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  A California Girl Teaches New York How to Drink
Wine Consultant Jennifer Desmond of JD Wine, New York

By Erin Hollingsworth
Jennifer DesmondSome people decide on a career early on in life, completing the necessary requirements, joining the necessary organizations, meeting the necessary people – we call them doctors, lawyers and corporate executives. Others meander, stop to smell the roses, and rosés, read a book or two and otherwise take the scenic route to a career – we call them America’s wine industry. An accidental, but serious, early interest in wine foreshadowed Jennifer Desmond’s exciting and varied career, but as is so often the case, her precocious, if untrained, oenophilia remained just that, an interest, until the wine career found her. Working in various capacities including wine director, marketer and public relations manager, Desmond has enjoyed a ten year career in the booming world of wine, finding her niche, not to mention her own company, as a New York wine consultant, specializing in educating the East Coast about the nuances, quality and diversity of West Coast wines.

Erin Hollingsworth: What drew you to wine, and to a career in wine?
Jennifer Desmond: I was really lucky. When I was 15, I spent a year as a foreign exchange student in Sienna, Italy. My host family made their own wine, and it was nothing special, but I got exposed to this wonderful culture. I grew up in Lake Tahoe and my family wasn’t into wine, so I was really lucky to have those experiences in Italy.

Back in Lake Tahoe, I worked in a little book store which wasn’t really busy, so I would read Wine Spectator and other wine magazines and books. When I graduated from high school I moved to San Francisco for college, planning to be a dentist. Funny, I know. But, I really didn’t like school, so I moved to Sonoma and found a job at Wappo Bar and Bistro in Sonoma. There I realized I’d picked up a lot of knowledge from all those years of reading Wine Spectator – I was made assistant wine director. I didn’t even know this whole restaurant, wine industry existed as a career option, but I never went back to school, I never looked back.

EH: The American wine industry seems to find people accidentally like that.
JD: Absolutely, and back then there really wasn’t an industry to speak of. You couldn’t study wine marketing -- there were no studies.

EH: As a wine consultant, what do you do day-to-day?
JD: My emphasis is on helping small California wineries distribute around the country, especially here in New York and also in DC. New York is very much an import-driven market – they’re comfortable with French, Spanish, Italian, even Eastern European wines. But, I think California has a reputation of being so New World on the East Coast. In truth the wines are as complex as any, and Napa has the most Mediterranean-like climate. Through marketing, advertising and distribution campaigns, I’m trying to get more California wine here.

EH: How do you get California wine in New York restaurants and cellars?
JD: One way is to work with organizations like the Napa Vintners Association. They’re not for profit, and they help small vintners break into the market, share ideas about wine making and network. I help scout event locations, advertise, and bridge communication between retailers and wine makers. We just had a series of 24 NVA events in New York with trade tastings and wine makers’ dinners. It was a tremendous success.

EH: When it comes to dining and wine, what are the primary differences you’ve noticed between California and New York?
JD: New York has the most amazing restaurants, but there are also so many of them. In California I think they average out a little better, with a huge emphasis on local, organic produce, made possible by location. The great New York restaurants prefer Old World wine and in California its all about California wine. Again, I’m working to change that.

EH: What do you love about your career?
JD: The people. I think this business attracts some of the best people on Earth. They’re passionate, intelligent, great communicators. And they really value the relationship between people and the earth, wine and the soil.

EH: What do you not love about your career?
JD: It’s hard to strike a balance between the food and wine lifestyle, as it’s easy to get caught up in all the eating and drinking, and going to the gym. It’s also difficult to be a people person all the time.

EH: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
JD: Doing just what I’m doing, in New York, I love it!

EH: What advice would you offer someone interested in a wine consulting career?
JD: I would say to anyone interested in a wine career: go work a harvest immediately. You meet so many people, and really get a sense of what it’s all about, where it starts. It’s a great birds-eye-view and anyone can do it.


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