26: The Wine Epiphany

26: The Wine Epiphany

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

The Wine Epiphany

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

~Confucius

Have you ever heard anyone say “I have the BEST job on the planet?” Anyone? Well if you haven’t, then I will be the very first to tell you. I have the BEST Job on the planet! Seriously, it’s not a joke. I really mean it. I wake up feeling happy, jazzed every morning, and looking forward to what my workday will bring. Are you thinking, “That’s too good to be true?” Well, believe it. I’m a Master of Wine (MW), which means I taste wine for a living. I literally get paid to travel the world and taste wine! Most would agree that is definitely a dream job.

It wasn’t always like this though. In fact, there was a time when I was miserable in my career and in my life. I felt lost, alone, and depressed while walking the tightrope of a breakdown.

Most people, I’m sure, can relate to this at some point or another in their life. I worked so hard for years to get a high-end position in London with an international financial firm, thinking that would bring me happiness and success. I never thought I would end up hating my prestigious international job that made me six figures.

I would work non-stop all hours for months straight, including weekends. I had no life, just 100-hour workweeks. “Churn ’em and burn ’em,” “sink or swim” and “only the strong survive” were common mantras. Being one of the very few women not an administrative assistant, I felt even more pressure to succeed.

After one particularly long night, at 3 a.m., I begged my boss to let me go home for just a few hours sleep (and a shower because, frankly, I stank). The financial world is NOT known for compassion. The cold response I got was, “No, you are going to complete this client presentation.” I couldn’t even see straight. How anyone could expect attention to detail at 3 a.m.? This meant a higher risk of mistakes, which only led to one place, me getting screamed at by various people until I cried.

Shortly afterward someone came up to me and said, “Don’t worry! After ten years of this, you’ll have ‘paid your dues’ and you get to be the boss.” I felt trapped and couldn’t breathe because for the first time I realized that I didn’t want my boss’s job or my boss’s boss’s job.

I was bound by the infamous “Invisible Golden Handcuffs.” What to do?

Then, one business lunch changed my life forever.

On this particular day, I was honored to have been invited to a business lunch and participate in a client presentation that I had created. Our firm’s executive dining facilities overlooked London’s Thames River right near Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. While most days are gray and overcast in London, on this day the sun peeked out.

The servers came out from the kitchen with an herb-crusted salmon. Excitedly, I saw servers pouring white wine they called Sancerre. In the UK and continental Europe it is not taboo to drink a glass of wine with lunch.

When I tasted the salmon with the wine… WOW! I was absolutely blown away by my first food and wine pairing experience. The fresh grassy notes in the wine created a bridge to the herbs crusted on the salmon. And the lemony acidity of the wine cut through the fattiness of the fish. This made the dish seem lighter, the flavor of the fish pop and it created a cleansing sensation, preparing me for my next delicious bite!

Then came another epiphany. It occurred to me that the chef in the back intended for this reaction! He didn’t just say to the servers, “Hey, give ’em whatever we’ve got.” There was a conscious decision to put these two things together to create precisely this experience. This was a revelation and it opened my eyes to an entirely different world I never knew existed. At that moment, I vowed to learn more about it.

In between the evening work hours, I took a wine class, still returning to work afterward to finish my day in the wee hours of the night. To say my first wine class was casual is an understatement. Our “teacher” would go out and buy six bottles, pour us tiny amounts and we’d chat. At this point, wine was a newfound hobby, so I didn’t complain that the information wasn’t very good. Trying the wine and being out of the office for an hour was satisfying enough.

Some months afterward, all of us expatriates were sent back to our respective countries because our firm merged with another. So I went back home to New York. It was there I took my first “real” wine class and I fell in love… with wine.

Insatiable for any information I could find, I bought books, read wine magazines and spoke to people in the industry. I spent hours in wine stores looking at labels and writing down what I saw and looking them up on maps when I got home.

The concept of TQM (Total Quality Management), states “if you pay the highest attention to the quality of your product, the money will come.” So I concluded that if I invested in the quality of the product (ME of course and my knowledge of wine), the money would come in.

I began to realize that wine was not a mere passing fancy. I was now studying into the wee hours and loving every second. I loved the viticulture, the science of winemaking, the business and finding out exactly why each wine tasted so different. This was my passion and I was delightfully obsessed.

I made the decision to leave my firm and my six-figure salary to go work for a wine store in Greenwich Village at practically minimum wage. I did not blame my family for thinking I had lost my mind. People tried talking me out of it, because, quite frankly no one makes money in wine (or at least so they thought).

My passion for wine and knowledge, however, would not be swayed! Before taking the job at the wine store and then a wine distributor, I insisted that I would have to leave early to take wine classes and I took any wine classes I could get my hands on.

Then someone mentioned the Master of Wine title. This is the highest certified title in the wine world. It requires passing a four-day exam, including identifying thirty-six wines blind, days of essays on viticulture, winemaking, global wine business, contemporary issues and QAQC (quality assessment and quality control). The exam is given only once a year and the limit is only three chances to pass half of it. The exam has a ten percent pass rate and after passing, one had six months to complete the third part, write a dissertation.

Challenge accepted and won! It was strenuous, exhausting and arduous work but this time, I loved it. I became the fourth woman in the U.S. to obtain the title of Master of Wine (MW). It was something I could really be proud of.

The road was not easy, money was tight, and it took the better part of a decade. I worked full-time while pursuing all of this, and — yes — I made a ton of mistakes. But investing in oneself is NEVER a mistake. It may take a while, but if you keep moving forward (even at a snail’s pace) you will get there! I now make more money doing what I love than I did in international finance and I don’t regret a second of it. I was worth the investment.

~Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, MW

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