It could be argued that tasting room employees are the unsung heroes of any winery.
Those who pour wine — an unglamorous job in many respects — face, among others, the challenge of learning everything there is to know about the wines they serve and keeping visitors informed and entertained.
Jenny Smith, 21, is a tasting room employee at Pellegrini Vineyards in Cutchogue. Ms. Smith has lived next door to Pellegrini all her life — as a child, she used to ride her horses though the vines — and has worked there for three years. She’s interested in becoming a winemaker and hopes to someday move to California’s Napa Valley.
Q: What was your introduction to the wine industry?
A: When I turned 18 I needed a job so I went over [to Pellegrini] and asked for one. They didn’t have any positions but because I was a neighbor and a friend they were able to work me into the schedule on weekends. I eventually was trained to work here and really learned to love the industry.
Q: Tasting room employees need to know a decent amount about the wines they serve. How did your education begin?
A: I was lucky enough to be surrounded by senior co-workers who spent their lives drinking and learning about wine. They always shared information with me openly and taught me everything I’d want to know. I learned how to give tours, talk to customers about the process of making wine, fermentation, everything. And I liked learning about it. Wine is fascinating — it’s a living, breathing thing.
Q: What would surprise be surprised to know about you?
A: When I first started working here I did not like wine. When I walked in the door, the smell wouldn’t settle in my stomach right. I had to talk like I loved it, though — and I did come to really, truly love it.
Q: What is your favorite wine at the vineyard, and why?
A: I don’t drink it as often as I should because it’s a high-end wine but I’m a big fan of our 2010 petit verdot. It’s bold, lively. It’s spicy but is complemented with grassy tones.
Q: How do you keep customers happy when there’s a bar full of people waiting to be served?
A: You keep a positive attitude, you smile and you try to work as quickly as you can. I have to try to kick my memory into high gear to remember that the person on the left needs the Medley White, for instance, on their first pour and the person 10 people over needs the Steakhouse on their second pour.
Q: What do you like most about the job?
A: Wine is fun and I love dealing with people. I love the atmosphere I work in and my co-workers make my job very enjoyable. It’s a stress-free environment on most occasions. Even when things get hectic, everyone is positive.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of being a wine pourer?
A: Balancing all my group tours in the summer is pretty hard. It’s hectic when I have four different groups to tend to and they all consist of 30-plus people. Sometimes you just have to eat lunch on your feet; there’s no other option. But I don’t find very many downsides to my job. I’m fortunate.
Q: If you could tell prospective winery visitors one thing, what would it be?
A: Don’t wear white.