A Career in Wine?

Posted by Keith Wallace

From Radio to Wine

If you jumped back in time to 1996, you would find me pounding back espressos in my glass-enclosed office at a National Public Radio station. If it were 6 am, I had already been shoulder-deep in the morning’s newspapers while the AP wire streamed across a monitor.

Radio host at WHYY studio, wearing headphones, writing notes.

Reliving my salad years as a journalist, here in a interview for NPR.

On the wall across from my desk, I tuned a bank of televisions to all the major news shows; to my left, a circle of desks filled up with my young and sleepy-eyed staff. In less than seven minutes, we were on the air.

If you were to suddenly pop in and say “Hi,” I would have growled and given you a “what the **** are you doing here?” look. If that didn’t deter you, and you managed to tell me that in just about five years I would be starting the Wine School of Philadelphia, I would have laughed and then had you escorted out of the building.

Philly? Wine? A message from the future? Clearly, I was dealing with a wacko.

Wine education: bottle, glass, grapes, corkscrew and graduation cap.

Unexpected Wine Career Changes

None of us knows how our lives will change, and that includes me. I was a disillusioned journalist back then, and now I have an incredibly enriching career filled with people I both like and respect, and I get to drink great wine every day. How does that happen? How does someone find something they love and make a career out of it?

I have been asked that question plenty of times, but never with such frequency and ardor as in the last few months. The downward slide of the economy has soured many people on the idea of working just for a paycheck. Conversely, it has also inspired many people to start dreaming about changing their lives for the better.

My Winery Career

Keith Wallace, winemaker walking in a vineyard.

Just another day working in Tuscany, circa 2000.

When my career in journalism started to feel cramped, I thought about the world I originally existed in: the world of food and wine. In my twenties, I had worked as a sous-chef in several high-end restaurants. Thanks to several sommeliers, I had fallen in love with wine and winemaking, and had spent time learning about wine. Had sommelier courses existed back then, I would have taken that path.

However, I opted to go back to school and earn my masters degree in viticulture. It was an extraordinarily difficult several years. Transitioning from the high -adrenaline life to one of chemistry, statistics, and agricultural science was extremely difficult. I wasn’t the best of students, but I did manage to graduate at pretty much the bottom of my class.

I went on to start a great career as a winemaker, working in both Italy and California. However, the work didn’t capture me as much as I thought it would. That is actually not correct: I loved my job, and making wine is a great passion that I will never give up. The truth is that a gritty chef from Boston who grew up stone-cold broke didn’t really fit into the Napa lifestyle.

I pivoted to working as a consultant for the wine trade.

My Career in Wine Education

Group at wine tasting event with chalkboard menu.

Here I am in 2007, a young little wine instructor.

In 2001, I took an offer to teach a wine class at Chaddsford Winery in Pennsylvania. I was in the Philly region at the time, but the plan was to stay for a year and move on to New York as my career in wine consulting company, the Vinology Group, grew.

After teaching that first class, in the upper floor of the winery’s tasting room, I wanted more. I built a whole set of classes that the winery could offer. The classes started to become very popular, often selling out weeks (then months) ahead of time.

Before I knew it, I expanded the classes to a larger venue and passing out photocopied lists of the classes I was offering. Slowly, the Wine School of Philadelphia started taking shape.

Illustration of wine bottles, book, and graduation cap.

Pursuing Your Passion

Whether you’re frustrated by your job –or because of a sudden lack of one– take heed. Dark times such as these are the perfect moment to pursue your passions, to be a success on your own terms. Ten years ago, I was just another professional who hated his job. As for today… have you ever seen me frown? Didn’t think so.

If wine is your passion, I’d love to hear your story in person. I’ll be teaching a handful of classes in the Foundation, Intermediate, and Core programs. If you happen to be in any of those programs, reach out to me after class. We can sit back, have a glass of wine, and scheme grandly.

The Impact of Wine Education

Wine education can be a transformative experience. Whether you are a casual enthusiast or a budding sommelier, understanding the nuances of wine can deepen your appreciation and open new career opportunities. The Wine School of Philadelphia offers comprehensive programs that cater to all levels, providing a solid foundation in wine knowledge and tasting skills.

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