I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Jenalyn Johnson. Jenalyn currently works for a local wine distributor, but she did not always know she wanted to go into the wine retail industry. Read the interview below and learn how Jenalyn found, or rather stumbled upon, a way to turn her passions into a career.
How long have you been in the wine industry? Was it something you had been planning to do for a while?
I have been in the wine industry for 5 years. I jumped in or you could say I fell right into the business six months after turning 21 years old. Wine was never something I imagined I could do for a career. Now five years later, I could not imagine doing anything else!
Ever since I was a young girl, I knew that I wanted to be a sales woman. Starting at eight years old, I would go around my neighborhood, door to door, selling anything I could get my hands on. Looking back, I never dreamed that my future would be about selling something I’m so passionate about!
How did you get your start working with wine?
As it turns out, I got into wine during my college years, but not the way you might think! Growing up, I had a friend named Katy. Katy and I were close friends, so naturally I became close with her mother Sue. Sue was always sort of a business mentor for me. She was a Vice President for a large wine retailer at the time.
While attending college down in Florida I studied International Business, but continued to stay in touch with Sue. One day, out of the blue, she called me and informed me that her company was building a new wine store down by my school. She suggested that I go and work at the store. For some odd reason, she thought this might be a good career path for me. It’s almost like she knew me better than I knew myself. Up until this point, wine was a foreign language to me (I’d never even had a glass of good wine). Seeing as how I just turned 21, selling wine sounded like a good gig so I decided to give it a try (little did I know selling wine would become my future career).
Starting out in the wine business was no picnic. I put my time in doing inventory at 4am, pushing boxes, and learning the day-to-day operations of a large wine retailer. As hard as the work was, I was dedicated and decided I would give it my all. Within the first few months, I began to fall in love with the trade. I became intrigued with all the different wines at my disposal.
After about six months, I loved working with wine so much that I started working full-time so I could learn as much as possible. During my off time, when I was not in class, I would study wine as much as I could. As an International Business Major, I knew I wanted to sell something international. It was then while studying international business and working for the wine retailer that something started to click. I started to realize that I could use my International Business major to sell wine from all over the world. It doesn’t get much more international than that!
As my college days were coming to a close, I realized I needed more. As much as I loved working in the wine store, I needed to do an internship or something along those lines. With that in mind, I took an internship with a small international wine distributor the summer before graduation. Since my passion was always sales, I decided it would be critical to do my internship with a distributor instead of a store. The internship consisted of learning the day-to-day operations of a wine representative. In addition, I spent my evenings setting up and attending wine tastings, organizing paper-work and learning the portfolio. After this great experience, I knew I wanted to leave the wine store setting permanently and become a wine distributor!
After graduation, I ended up working for a small organic distributor. While there, I learned more about the trade and everything involved. At this time, I was only selling wine in DC. After eight months of hard work, I interviewed for the position at a middle-sized distributor. I didn’t want to change companies so soon, but I saw a great opportunity and couldn’t pass it up. This October will mark three years! It was a long, up and down process getting into the business, but each and every stop along the way helped me get to where I am today. My experiences have taught me that it’s important to keep an open mind, be honest, stay learning, and work hard!
What about the wine industry appeals most to you?
The most appealing aspect of working in the wine industry is being able to share the joy of wine with others everyday. So many people go through life working in careers they hate. Each day, I wake up and get to sell something that I love. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely a fun adventure.
In February, I took the WSET Level 3 Advanced Wine class at the WWA. It was incredible! This class opened my horizons and helped me realize you can never know enough about wine. The greatest line I heard was “If you actually think you know it all, you actually know nothing at all.” I love the wine business because the learning never stops!
What advice would you have for someone who has no experience in wine and would like to get into the business?
Start learning today! Looking back, I wish I had known about the Washington Wine Academy sooner. If I had, I would have signed up for classes much earlier in my career. If you have the opportunity, work part-time at a local wine store. You never know what the job could lead to and who you might meet!
How would you describe the wine industry/community in the Virginia/DC area?
This wine community is blossoming! The exciting part is people from all different ages are starting to get more and more into wine. With the Washington Wine Academy, local residents are able to come take varied levels of Wine Education classes, attend local wine events, and go outside of their familiar “go to” wines.
The important thing is that people are getting excited about being educated while still having fun! Whether they actually take a formal class, or just start studying on their own, they are getting excited about wine! People already in the industry are doing the same thing. They are continuing their education and stopping at nothing to better their knowledge of the industry.
What is your favorite wine event that you’ve attended in the past year?
It is funny you ask that! Just last Saturday, Washington Wine Academy held a “Beyond Malbec” tasting with Sebastian Zuccardi, the winemaker from Familia Zuccardi! Familia Zuccardi is a winery that sits at the foot of the Andes Mountains in Mendoza. They are one of the largest family-owned wineries in all of Argentina. Familia Zuccardi is all estate grown, hand-picked, and estate produced wine! They have been producing wines of exceptional quality and value for over 40 years!
The event was focused on teaching and educating the community about how far Argentina has gone beyond just Malbec. Can you believe there was an Argentina event without one Malbec at the tasting? That being said however, they do make exceptional Malbec. Not featuring it was different and unique because it shifted all the focus to the other wines Argentina has to offer. The tasting included a Sparkling Rose, Torrontes, Bonarda, Tempranillo, Cabernet, and ended with a delicious Late Harvest Torrontes. This is what “education” is all about!
And to wrap it up, what is your favorite wine, and why?
One of my favorite wines is Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose Champagne! This champagne house is family owned and dates all the way back to 1818. I would drink it every day if I could!
In general, Champagne is my favorite type of wine. In my opinion, there is no greater marriage with food than Champagne. When the bank cannot afford Champagne, a sparkling from somewhere else will do.