Thursday, June 5, 2008

Sideways: 4 Years Later

In the summertime four years ago I was planning my escape from corporate America. Being a member of the re-engineering team for my old employer, I saw firsthand what direction the company was going in. At a meeting in the summer of 2004 my colleagues and I were given a financial analysis of our business centers, and told that the majority of our business was not desirable going forward. I remember reviewing my data, and feeling nauseous. Much of the business I had built over the last 9 years was deemed unfit. These were clients I had brought in to the company and developed a great relationship with. I just couldn't see how I was going to go to my clients and tell them that I was no longer going to work with them. And in my mind, most of the business was solid and highly desirable.

For years I had dreamt of being a headhunter in the wine industry. My old boss could even see the glimmer in my eye, and told me to wait awhile. So once he left and the company quickly went downhill, I knew the time was right. I started to plan my exit.

I left in the fall of 2004. Right as I was wrapping up my corporate life, the movie "Sideways" made its debut. This independent film stole the show. Not only did it make a great profit for the producers, it also brought attention to a previously underrated winemaking area. If this quirky friendship movie set in the quiet winemaking area of the Central Coast could do so well, the time must surely be perfect to start up my own winery recruitment company. So WineTalent became a reality.

As I started contacting my old friends in the business, I also spoke to a lot of aspiring winemakers who were looking for a new position. Everyone wanted to get a position making Pinot in Paso. My positions in Napa and Sonoma just weren't as attractive as they had been a year earlier. So if people wanted a job in Santa Barbara, I had better get some positions down there. Calling on friends who had moved down there was helpful, but there just wasn't the same infrastructure in place down there as there was up in Northern California. Wineries were mostly small, and there wasn't much staff change going on.

Things have changed over the years. A couple of years ago my Sonoma openings were very easily filled. People didn't want to take positions in Napa due to the high cost of living there. This year I'm getting a lot more Central Coast positions, and have found that people are leaving their geographic preferences fairly open. Could this be a sign of the economy, the cost of housing, or the fickle tastes of the wine world? I am sure it's a bit of all three. So as a good service provider, I will continue to anticipate the needs of my clients and candidates, geographically, varietally and economically.

But I still think that "Sideways" was an omen. Wine has become the drink of choice of America, new winemaking areas are attractive, and business has been very good. What wine movie will come up to make and impact on WineTalent next? Hopefully I'm ready.

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