I was just asked, “I want to become a wine professional, where do I begin?”

I could only respond, “Where do I begin the answer?”

It came as I was finalizing all details for the Ninth Annual Petite Sirah Symposium  (Concannon Vineyard), still wrapping up the Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium (Oak Knoll Winery), helping out other clients, having a house full of guests all summer (living in Sonoma Country has its advantages for those I love), and having two new grandchildren come into the world within three months of each other, with both of their mothers on family leave from our business for a year, with Jose and I picking up the slack.

Bad timing for this question, because I could only answer this question with a question.

I’ve been telling my husband Jose that I need to hang a new shingle ~ Jo Diaz, Career Counselor.

I just got another query, and so I answered it. I’ve been asked this so much that I’ve decided that it needs to be a story on my blog… Here’s how it will read. Get ready… It’s unfiltered.

Because a blog makes someone very visible, especially if it’s a journal and a portfolio all wrapped up into one, it tells a story that so many people can relate to.

One my site, I’m very clear that I came from another industry… FM radio. Those PR consultant talents from radio were used to segue into wine PR, but it was very challenging. I wasn’t born into this business, I didn’t know anyone in the wine business, and I knew very little about wine. That didn’t stop me, though. I knew I wanted in, and I knew I was going to get it… but at what cost I had yet to discover.

My resume read well, but once I got into interviews, it was very clear that although I was a professional in another career who was at the top of her game, I was now on the bottom. While in radio, I wrote the company’s corporate manual on how to carry out the responsibilities of a PR specialist to meet FCC requirements for serving the public interests. This company had 11 radio station’s from Maine to California. But in the wine business, I didn’t even know who Robert Parker was… I was that green in this business.

I’ll never forget having newly arrived out here, and having an HR person in Napa ask me what all of my tasting room colleagues names are at Belvedere Winery. Hell, I barely knew the streets in my neighborhood. I felt like asking her if she had ever moved 3,000 miles, leaving everyone and everything she knew for over 45 years… all left behind . Let’s just say that I was literally standing on my head and cross-eyed. I didn’t know that I shouldn’t really be applying for my past in the present. That was over, and so was my positioning for at least a couple of year.

It was time for me to eat some humble pie. It didn’t matter that I was teaching 18 year olds by the time I was 19. It didn’t matter that I was the director of a school by the time I was 23. It didn’t matter that I sat on many boards of directors in both Lewiston and Portland, Maine… For a few of them I was the first woman on those boards, once barriers had been broken down, and I was interviewing book authors and community leaders on a radio community issues talk program. Nope… None of it mattered anymore.

How did I manage to make ends meet, with only one day in Belvedere’s winery tasting room? I took a job with a company that I knew would hire me, and I’d just be another-dime-a-dozen gal. It would be a company that I wouldn’t have to lie to anyone and tell that person that I so wanted this career and couldn’t wait to work for the company for the rest of my life.

That would have been a big, fat lie, and I taught professional ethics (as well as other subjects) for five years. I had taught myself well.

I got out my toilet brush and went to work for a franchise cleaning service. It only took me about two weeks to figure out how the system enslaved its women. While visiting an open house for a new neighborhood, I told the real estate agent what I was doing and why I was doing it. She hired me on the spot to clean her house. Once I cleaned her house, her friends hired me. I stopped working on Fridays for the franchise group. It only took three months to have my cleaning service dance card be completely filled. I left the franchise company within three months, and I was making really good money. It was aerobic, so my endorphins were a-humming, but this wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

The inevitable crossroads… Did I want to become the best housekeeper in Sonoma County, or did I really want to pursue my career in the wine industry. One-by-one in a two year period, I had to say goodbye to my clients, each time as more hours became available at the winery.

Could I have done this if we didn’t have two household incomes? Never… I would have been going back to Maine in about a New York second.

Could I have done this if I wasn’t willing to switch my computer for some Comet and a toilet scrubbing brush? Not on your life.

Was I destined to prove to myself that I can do anything I set my mind to? Yes, very much so.

So, you want to do this too? How much are you willing to give up and how much are you willing to be completely humbled, because that’s all it will take, assuming that you have something to fall back on. For me, it was a partner. If you don’t have a partner, you’d better have a rainy day fund.

Why did I write this?

Because this was the question asking for advice. It read:

I recently came across your blog, which is why I wanted to send you an e-mail. I’m coming up on my seventh year of working on Capitol Hill, mostly serving in the capacity as the communications director for a couple of members of Congress. I’m slowly beginning, by this I mean over the next couple of years, looking to transition into something else. I noticed on your list of experiences you made a transition from a different industry to the wine industry. I don’t know much and I am taking the steps to learn more about the wine industry, I have found that wine is becoming a true passion of mine. I can only imagine how busy you are, but if you had a few minutes to offer any advice, tips, suggestion on making such a transition I would be grateful.

I get about one of these a month. I’ve  repeated this story so many times that it needs to now live on this blog, so that when I’m asked again, and I will be… it’s as sure as rain… I can direct people to this story. It will save me so much time. I need to pay attention to writing for clients and not getting into long conversations about being laughed out of some pretty great wineries, because I was so disoriented.

I don’t mind being asked. I’m willing to give back to people who need more perspective. I just need to shorten how much time I spend as a career counselor, because I was never trained to be one.

Do you think this story is too harsh? I’m done glossing it over. It is what it is… my personal history. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. I just had to live it so others can brace themselves for the ride.



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