Hello hello! It's time again for a new installment of When I Grow Up. Today I'm featuring Kellie MacMillan, the sommelier and blogger behind Princess and the Yard Ape. Intrigued? Then read on!
As a child, I wanted to be a ______ when I grew up. I’m not even sure I can remember way back then.
How close (or far) is your current career from that dream? All I can say is that as far as dreams go, mine have all come true. I’ll have to get some more.
What is your official job title? I am a Certified Sommelier and blogger.
Ok, now what does that really mean? The actual definition is a French term for a wine waiter. You can just imagine a distinguished older French gentleman leaning over you seriously as you smell the cork in a fancy restaurant.
In a nutshell, a Sommelier is a wine professional that usually specializes in the service of wine. The position is just like a chef. Only she or he is the wine boss.
What is a typical day like? I’ve done it all career-wise. I’ve worked in fine dining, a wine bar, I’ve trained staff, selected wines, created a draught beer program, taught classes, led tours, and I was even an assistant winemaker. These days I’m working online with my blog called Princess and the Yard Ape.
Many people have superpowers and aside from making wine disappear, I am a Boss at food and wine pairing.
There are a lot of wine websites that analyze wine, rate it, make jokes about it, and portray wine as a status symbol. Not many focus on pairing food and wine together. I believe that they were made for each other and that wine should be part of everyday living. I also see wine as a grocery item, not a luxury one. I create simple, easy to follow recipes and pair them with wine. I want to create a safe place for people who want to try wine but are timid, shy or don’t know where to start.
With all my credentials and over 12 years experience I really just see myself as a cheerleader. I want to unlock some of the mysteries of the wine world and present a fresh view. I find most information on wine is outdated, repetitive and boring. I see myself as being Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen of Sommeliers. I don’t want to re-invent the wine wheel. I want to break it.
How did you end up in this career? Many moons ago I lived in Fredericton, New Brunswick and worked in a hospital lab detecting cancer. As you can imagine I wasn't very popular at parties. Three days on the job I realized that being in the same room with the same people every day wasn't for me but I stuck with it for twelve long years. Then, life as I knew it came crashing down and I ended with me having a mini break down.
Since my health was at stake I was forced to start all over. I had to come up with a plan pronto but I wasn't sure what the heck I wanted to do with my life.
I remember being asked by a friend, "If you could snap your fingers and without risk of failure what would you do?"
My answer was that I wanted to learn about wine, grow grapes, make wine and write. The whole shebang! I didn't know how I was going to do it but I knew this man named J.C. Belzile. He was known around town as the wine guy. So, I decided he was going to be my mentor. I followed him everywhere and learned everything I could from him. I was like a dryer sheet. I clung on to him for dear life.
I went to college and studied wine and I became one of the first female Sommeliers in New Brunswick.
I have always viewed my training as a launching pad that has allowed me to open any door I wanted in the wine industry. My goal/dream is to be like my mentor J.C. Every weekend just before suppertime he'd go to the local liquor store and walk around. These women would call out to him and say, "J.C. I'm having chicken (or whatever) for supper. What wine should I get?" He'd place a bottle in their hands and say, "Have a great weekend!" That's my goal. Well, virtually anyway. To put that bottle in your hands and say Have a Great Weekend!
What kind of education or training did you complete for this career? My training was an intensive course associated with The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). The curriculum covered viticulture, wine making, how to evaluate and critique wine. Every country in the Old World and New World of wine were studied. Food and Wine pairing, investment strategies and menu design were also part of the program. I obtained the designation of Certified Profession Sommelier after a brutal three-part exam that covered theory, wine tasting and then a wine service exam. I was one of the first female Sommeliers of New Brunswick.
What advice would you give to someone who wants a similar career? Whether someone wants a career like mine or not I’d say to make your business all about people. Don’t just focus on the industry you enter. Wine isn’t about wine at all; it’s all about people. Sales for example, are about who is buying what you are selling. I think too many times we forget about that and just focus on our field of expertise. We are coming to a time where leaders are needed more than ever. You won’t ever lead a bunch of wine bottles anywhere, but you certainly can lead people by being transparent and genuine.
Do you have any other career dreams? What do you want to be when you grow up? As a Sommelier I’m in the business of people. My greatest gift is that I’m approachable. I relate to people, I connect with them and I want grow an online wine community. I’d love to go beyond the APP; I’d love to be a phone call or a text away for people who are buying wine. I think everyone has different tastes, needs and budgets. I’d love to virtually be there with someone shopping for wine. If anyone wants to start with me I’m at http://www.facebook.com/princessandtheyardape I get the greatest thrill offering someone a wine that classy without a splashy price tag. My greatest frustration is that when buying wine we only have the label and the price tag to tell us about the wine. Neither tells you one thing about the quality of the wine in the bottle. I want to see things change. Where I live the liquor store doesn’t care about wine, they could be selling tires or underwear. I want to see people get turned on about Food & Wine and demand better information based on them, not marketing gimmicks.
Any last thoughts or encouragement for others trying to decide what they want to do “when they grow up”? Well as corny as it sounds, don’t get hung up on trends or making money. Follow your heart and passion; they are the best career advisors. Don’t wait to get picked; you can claim the career you want by refusing to walk down the same path as everyone else. Don’t worry about what most people do, because they aren’t going to worry about you. Be fearless. Be remarkable.
Thank you Kellie! It was so interesting to read about your career...now I really want a glass of wine :)
Previously on Mrs Robbins Sparkles...