September 25, 2014
Working in Wine: Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan MW
I sat down with Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan MW at Bouchon Bakery on the hottest day of the summer to talk about wine, what she’s doing, and what it means to be a Master of Wine.
Jennifer is one of the most personable and engaging people you’ll ever meet. “We’re a bookish group,” she told me, of Masters of Wine. “We’re solitary – lone wolves.” You’d never guess that by talking to her. Someone who started her career in investment banking and high finance, she’s taken a very unique route to where she is now. Unique, though, is the norm for a Master of Wine it seems.
How do you get “into” the wine industry? If you ask Jennifer, the answer is that you have to have passion. And dedication. And drive. All things this former investment banker has in spades.
An "aha" moment
She told me about her “aha moment,” at a business lunch in London – the salmon and Sancerre pairing she often cites. But she complemented with another anecdote – she overheard someone in her London office talking about an “oaky, buttery, Chardonnay.” Well, whatever that was, she had to try that as well. So after asking for the same at a London wine shop and falling further in love, she began her journey.
A change of career was inspired after a month of straight 12 hour days, when someone said to her, “great work, Jennifer – another 10 years and you’ll be running this place!” Ten years? No way…so she transferred back to the States, where she took Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World wine course.
For as articulate, educated and whip-smart as she is, Jennifer couldn’t manage to tell me exactly what it was that drew her to the wine industry, or how she found herself as a Master of Wine. What that told me is that it’s something intangible; a combination of passion, drive, interest and determination. It may seem no different from any other industry, but the wine industry is unique in both depth and breadth, and the sheer dedication of its professionals.
How To Succeed In The Business
To succeed in the wine industry, you need to not only have a passion and interest in wine, but a true appreciation for wine, the industry and everything in between. As she told me, MW’s are wine-obsessed, but too often pigeonholed into a category as “educators.” However, I think there’s a reason for that, other than their obvious deep knowledge and training. The passion, interest and obsession runs so deep, that they can’t help but share it. At least, such is the case with Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan. She was struck with an interest in wine, so she began down a path of sharing her knowledge with others – first in industry education, at Remy-Cointreau and brand management at Kobrand, and now consumer learning and education. Her experience has been built by working in so many areas and capacities, and she told me that she finds herself using her past as an investment banker as she’s working on her newest venture – Wine Ring.
On Being a Master of Wine
Being an MW has opened doors, but more like fueled what is her obvious passion – sharing that with others and helping to open doors to wine for everyone.
The main thing I learned from Jennifer is that there is no one clear path or career for a Master of Wine. To answer the question, “what a Master of Wine do?” is next to impossible, it seems. There is such a wide variety of opportunity that comes from dedicating so much time and energy to an exam with only a 10% pass rate. And after all of that work, the hours of studying and tasting and preparing, once you pass, there's a moment of suspension – now what? This goes back to Jennifer's previous comment on education. Why do I think Masters of Wine are "pidgenholed" into a role as educators? Because who better to share their wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm for everything wine related than someone who was able to correctly identify 36 wines blind over a four day period? In the case of Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, she has chosen to use her skills, expertise and credentials as a platform from which to cultivate a new cohort of wine lovers and enthusiasts. In this example of what exactly it is that a Master of Wine "does," it's a myriad of different things, all involving the opportunity for wine education to anyone who is interested.
Working in Wine is a semi-regular series on the Coravin blog. On Working in Wine, we feature interesting personalities of the wine industry, and a variety of different job or career functionalities of the industry. Check every other week to meet a new person who works in wine!