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Export Manager

We are starting a series on career options in the wine industry. 

Salary range: It would be rare for a winery to pay less than $100,000 per year as this type of job is usually only offered by mid-sized to large wineries. Many would pay between $100K and $150K, and if you land a job in charge of exports for a major Champagne house you could be looking at $250K plus. Export Manager/Director is usually one of the best paid jobs in the wine industry.

Career path: Typically you would have experience in sales and marketing starting as a sales rep, then a regional manager, and then you’re let loose in international markets.

Ideal qualifications: Depending on where you are exporting to, languages can be useful, especially Asian languages like Chinese or Japanese. Employers like to see BA’s and MBA’s, proven sales experience, wine knowledge and knowledge of distribution systems in different countries, networks of buyers, public speaking skills for when you pretend to be the “winemaker” at a Winemakers dinner, a willingness to work alone for weeks on end, and the ability to travel for 3-6 months of the year. So all this tends to favor those under 45 who don’t have a family. 

Job description:  The most exciting part is going to a new country and finding an importer for your brands. This is usually done with the help of Chambers of Commerce, trade commissions, and letters of introduction direct to importers. During an initial market visit of say 5 days you may meet with a dozen companies. Then you go back for another trip a few months later to have another meeting with the companies that liked you. It’s a rare event that an importer chases you.  After much sampling, negotiation and contracts you get an order and return home to announce to all that you are now shipping to yet another country. After that it can get a bit boring. You return and work the market, going to stores and hotels and restaurants. Sooner or later you might get disappointed with your importer and decide to jump ship to greener grass.

The job is a double-edged sword. At first it’s exciting to travel the world, meeting a diverse group of people, going to major trade fairs, staying in nice hotels, eating and drinking well, and occasionally getting into trouble. But it takes a particular person to endure the enormous physical toll that 3-6 months on the road can take, working alone, and after 5 years most people start to loath the thought of another trip. Also beware of the fact that your skills are now in export, and so finding another type of sales job in the wine industry can be tricky. This is not a good job if you have a family, but it is an excellent one if you are young and ambitious. 

 How to get a job as an Export Manager: Going to trade fairs, mailings, and general networking. You often need to develop a relationship and some trust with the employer as they’re about to pay you one of the highest salaries on the payroll and trust you not to spend weeks searching for an importer in Bangkok nightclubs.

Super Tuscans vs traditional Sangiovese

Last week I was lucky enough to spend 5 days visiting the greatest estates in Tuscany, comparing traditional Sangiovese against the so-called Super-Tuscans. We went to Brunello estates like Biondi-Santi, Chiant producers like Monsanto, and the great names in Super Tuscans on the coast.

Conclusion? I prefer the classic traditonal wines of Chianti and Brunello. They have more character, a unique style, and can age beautifully. It’s not to say that the Super Tuscans were bad. On the contrary, some were great. But many were just dense, concentrated, oaky wines that could have been made in several other countries.

Wine of the trip? Monsanto, Chianti Classico Riserva 1977. To die for. Poggio Antico was great too. And of the Super Tuscans I like the Gaja and Tua Rita the most. And as for that countryside, simply stunning.

Michel Rolland and Robert Parker

Over the years I’ve heard countless people slag Michel Rolland, the world’s most famous and successful flying winemaker. In Mondovino they went for the jugular accusing him of making all the world’s wines taste the same.

He almost filed a lawsuit for defamation of character, and then decided not to stoop to the low level of a guy like Nossiter, a Sommelier, who made the documentary. 

In September last year I visited his own estate in Pomerol, called Le Bon Pasteur, and was fascinated to learn about all the new techniques he was using. It was beyond cutting-edge and clearly demonstrated the hard work and “out-of-the-box” thinking of one of the world’s best winemakers.

The visit was conducted by David Lesage, who made a passing comment that he could not comprehend why so many people relished in bashing Rolland when they had never even met him.

But I suppose what it really boils down to is envy. His detractors surely cannot accuse him of making wines that taste the same everywhere he goes, because it is simly impossible to tell if a wine was made by Michel in a blind tasting. So they must be suffering from a bad case of jealousy because he has so many clients, makes heaps of money, and seems to be living like a King.

Parker is another victim. What’s he done wrong to all the armchair quarterbacks? So he prefers a style of wine that is big and bold. So what? Everybody has their preference. Parker has done more for consumers of wine than just about any other person, and I throw in the “just”. He has tirelessly work for decades, in relative isolation, pouding out countless books and tasting notes which have been of enormous help to wine lovers, and producers for the most part. Surely the Parker bashing has more to do with envy than anything else.

So next time you hear yourself bashing Rolland or Parker ask yourself if your comments are really justified or is it more out of envy, or a desire to make yourself feel better. Would you say the same to their face? My guess is probably not.