-between. It’s a hands-on job that allows you to make a contribution to the industry every time you present a glass of wine and therefore it’s a job to be proud of!