Selling Wine in the Country

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Usually when one thinks about wine, images of relaxation, sprawling vineyards, and that first delicious sip with an amazing meal come to mind. They do for me too, which is part of the reason I thought delving into a career of selling it (outside of serving it to customers at a restaurant which I had been doing for eight years) would be a breeze, a seamless transition, and no more working nights!

Seemed like a good idea at the moment, so I did. I dove in head first, blind to the challenges I would inevitably face in a new, male-dominated career. I would later discover I was only one of three women sales representatives and the sole one on my route among my competitors. This, I found to be an advantage in most circumstances, as buyers appreciated my perspective and approach. Many would comment that they finally felt "heard."

I should mention that I am a very active, health-minded individual. I shop at my local co-op for organic produce, am a distance runner, and don't respond well to high pressure situations. If I could have chosen the antithesis of this lifestyle, becoming a fine wine account manager would have been it.

I began my journey in March 2011. Started training. Had a phone, a tablet, a car, a map, and fifty separate accounts to cover. I rose at six each day for the first couple of months in an attempt to get my workout in before I set out on my route; this plan had to be squelched as I realized I was working twelve-hour days.

Some mornings I drove two hours to visit an inn and a small store where occasionally I sold a few hundred dollars of wine, but more often, none. I turned up the radio, found myself navigating the Vermont countryside, livestock, the silence and unnerving lack of cell service en route to my destination and back to put away cases of beer and wine at a local store.

A cool and incredibly wet spring quickly became a roaring summer season. I received calls constantly. There were numerous unknowns. Could I fix a bar's draft system? This account didn't get part of their order, could I deliver it (which I did, on a Friday afternoon, two hours away). A job, which I thought would be about selling, tasting, and savoring the world of wine had quickly become one in which I was simply the delivery and stocking person. I was expected to have all the answers, all of the time, for each account.

As my sixty-hour weeks continued, my mood shifted. I wasn't running as much and had nothing left for my partner at the end of my day, let alone for myself. I realized in December, it was an unsustainable way of life, despite the salary and benefits. The true realization occurred when my supervisor visited one of my stores with me and noticed a couple of my products had been moved by a competitor. "Did you notice this?" He inquired, visibly upset. "No." I replied flatly, desperate to get out of the cooler and make this day stop. At that precise moment, I had a very clear epiphany, "I don't care." I told him. "I'm never going to care about whether or not someone moved my beer aside to put theirs in a better place and sell more of it. I don't care about hitting numbers and selling more than the other person."

Two months later, I was finished. I turned in my credit card, car, phone, the electronics that had become another appendage. I couldn't be everything to everyone while sacrificing myself and my personal relationships. It took delving into that job to make me realize what most mattered to me, and it isn't money. I'm not motivated by that desire, and in order to be successful in wine sales, you can't just love the wine, the vineyards, the story, you have to want to, above all, to make money.

After a few weeks of decompression and mixed feelings, I realized I didn't miss it. I sipped my glass of wine next to my partner and glanced over at him. I asked, "Do I seem different?" He took my hand thoughtfully and said, "Yes, I feel like I have Corey back."

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