Alex Hunt (26), Group Wine Buyer, Berkmann Wine Cellars
How did you get into the job? At uni I got into the wine tasting scene and I got a holiday job at Oddbins. By the time I was in my third year I already had some experience and contacts, which helped me get my first full-time job in the industry.
Job history: At Oddbins I started as a van driver, then I moved to the shop floor, where I worked for over two years. When I finished uni I got a sales position at Mayfair Cellars. As several people left, I took on more of their roles. I ended up doing a job that combined sales, buying and marketing for most of my five-and-a-half years there. Unfortunately, the company collapsed in April 2006.
I then started working freelance: writing articles; judging at wine shows; and doing wine events for businesses. During this time I was approached by Berkmann Wine Cellars, and I started working for them in June 2006.
Best bits/worst bits: The opportunity to discover new wines and flavours, and the satisfaction that comes when they turn out to be popular. I also like the travelling; it's fabulous to be able to visit beautiful wine regions. Another positive is that it's a sociable trade.
There is a lot of hot air within the trade, so it can be a challenge getting well informed enough to tell wine fact from fiction.
Advice for wannabees: Get a job in a wine shop and work your way up. As long as you're willing to work long hours for not much money it can be good fun, and a good manager can help kick-start your career. It's a question of getting used to the products as there is so much to know, and it can be very confusing.
I'd also recommend you buy a book on wine, buy some wine and see if you enjoy linking the flavours to the story. If you don't enjoy that, it's probably not worth going further. Just carry on drinking the stuff, and keep enjoying it, without taking it too far. The industry is not as glamorous as it might seem and being a wine buyer is about more than standing around all day drinking.
CV essentials: Some knowledge of wine will help you get your first job in the industry and knowledge of one or more foreign languages is a big advantage.
There isn't one particular way into the wine industry, but there are many ways of learning about wine. A job in an off-licence, an administrative job in a wine company or as a waiter in a restaurant can all be good stepping-stones. Reading books and magazines and attending tastings will also help you learn.
The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) offers wine courses leading to internationally recognised qualifications - courses range from very basic beginner courses to highly specialised diplomas.
Alex's role covers a wide variety of responsibilities. He sources new wines, and decides which wines to take off and which ones to add to the wine list. Occasionally, he might also get involved in creating a wine, from blending the wine to commenting on the label design.
Identifying any problems with a wine and getting the suppliers to sort it out is also part of the job, as well as talking to the wine press.
Experience can be gained from attending wine tastings, reading books, going to wine shows and working in wine shops.
For official qualifications, WSET offers internationally-recognised wine courses for total beginners as well as people from the industry. Alex is currently studying for the notoriously difficult 'Master of Wine' course, generally considered to be "as far as you can go".
Personality/Who would it suit
You have to love wine and have the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes because you're not buying for yourself. Being open-minded and willing to listen to other people's opinions, while at the same time having strong personal opinions, is also crucial.
Being sociable is a must as it's a very personable business. Attending wine fairs, tastings and meetings is a big part of the job so you have to like meeting people and be able to get on with them.
It would suit someone who is inquisitive, and someone who would be able to keep on top of a trade that is constantly changing.
The wine industry does not have such an obvious hierarchy as more traditional professions, and due to this there are quite a few different directions one can go down after being a wine buyer. These include working as a consultant, trying your hand at wine writing or getting into product development and wine making.
Pros and cons:
by Karin Modig