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Working at a Winery

Interview with Jill Winkler:

Please describe your position at Chatham Hill Winery in North Carolina.

I, along with my husband, Marek Wojciechowski, are the owners of Chatham Hill Winery located in Cary/Morrisville, North Carolina.

What are the main qualities you look for when hiring someone for the following: to assist with the winemaking process, tasting room managers, and tasting room associates.

General qualities in all positions as follows: people who enjoy working with a diverse population, people who are very customer service focused, people who are honest to a fault, people who can listen carefully, and people that like to learn and implement what they learn. Those that are innovative and willing to be creative to solve everyday challenges.

A. Winemaker Assistant - background in enology, viticulture, chemistry and/or intense desire to learn the art and science of winemaking

B. Tasting Room Manager - highly developed organizational, time management skills, retail and winery background and experience with leading a team of tasting room associates

C. Tasting Room Associates - impeccable customer relation skills, sales/retail background, knowledge of how wine is made, background on the grape growing process, wine and food pairing, wine accessory knowledge, e.g. proper glassware, how and why use decanters, storage of wine, sense of humor.

I actually visited your winery and was surprised to see it in a corporate building location. Although many wineries are getting away from actually growing their own grapes, do you feel that it changes or takes away anything from the artistry of making wine? Or do you feel that it actually gives you an advantage?

Great question (thank you for visiting us!). Based upon what you wish to achieve with your business determines where you are located. We had our beginnings (our story) in the RTP since our founder (Marek) was at the time working as a scientist and began to 'experiment' making wine in small quantities after his usual work day. One thing lead to another, and the business slowly grew. When it was time to decide if we should relocate to an area where the grapes are grown, we were already entrenched in this area and had developed a loyal following.

Additionally, there is great advantage being the only winery in a populated area versus what wineries that are located in the rural setting have to contend with to simply get people to travel there.

As far as taking away the artistry of making wine…we take our winemaking very seriously and are involved with our grape growers as much as a winery that is located on the vineyard. We feel that we lose nothing and gain much.

One of the main attractions to your winery is the tasting room. Many in the wine industry are saying that part of the recent success they have seen has to do with having the tasting room. Do you believe this is a big part of your success, or is it some other avenue of marketing?

The Tasting Room is another part of the business model that we chose to include. We could simply have a winery and make wine in a winery production facility, but our philosophical foundation is based upon learning. We are continual learners and we share what we learn so others can do the same. Our tasting room and how we operate our business provides the vehicle for the passion we have of people, learning, wine and food, family…We most definitely do NOT see this as an area of marketing, but a palate on which to create.

Why do you believe the North Carolina wine industry is on the rise? What is North Carolina's specialty?

In order for a wine region to be successful there needs to be a cadre of people and groups to pull the industry forward. For instance first and foremost, we need to have a climate and soil (terroir) that is able to produce wonderful grapes. We need research and funds to do so (academic setting) to learn what the best method and areas that grapes will grow in our state. We need academic institutions to teach those interested in being growers and wine makers.

We need a government that will support the industry. We need experienced mentors whose shoulders we can build our learning and development on. We need passion for the hard work as well as people who can persevere since this business is not one that turns a profit quickly. We need incredible winemakers that are familiar with making wine with grapes that are grown in NC since it is quite a different endeavor than making wine from any other area.

We need people to purchase the wines (this is a hard one in these times of intense global competition). Many or most of these things are in place - some to a greater degree than others.

NC is producing many fine vinifera wines and only time will tell what grows best here. Currently our Cabernet Franc and Viognier are doing very well as is Chardonnay.

Last but not least, what is your favorite wine?

Depends on what time of year it is - right now I love a chilled glass of Chatham Hill Riesling. What kind of food I am eating - nothing better than our Cabernet Sauvignon with a juicy steak or Italian red meat sauce.