His passion is wine

At Work

Wine manager Kurt Erickson visited Spain, France and California to deepen his expertise

At Work


November 29, 2006|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to the Sun

Kurt Erickson

Wine manager

Beltway Fine Wine and Spirits, Towson

Salary --$18 an hour

Age --26

Years on the job --One

How he got started --Erickson graduated from Purdue University with a degree in food science. He worked as a wine technician while at Purdue. The university is involved in wine-growing research to help Indiana's wine industry. He then worked as an assistant winemaker in Ohio and later in Florida.

He said he took the Towson wine manager's job because he was looking for greater responsibility and more opportunity to learn. "What's rewarding about retail is I get to bring some of that winemaking passion and explain that to customers and get them excited about it."

Typical day --He works over 50 hours a week, sometimes coming in as early as 5:30 a.m. to begin taking deliveries, stocking and merchandising the wine. The store is open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with expanded hours during the holidays. Once the doors are open, Erickson says his job turns to customer service. He is also responsible for organizing wine tastings for customers and staff, setting up displays and training.

Perks --The company has sent Erickson to visit with winemakers in California, France and Spain. Monthly wine dinners also are part of the job, where he and his wine staff of about 10 get a chance to taste different wines and meet with winemakers to learn more about their vintages.

Looking for the right bottle --The store offers 8,500 different wines. If that's too intimidating, then start in Aisle 3, says Erickson. There, customers will find the style section, with hand-selected wines grouped by style, such as sweet or bubbly. "It's a store within a store." Also in that aisle are the staff recommendations.

In-demand wine --Pinot noir, a Burgundy made famous in the movie Sideways. "It really did change the typical American wine customer. People have discovered it really is an elegant, pleasant wine." His suggestion, Martin Ray pinot noir, which he says is a great value priced about $20 a bottle.

Best bet for holidays --He would offer guests both a red and white, suggesting a Gewurztraminer for the white and Beaujolais for the red.

The good --Matching people with a wine they will enjoy. "And having customers come back and seek me out to give me feedback - positive or negative - on a wine I recommended. To see the same faces in the store is rewarding."

The bad --"The management of lots of different personalities."

His favorite --"I really love Spanish reds, but if I only had to drink one thing the rest of my life it would be fine champagne. It's really starting to take off. Americans are really starting to recognize sparkling wine as something not just for a special occasion."

Best advice --"Keep an open mind and be willing to try new things."

Best values --Rioja, a Spanish wine. "Within the Spanish section we could probably put together two dozen different wines under $12 a bottle that are extremely high quality."

Philosophy on the job --"Bring passion for wine, and remove fear and intimidation in wine buying."

Nancy Jones-Bonbrest Special to The Sun

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