WANTED: Talented (Normal) Individual for Family Owned Winery

I've been knee deep in the interviewing process lately. It's rare that I have the opportunity to hire new talent, and when I do, it's a painstaking and time-consuming process. And, between us, it's one of my least favorite things to do.

Because I don't want to screw up!

Everyone knows that bringing on top-notch employees is vital to one's success. But finding the right person, well-that's another matter. I mean, how are you really supposed to know if someone is right for the job without a trial period??

I've decided that hiring should be more like shopping. If I like something, most stores will let me buy it and take it home to try it out. That way I can see if I am truly satisfied. If not, I simply return the item for a full refund. What a great way to solve the staffing crapshoot! “You're hired, but on one condition. I'll give you a try for 30 days and if at the end of that time, you're driving me nuts, don't do as you said you would, or you have some annoying or disgusting workplace habit, I'll return you for a full refund.”   Better yet, I'll take home a NEW and IMPROVED model with an extended warranty period! 

This would sure solve a lot of things. Like the time we hired a receptionist, who was so crabby, I swear I overheard her answer the phone, “Good morning, Dry Creek Vineyard. What the hell do you want?”  Or the marketing assistant who refused to work weekends and was morally opposed to the business of turning grapes into wine. (It just never occurred to me to ask her if she approved of my line of work.)

Yep, we've sure run the hiring gamut over the years. From uppity winemakers to finicky office workers to moody hospitality staff.  But thankfully we have some wonderful longtime employees who are part of the family.

And for them I'm supremely grateful.

But all this searching for the perfect candidate made me realize there are some secrets the successful candidate needs to know. These are the things that DON'T come out in the interview process, but trust me, they are important to know!  



Make sure the family is small.  Husband and wife teams are tricky, parents and siblings complicate things, throw in some cousins, nieces, nephews…well that's just a complete nightmare waiting to happen. (Don't even ask about ex's.)


Never criticize the owner's wines. Sure, it's fine to recommend less oak or more acid. But remember that wines are like the offspring. No matter how obnoxious your kids, they're still your little angels who can do no wrong.


Get used to management changing their minds. It's no different than at home. How many times have you asked your family if they want to have Chinese or Pizza, only to hear (after the bill is paid), that what they really wanted was Mexican? 


Recognize that if the boss is in a bad mood, it probably has nothing to do with you. Family business owners are just grown up needy children. The only difference from other adults is that they tend to work through their “issues” in the cellar instead of in a counselor's office.

Anyone out there feel up for the job? I'm hiring!
| | Comments (11)


JohnLopresti Author Profile Page said:
October 23, 2008 11:34 AM

You could ask the job applicant if they ever have faxed confidential notes to a negotiating partner instead of faxing the formal letter about a trade contract.

There are lots of unsuspected questions you could develop and ask interviewees.

Even a temp agency which has no particular specialization or reputation for knowledge of the wine industry might be a source of applicants, as some workers with many appropriate capabilities also work with generic temp agencies. This saves the cost of having to pay unemployment to a person who does not keep the job with your winery, but temp agencies, although specializing in test-drive configurations of trialing a hiring decision, are notoriously disproportionately expensive entities with which to negotiate a buyout if you decide the temp deserves the permanent job. Essentially the new hire receives no reward for succeeding for the first six months, as the temp agency skims a usurious fee before each paycheck until the buyout is complete.

Although a tenuous process thru the temp route, it might be a worthwhile approach, and you might find someone to develop while in the job instead of opting for an individual from the pool of the extraordinarily talented people who might be applying with greatest clamor at the estate gates.

Leslie Author Profile Page said:
October 23, 2008 10:46 PM

I'd be there in a heart beat if I lived anywhere near Dry Creek and knew anything thing about what goes into the process. I love your wines, and your blog, but I'm afraid I'd be under-qualified for any position you had to offer. Although, I've been a waitress for 10 years and I can handle anyone and keep my patience with the rudest adults and most obnoxious children ever. Btw, the wine? Love it.

Ronnie said:
October 24, 2008 7:49 AM

Hi there. So what is the job? What are you looking for?

