Working with wine full-time is a dream job for so many people, and selling wine as a wine rep is by far the most accessible job if you don’t have extensive experience in the industry. It can also be a whole lot of fun.
I was a wine rep in my mid-20s and it was a perfect job for me at that point in my life. I had just gotten back from living in France, was living semi-nomadically, and wanted to learn more about wine and the wine industry. So it was a no-brainer when I met a French wine importer and distributer looking for a wine sales rep in my area.
Oh, and I was unemployed, which certainly helped in my decision to take the job ?
But what does a day in the life of a wine sales rep actually look like? There are some consistencies that you’ll see in every wine rep job, but some of it can also depend on the distributer you’re working for.
Some distributers are HUGE and operate on a corporate level. These companies usually have gigantic portfolios (i.e. their library of wines they have imported and available to sell).
Other distributers are teeny tiny and family owned, with a very focused, specific portfolio. My company, for example, only had three wine reps max and we sold exclusively small-batch French wines from family-run estates. (Look at me, still trying to sell our brand with that mouthful of words ?)
Regardless of the company size though, your day-to-day routine will be roughly the same. Here’s what you can expect on a normal day as a wine rep.
1. Plan Your Schedule A Day In Advance
A day in the life of a wine rep really starts the day before.
You need to contact your clients to set up appointments ahead of time and make sure you have all the wine you want them to taste on hand. Clients can range from country clubs to dive bars to high-end restaurants to airport lounges.
Pro tip: see similar clients on the same day so no wine is wasted. For example, if you’re hitting up a high-end restaurant who wants to see a $60 bottle of cab, try to schedule other high end restaurants on the same day that might also be interested in a fancy cab instead of taking it to the dive bar that sells chili in a bag.
2. Get Orders From Clients
With your appointments already set up, the first thing to do in the morning is getting orders from your clients. You can do this on your appointments throughout the day too, but since you’ll have way more clients than you can see in one day, you’ll need to reach out to most of them personally.
Many clients have specific days they place orders, so you don’t have to expect everyone’s order on the same day (which would be incredibly overwhelming), and a lot of clients will reach out directly with their order to save you time.
Ultimately, it just depends on the client. Everyone is different and has different preferences when it comes to ordering, and it’s something you learn over time.
3. Make Your Appointment Rounds
During mid-morning and afternoons, you’ll spend most of your day driving around with a big ol’ cooler of wine, so make sure to download some good podcasts!
As far as where you’ll be driving: every rep has a “territory” where they sell wine, and the territories can be really huge. The smaller the company, the bigger the territory since they’ll have less people to cover ground. In any situation though, driving is about 70% of this job, so you’ll also need to plan appointments around location.
When I was a wine rep, my territory sprawled from Charlotte to Chapel Hill, which are 140 miles apart from one another. So when planning my weekly appointments, it was super important not to book a client in two distant cities on the same day (though, it happened).
Other than driving, you’ll of course be meeting with clients and tasting wines! This is the fun part.
You’ll always have a wine spec sheet with all the wines you have on hand to give them so they can take notes and have a way to remember what they tasted with you. While presenting the wines, you’ll often taste with the client. Some clients spit the wine back into a cup or bucket, while others just down it then and there even if it’s 9am. Again, it totally depends on the person!
You’re (mostly) allowed to do what you want as long as you remain professional, but I usually followed the client’s lead when it came to tastings. The most important part here is just to know everything you can about the wines you’re selling that day and that they make sense for that client’s wine list.
Wine buyers taste with a WHOLE lot of people, so you need to make yourself stand out and/or develop a good relationship during appointment rounds.
4. Acquire New Clients
This is the hardest part of the job and the part I personally liked the least: calling or walking into new places to try selling them on working with your company and your wine portfolio.
Some distributers have a list of clients for you that they’ve been working with forever, so you rarely have to do cold calls or acquire new clients. But at some point when a new bar or restaurant opens up, you’ll be expected to knock down their door to get on the wine list.
It’s usually easy to sprinkle in the new client calls throughout the day between your standing appointments, and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to schedule a time to meet with them that actually fits into your schedule. Sometimes it can take literal months to convince someone to do a tasting with you, and sometimes they’ll be ready to meet that day.
Since I worked for a small and fairly new distributer, I had to do this All. The. Time.
I would not categorize myself as a true sales person, and it was nerve wracking for the most part. But on the other hand, it’s a fantastic feeling when you finally land a client you’ve been “courting” for months.
On the other other hand, I also sometimes had to drive 100 miles out of the way because a new client decided last minute they were available to meet with me that day ?
Ultimately, it is a sales job, so being flexible, comfortable with putting yourself out there, and open to meeting new people are incredibly important.
5. Facilitate Wine Events
This is absolutely the best part of working as a wine rep. There are SO many wine events you’re require to facilitate: wine tastings, wine classes, wine dinners, etc. You could be pouring the wine, doing a full presentation of a wine region, or simply enjoying the wines at a fancy dinner.
It’s imperative to plan these events during your appointments and try to schedule them at least a month or so in advance, as events are the best way to make fast and easy money due to the larger order sizes.
I probably had three or more events a week on weekday evenings, along with one or two weekend events. So this is not your typical 9 to 5 by any means.
This didn’t bother me because other aspects of the job were flexible, but not everyone loves the somewhat erratic schedule.
And that wraps up a day in the life of a wine sales rep! As you can see, it’s pretty jam-packed and sometimes more time-intensive than a “normal” job. Especially when you factor in all of the events that happen after-hours.
However, for many who love wine, the extra hours and endless driving are worth it to be working in an industry they care about. The endless amount of free (or mostly free) wine doesn’t hurt either ?