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The Messy Middle

The Messy Middle

What do you do when you know a little about wine, but not a lot? Two wine experts weigh in.
Bill Withers

“It’s okay to head out for Wonderful, but on your way to Wonderful, you’re gonna have to pass through Alright, and when you get to Alright, take a good look around and get used to it, because that may be as far as you’re gonna go.”

That was musician and singer-songwriter Bill Withers. It’s a profound statement that I relate to along my own journey in the wine industry. Like many, I started in the industry simply by tasting, reading, and taking courses. However, as I continue to grow, the next level feels further and further away. 

As a beginner in the wine world, there are so many resources available. Using books like Wine Folly (I recommend the Magnum Edition) or the Wine Bible, and podcasts like Wine 101 or Wine for Normal People, there are so many ways you can go from knowing very little about wine, to knowing quite a bit more. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the wine world has recently become a place where notable figures in the industry can take advantage of mainstream success. After his appearance on the documentary SOMM, D’Lynn Proctor can be found as sommelier to the stars in Kevin Hart’s new show, Hart to Heart. Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy now has a CNN series, Nomad with Carlton McCoy. Winemakers like Rajat Parr boast more than 30,000 followers online. 

But what about those in the middle? As the industry grows and gets more accessible, lots of people have a skill-set beyond the basics. They already know the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc and can pair Beaujolais and burgers easily. However, most don’t have the experience or skills to join the grand tastings, opportunities, and experiences that veteran sommeliers, winemakers, or reps in the industry get to attend. This leaves a growing gap to leap across in order to elevate your career in wine. So what do we do?

Stuck in the Middle

Meg sips Champagne at an event. 

Social influencer and wine expert Meg Odum, owner of the handle @TrillWineWife is also beginning to chart her own path in the wine world through her Instagram channel.

“It’s [my Instagram platform] that helped me to network and be in situations where I’m looked at and bring traction.” she says. “But you have to keep up with everything that’s going on. You have to keep up with reels, posts, hashtags, all of that stuff.”

Meg had a consistent rise in popularity online and offline in 2022. But, that’s not without its challenges. Meg often feels like she is in a vicious cycle between needing experience and opportunities, but not having enough experience for the opportunities. 

“[Those in the wine trade] don’t feel a need to put you in those conversations because you don’t have the same background as the people who have been there,” she adds. “[They favor] the familiar faces that they’ve seen at these other events.”

When professionals are in the middle of their wine journey, it can be hard to become a recognizable name. That lack of familiarity often means you are mistaken for someone outside of the industry. This is especially true if you are a person of color. 

“I’ve been going to different events, taking pictures, and helping people with their Instagram profiles,” Meg recounts. “And a man walked up to me and thought I was in the way. Once that happened, someone introduced me to him and he had a different reaction.” 

Maryam Ahmed | Cheryl Juetten Photography

Maryam Ahmed, owner of Maryam + Company, an organization focused on building a more diverse wine community, noted similar challenges her clients face in the middle. She also felt some of these challenges herself earlier on in her career. 

“I became a director of a department before I turned 30, which was a huge opportunity,” she says. “It was challenging because even after I earned the title, I still had to prove myself and I wasn’t always taken seriously because of my age.”

These days, Maryam is helping her clients figure out their path forward, and make it out of the middle into a sustainable career. “Most often clients come to me when they are at a sticking point, whether that’s in the form of an idea, the need for accountability, or the want to scale community,” she says. “What they’re seeking is clarity and a path forward, especially when it comes to messaging, engaging in a broader and more diverse network, or furthering their commitment to diversity and sustainability.”

So What Now?

The challenges are clear, and Bill Withers is right. You have to go through that messy middle part of your wine journey in order to make it to your goals. So how do you keep going? Meg highlights her motivation to help her growing online community. 

“I like the response I get from people; I like bringing a different side of wine to people; I’m not the typical type of wine consumer,” Meg says. “I want wine to be for all not some, and I want to make sure people feel comfortable coming to me and asking questions. But, to answer them, I have to bulk up my knowledge.”

Maryam stresses the importance of building connections and mentorships as your support system. “The ‘middle’ part of a journey can go very quickly, especially if you plan to diligently invest in your own growth,” she says. “When I get that ‘in the middle’ feeling, I look to connection and education. For connection, I’d suggest forming a personal board of advisors. These are the people that can help you in the areas you need to learn more about and that agree to some level of accountability to get you where you’re trying to go. For education, I’d look to the many organizations offering scholarships, educational sessions, books, or even podcasts. Education is a chance to challenge yourself and shift into forward motion.”

Molly + Co. Photography 

There are so many organizations providing resources to support individuals along their wine journey. Educational organizations like The Wine Scholars Guild, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, and the Society of Wine Educators provide tons of free and paid resources to build your knowledge and advance your skill-set in wine. Specifically for diverse communities, organizations like The Roots Fund, Wine Unify, and Battonage Forum are doing great work to ensure women and people of color have access to achieving their wine goals. 

If you feel like you are stuck in the middle, it helps to know that you are not alone. Find your community and enjoy the journey in your wine career. Whether you are just beginning, a seasoned veteran, or somewhere in the middle, there is always more to learn, and taste.