Young Post talks to Pierre Pommarede, an account executive with Summergate, a wine importer, distributor and marketer in Asia.
You need to be passionate about food and wine, and the culture behind it. Having an interest in wine also means having an interest in geography, geology, family history and the wine-making process. Pommarede says that when you open a bottle of wine, you get a sense of its winery, country and culture. Working on a sales team, you need to be open-minded and easy going. And like all sales jobs, you need good interpersonal skills, and have the capacity to understand your clients' needs. There's another very important point. Working in the wine industry, you will be exposed to a lot of alcohol, so it is vital to be a responsible drinker.
During his last year at business school, Pommarede sought an internship in the wine industry.
He wanted to join Summergate because it is a big wine company in Asia, which is now seen as a major wine market. During his six-month internship, he worked in different departments, including marketing, logistics and sales. Afterwards, he was offered a job as an account executive in the company's sales department.
An account executive has to find customers, recommend wine to them, come up with new proposals and organise events.
There are three distribution channels in wine sales: (i) hotels and restaurants, (ii) retailers (wine shops, supermarkets such as CitySuper and other sales outlets), and (iii) private customers (people who want more than one crate) and companies (annual dinners, gifts).
Pommarede studied for a master's degree in international business in Paris. He says it is not necessary to have a wine diploma - if you're passionate, you can teach yourself the basics - but a recognised diploma like a Wine and Spirit Education Trust certificate (WSET) can be really useful.
Several schools in Hong Kong offer WSET courses, including Asia Wine Service and Education Centre Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Wine Academy.
To work in sales, you'll need a sales and marketing degree.
If you'd like to go abroad and study wine through a specialised comprehensive degree, there are two renowned schools in France (Burgundy School of Business and BEM Management School) and some good ones in the United States and Australia.
Long-term work prospects
After a few years' experience, an account executive could become a sales manager and supervise a sales team. He or she could also decide to work for the same company in other cities to develop new markets. Eventually, he or she could become a development manager who decides which wines to buy to add to the company's portfolio, or an office director, who supervises many departments.
As in most sales jobs, Pommarede gets a fixed salary and commissions. Pommarede says your salary can increase rapidly if you work hard from the beginning. Commissions are based on the quantity and quality of your sales and Pommarede says it can be a great part of your salary.
Where to apply
Wine wholesalers in Hong Kong (Summergate, Maxscene, etc), but also local wine shops, hotels and restaurants. Summergate offers six-month and one-year internships.
A day at work
Pommarede starts his day by reading articles about his industry to keep up with new trends and potential business opportunities. He then writes wine recommendations for his clients, looks for opportunities (wine tasting, dinners) and organises promotions according to the time of year (Valentine's Day, Christmas).
In the afternoon, he visits clients. He says it's really important to explain the history of wineries and the different varieties of wine to your clients.
He usually attends events for which he has supplied wine, meaning he has to work until late in the evening.
He also attends training sessions to learn about various wines.