by Rose Vaswani

I was a waitress for 16 years. Then I got pregnant. When I quit I said I would never go back again. I went from the exhausting job of waitressing to the exhausting job of parenting. The best thing about both of these jobs was a nice glass of wine at the end of my shift. I knew I had to go back to work so I decided to become a wine broker. When people hear I sell wine for a living their response is: “ Sounds like fun. You get to drink for a living. You’re so lucky.” I tell them about my trips to Napa all expenses paid, Lunch with famous winemakers, and the luxury of having a private collection and then I tell them If you are considering quitting your day job to become a wine broker, walk away, walk away now, better yet- run as fast as you can. I wish I had your day job, You’re an accountant. That sounds wonderful.

I’m a year and half into it and it hasn’t been easy. I gained 7 pounds the first year and that’s the best of it. Six months into it my husband called me from work. He lost his job. So I became the man and he became the mommy. On top of that, my left eye won’t stop twitching and I need a shrink.

First year is more like an internship. The money is crap. No one can survive on it. Few make it past the first year. Your buyers, the people you sell to - restaurant managers and store owners, wanna make sure you’re gonna be around and not flake out cause you can’t hake it.

After 6 months my husband was asking:

Eric: Uh honey,Where’s the money?

Me: Don’t’ worry it’s coming. 600 a month is pretty dam good. Budget. Figure it out. You can do it baby.

If you work for the little guys like myself, there is no base salary and it’s all commission. 10% of what you sell. My competition is this big company that works like the Mafia. They wear suits and sit at the bar waiting for the buyer to come out of hiding. On top of that they are like the Walmart of Wine reps.

Mafia: Hey you don’t need that $10 no name Chardonnay on your list. I got one for 5 dollars. Chateau St. Michelle. You charge 10 a glass you making a nice profit.

Just the other day I had to school one of my buyers:

Me: Hey, I noticed my wine is not on your list anymore. Remember you commited to 10 cases. You only went through two and the winery is asking questions. They gave you a special deal. What’s up you sleeping with the mafia rep that keeps hanging out at the bar.

Buyer: Actually yes, she’s my girlfriend.

Me: Are you kidding me. Really. What am I gonna tell the winery? Do you know how many winemakers I’ve brought to lunch here? I carry good wines. You won’t find my wines at CVS Pharmacies. I want a Pinot or a Chard on your list for 6 months or I’m walking away.

Buyer: Sorry. You can beat the deals and I think I’m in love.

Me: Congratulations. I’m gone.

Buyer: Sorry to see you go.

I went through a steep learning curve in the beginning.

My first trade tasting was Taste of Paso Robles and I got sloshed in 15 minutes. I ran into my boss “Oh hey Shane, this is soo much fun. The wines are soo good that I just can’t spit.

The next day I told the guy that trained me, otherwise known as Mr A, short for asshole, that I got drunk. He was known for being one of the rudest people on the planet but the slickest salesperson around. He was pissed off.

Mr A: Never Swallow, do you understand. You’re a profesional. Act like one. Did I not teach you how to spit? (Demonstrate).

A typical day in a professional wine brokers life goes like this: Set up appointments, grab wine to taste and try to close the deal without being too pushy.

In the beginning there is a lot of cold calling. It’s a bitch. You never know what you’re gonna find on the other end but cold calling in person is a totally different animal. You can use your charm. If you’re a woman like myself, it behoves you to dress like a woman, show some legs for chrissakes.

Mr A. went with me on my first cold call. He noticed I was walking in with the wine bag and stopped me:

Mr A: What the fuck are you doing.

Me: I’m going inside.

Mr A: Leave the bag in the car.

Me: Why?

Mr A: Do you have an appointment set up?

Me: No,

Mr: That’s right you don’t. so leave the bag in the trunk and if they wanna taste you grab the bag. Never ever walk in with the bag.

Me: Okay, fine. No you shut up and let me do the talking.

Me: Hi I just wanted to introduce myself and see if we could set up a tasting.

B: Yeah, I’d love to taste. You got anything with you right now?

Me: Actually I do, let me run to my car.

As much of dick as Mr A was, The first wine I ever sold was using this technique.

So after you got your appointments set up you look at your inventory. My inventory of 300 bottles lives in my bedroom. I go to sleep staring at wine and I wake up staring at it. All I can think of while I’m doing my husband is “Shit, there’s that bottle of Babcock I was supposed to taste my buyer on. Fuck me. Ah man. Screw the wine ah I mean my husband. Fuck.

Mr A taught me how to make best use of my samples.

Mr A: If you are going to a burger joint you take cheap wine with you. Don’t’ take Diamond Creek.That’s 116 a pop. Pack a pinot and a chard. Everyone needs that.

Thanks to Mr A, I pack my wine bag with 12 botttles. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been in mutiple car accidents and I have arthritis in both knees. I gotta have options even if it means breaking my back.

Alright now comes the presentation. Mr A taught me the main points to make.

Mr A: Know the winemaker, the oak and the scores. If the Wine Spectator gives it 92 It’s really good and 95 is fucking good.

Lucky me happens to have a 96. That’s fucking phenomal. people who never gave me the time of day all of a sudden want my number. If I play my cards right I’ll say: Too bad, there isn’t much left but let me see what I can do about getting you a case. I think it would work in your favor if you ordered some other items from the portfolio. I’m just saying.

There are so many of us out there that the only way I can be remembered is to stalk my buyers.. I Stalk in person, on the phone, through email whatever it takes. Now I hang out at the bar like a mafia rep when I’d rather be putting my daughter to bed. I eat at the restaurant when I got $20 in my checking account. I’m basically saying “Hey look at me I haven’t gone anywhere and I got your back. I’m your wine gal. You don’t need anyone else. Just me. Trust me. I got your 96, no problem.” The last thing you want is to be forgotten or worse yet Replaced. that’s every brokers nightmare. At any moment Joe Shmoo could step in and charm my buyer and I’m outa of a btg placement. It’s happened to me twice and I’m not over it.

And you wanna talk about pressure - Every winery wants you to sell, sell sell. It doesn’t matter whether it’s rated a 96 or a wine that tastes like piss water. Sell it and sell it now. If I don’t get it in all the 5 star restaurants, it’s my job. When my numbers are down I start getting phone calls “Yeah, what’s going on - you on vacation or something?

Speaking of vacation, I think sometimes my friends think I’m on vacation. “Do you think I wanna hear from you during the day. Don’t’ fucking call me to whine about how much weight your cat has gained when I’m trying to move my inventory. The same inventory that stares right back at me every day. Just cause I work out of the house doesn’t mean I’m lounging. Do you know when was the last time I took myself to the movies? Hell if I know. Every minute I take to lounge is a minute I could be using to sell wine. Every phone call I make to my friend is a call I could be making to a buyer.

It’s been almost a year and a half and I ask myself, is there anything else out there I could be doing to make money? I’m no accountant even though sometimes I wish I was. But You know what, I love it. I hate it and I love it. I love it when I taste something I can’t even pronounce and gives me goose bumps, I love it when a buyer says to me “hey where have you been I miss you it, but most of all I gotta say I love being the man, even if I do have an eye twitch.