By Barbara Barrielle
It is one of the worst job markets since these things have been analyzed and recorded. The class of 2020 not only got ripped off by not having proms, senior skip days, college visits and graduation ceremonies, but now the graduates cannot find jobs…in just about any field of study.
But, how much bleaker are your prospects if you just spent the last nine months and about $36,000 getting one of the most prestigious wine degrees in the industry? This is what the eleven students completing the CIA Wine Management Master’s Degree just a few days are faced with as they hope to put their new knowledge to work…and of course pay the rent in the meantime.
The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone attracts professionals from all over the U.S. who either want to continue in the wine, hospitality or restaurant business or pivot from one professional occupation and use existing skills to work as a wine professional.
But nobody figured on COVID-19. Now those students who would normally be finishing their intense wine educations by tasting wines and looking for positions, returned to their homes and completed their master’s degrees remotely, without the wines or their friends or many prospects for the future.
Cathy Jorin, Senior Director, School of Graduate and Professional Studies at the Culinary Institute of America, points out, “this program is in its ninth year but has evolved so that students receive a Master’s Degree. It’s a two-semester program and this year’s students started in September 2019, but, as of March 13, 2020, the school closed and we had to learn to teach classes remotely.”
Fortunately, the students had gotten through most of their wine tasting and training but, as Robert Bath, MS, CHE, one of two faculty members leading the Master’s Degree in Wine Management (Christie DuFault, ACWP, CHE is the other), they had just started the wines if Italy and Easter Europe, two complicated regions.
Although students received coffee and tea samples and wine suggestions to accompany their studies, most of them have decided to return to Napa to gather with their friends, finish tasting the remaining wines and formally graduate from the program.
But the job market for these highly qualified professionals will remain a challenge. As Bath says, “this is a truly unique year in terms of the job market for college graduates. Fortunately, the breadth and depth of the Masters in Professional Studies / Wine Management program here at CIA Greystone produces a graduate with a wide range of talents in the beverage industry, enabling them to contribute earlier and develop faster in an organization. That is the type of person employers will be looking for with so many applicants and not enough jobs.”
In the past the CIA MPS program has graduated students like in-demand hospitality consultant Woody Van Horn, who opens restaurants, creates beverage menus and designs interiors and is integral in food and wine festivals across the country,
Sommelier Sean Crenny graduated and joined Thomas Keller at Per Se and has climbed the ranks there, recently opening TAK Restaurant in New York where he educates the staff as well at the well-heeled diners on wine choices.
In San Francisco, two CIA MPS grads, Cara Patricia and Simi Grewal, who met in the program a few years, have had mad success with their retail shoe DECANTsf, which aims to educate as well as sell wine. Grewal had been at the acclaimed Madison Park restaurant in New York and Patricia had been a sommelier at Saison in San Francisco. Now they work for themselves and, until lockdown, things at DECANTsf were going well.
A current graduate at the top of her class, Emily Abramson, formerly was an executive at a top media agency called Essence Global in Manhattan and was running the Learning, Development and Culture functions for the company’s North American operations.
Moving to Napa with her husband and dog meant a huge commitment to a new life and career in wine management. “For many students, starting in the master’s program was an intentional pivot point in our careers as we chose to pursue a new path,” said Abramson. “Throughout the program, through field trips, class lectures, guest speakers, and networking, I learned about the different roles within this industry, and that learning has played a major part in informing my future plans.”
Abramson paints a bleak picture but is optimistic. “Class officially wrapped up just a few days ago, but I have been working with the CIA administration to plan a few days of in-person tastings once it is safe to do so for the regions we covered virtually. I am taking a project management approach to my job search to stay organized.”
She continues outlining the devastating job market and the cancellation of the Certified Sommelier exam. “The hospitality industry has taken such a devastating hit from the lockdown, and many of us students hoped to be part of that workforce upon graduating, working in restaurants, hospitality groups, and events. Some of those companies that are fortunate enough to be open have hiring freezes for the foreseeable future. Some of the students that left Napa to quarantine at home with their families are unsure when they will be able to return or move to new cities to start new careers.
“Eight of us were about 36 hours away from taking our Certified Sommelier exam in SF when it was cancelled out of safety, so we’re also figuring out our next steps for pursuing that once it is safe to be in a testing environment. Through all of this, our professors have been incredibly generous in helping us navigate the uncertainty; they have extensive networks within the wine industry and have helped several students connect to various brands and professionals.”
Most of the students will return mid-August to continue the tastings they missed. At this point, no one has a position in the wine, restaurant, or the hospitality business. Hopefully, by August, there may be some celebrating, story sharing and a sigh of relief that there is a future for highly educated wine professionals.”