Facebook’s ‘On This Day’ reminded me that it was three years ago, December 3, 2013 that I accepted my first full-time job in the wine business at a winery in the Napa Valley. At the time, I was not-so-gainfully unemployed after eleven months of severance and part-time work. I had been offered the job before Thanksgiving and had said yes, but there were some final details to work out before it became official. When I knew on December 3, I was still unable to speak about it due to confidentiality.
I never imagined myself loving wine or even working with wine. I was a longtime college professor of French and Spanish who planned to retire from that position, even though the work had become increasingly frustrating as my responsibilities shifted from traditional classroom to more online teaching and committee work. Faculty had not had a raise in at least five years when I was let go in 2012.
During those last five years, 2008-2012, I began exploring other sources of income. Because of extensive frequent flyer experience, I became a home-based travel agent in 2008, landing a wine marketing company as my first client. It was with the owner of this company that I had my ‘wine moment.’ One of his clients was a winery in the Napa Valley, so together we tasted a 2005 estate Cabernet Sauvignon from this winery. For years, I had been trying to enjoy wine without success, but in that moment, I fell IN LOVE with wine.
While I continued teaching, I took on more side work as a travel manager. Over the course of the next couple of years, my original client above connected me with a wine importer in New Jersey and two wineries, one in Sonoma, and the other the producer of that life-changing Cabernet Sauvignon. They paid me for my work in both money and wine.
In the meantime, wine also became a hobby. I began using Twitter in 2008, mainly for my travel business, but found myself connecting with a growing wine community. During 2009-2011, I participated in a number of online tastings, where wineries would send me wine to share with my followers. By June 2011, I realized that I should be doing more to share these wines, so I created this website. I had no formal wine education and had no idea what I was doing.
I traveled to the Napa Valley my first time in March 2009. My immediate reaction after that first trip was, “I could live here.” Throughout 2009-2013, I visited Napa, Sonoma, and the San Francisco Bay Area another eleven times. People I met along the way kept telling me I would end up living here, but I still could not visualize it for myself.
When my teaching position was eliminated due to a budgetary reduction in force in August 2012, I threw myself into my favorite pastimes, travel and wine, usually both together, to alleviate the challenges of having to teach another four months while knowing my ‘lifetime career’ was ending. I also decided to take Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s Foundation and Intermediate courses over the course of that final semester.
When December 12, 2012 (12/12/12), the final day of my teaching career, arrived, I didn’t have any career plans. I used my nine months of severance to figure out what was next. I taught part-time, I poured wine and beer at a local wine shop, I wrote for a lifestyle website, and I continued to manage travel. My original travel client promoted me to executive assistant within the company. I learned a little about the back end of wine marketing and sales: compliance, depletion, social media, trade shows, etc. It was enough to make me realize I didn’t want to teach full time again.
However, that job came to an end in November 2013 due to company downsizing. Coincidentally (or not), the part-time teaching gig also ended in November. I emailed my connections in the travel and wine businesses letting them know I needed full-time employment. Oddly enough, I wasn’t afraid, even though I didn’t know what the future held and I was completely unemployed for the first time in my adult life.
Before Thanksgiving, I received a text message from the producer of THAT CABERNET. It said, “Have you ever thought of moving to Napa?” I didn’t hesitate. I replied, “YES!” On December 3, 2013, the winery formally made me an offer and I moved to the Napa Valley on January 11, 2014.
January 11, 2017 marks my three-year anniversary of living and working in the Napa Valley. That decision has been the most rewarding and most challenging of my life. The cost of living almost crushed me in 2015, until I took a new job, a promotion, at my current winery. Many days, as I drive Silverado Trail to and from work, I still feel like I am on an extended trip. I often can’t believe I really live here, and that I am surviving some of the hardest financial trials of my life.
Following one’s dream, one’s ‘winestory’, is not for the faint of heart, but it is for those who are OK with what I call ‘good fear’, taking calculated risks, and working and playing harder than you’ve ever have in your life. What’s stopping you from creating your ‘winestory?’ Will 2017 be the year you decide to go for it?