Kim (aka Wilma) Author Profile Page said:
October 24, 2008 10:46 AM

The job is the Director of Retail Sales and Hospitality which is someone who oversees the consumer side of the business as opposed to wholesale. The good news is I've filled the position with a great candidate...finally!

anonymous said:
October 27, 2008 6:22 PM

Wine and Hospitality recently ran an article on the rules of engagement. Here's the link: http://blogs.wineandhospitalitynetwork.com/index.php/whnblog/2008/09/30/the-rules-of-engagement-candidates-aamp-

The gist of the article is that candidates want to be treated with courtesy and respect. From my perspective that would mean:

1. Acknowledging receipt of an application.
2. Returning phone calls or responding to e-mail inquiries.
3. Notifying potential candidates of the hiring process.
4. Scheduling phone interviews in advance.
5. Contacting interested candidates when the position has been filled.

As a recent applicant, I can speak with authority when I say your HR person scored a "0" on all of these points.

Until this time, I had thought that your winery would be a great place to work. After being treated so discourteously, I have grave reservations. I am led to believe that this is how you treat all customers and potential customers. In any event, I won't be recommending Dry Creek Vineyards as a destination to anyone.

ITGal said:
October 27, 2008 7:32 PM

Having worked at Dry Creek Vineyard since 1994, I can say emphatically that this poster is wrong about Dry Creek Vineyard. Customer service at Dry Creek is second only to making great wine. Working at a family winery is great, and the employees are like one big family. Having experienced the real life versions you jokingly mention in your post Kim, I will say that I'm glad this poster didn't get adopted into our family!

Kelly Keagy said:
October 27, 2008 8:14 PM

My husband worked for DCV for two years and that last bitter "prospective" employee couldn't be more wrong. I would say that DCV just dodged a very persnickity bullet!

Kim (aka Wilma) Author Profile Page said:
October 27, 2008 8:37 PM

I can assure you that we treat our employees and customers with the utmost respect. And, I'm very sorry that you felt neglected in your recent application. Please understand that we received TONS of resumes, far more than HR could ever possibly respond to. While this may not make you feel better, it's our reality and probably the same for many wineries with small staffs and a million things to do in any given work day. I apologize if this left a sour taste in your mouth.

JohnLopresti Author Profile Page said:
October 28, 2008 4:13 PM

One of the surprising things about management work in wineries is the tons of work, besides tons of grapes. Wilma's depiction of the charming applicant who carefully hid distaste for the industry is a classic. I would even imagine the dissimilating applicant's interview occurred on an October 31, eeeeee. When I worked with DCV it was a seasonal adventure two winters. DCV's polite wholesale sales superintendent shared enology class with me, DCV's winemaker needed help bottling, one of DCV's stalwarts in bottling was wrapped in developing his own private label, so I filled temporarily, then the following crush expanded my responsibilities, but always cellarward of those massive oaken doors. DCV's then cellarmaster-winemaker was in media competition with the famous winemaker at Hacienda in Sonoma. Those were young times in northcoast viticulture and enology. I can attest to the cordiality and enthusiasm of the DCV owners then, and now, truly a landmark in the valley and the region, an organization with a longterm reputation as a warm family.

Now I expect a personal tour and complimentary wine goblet when I next visit and identify myself at DCV, as all these years, except online, they have lost knowledge of my doings and whereabouts. The whereabout, it happens, is the same former vineyard and winery where by dint of hardwork, so the fable expounds, someday another vineyard might sprout, bud, graft, prune, and produce captivating zin with the luxurious hues of ridge terroir, somewhere between Alexander Valley, and the Anderson appellation.

Kim (aka Wilma) Author Profile Page said:
October 28, 2008 9:57 PM

I love hearing your rendition of the good 'ole days! Yes, those were indeed young times in northcoast viticulture and enology. It's heartwarming to hear you write so fondly of our family's integrity and enthusiasm, despite this commenter's negative feelings, which I do indeed feel bad about.


JohnLopresti Author Profile Page said:
October 30, 2008 9:41 PM

I received a polite reply from the referenced competition winemaker today, who bemusedly recalls some folks having difficulty with zin exceeding 30 brix in 1977.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Kim published on October 22, 2008 2:50 PM.

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