Interview with Jenny Benzie,
By Jim Clarke
Jim Clarke: You
graduated from Mary Washington College in 1995 and, two
years later, began working in the tasting room at Duck Pond
Cellars. How did you become interested in wine?
Jenny Benzie: After plans for grad school
fell through I decided to take some time for travel, and,
unlike most people, I think, decided to travel domestically.
I supported myself by waiting tables, first in Montana,
and later in Maine, where they had a bigger wine list.
I began to get interested in wine. After my sociology degree,
it was interesting to see who drank what when, and I also
appreciated the history and culture of it. On the strength
of what I had learned on my own I got a seasonal position
as wine steward at the
Rosewood Resorts in the Virgin Islands. I began to take
courses and the resort was very supportive.
JC: What brought you to Oregon?
JB: In the off-season I went to Portland
and waited tables there – mainly because the city
had a reputation as an exciting place at the time. It was
nice to have the Willamette Valley so close; I worked in
the tasting room at Duck Pond and the next season at Willakenzie
Cellars. I was at the wineries during the day and waiting
tables at night.
JC: In addition to restaurant work
you’ve also done retail wine sales; what are the differences
between the two environments?
JB: I like restaurant work because you
don’t miss out on the end result – you’re
there when the people enjoy the wine you’ve helped
them choose. You don’t get that in retail. Retail
work was nice because I was part-time, and therefore wasn’t
a specialist. I could help people with a broad range of
wines and at the same time learn from my co-workers who
were more specialized in certain regions.
JC: You’ve studied wine intensively
with a number of different organizations including the Wine
and Spirits Education Trust, the Society of Wine Educators,
the Court of Master Sommeliers, and the International Wine
Center. What differences did you find among the various
JB: They’re very different. In general
I like these programs because they give me a structure to
develop my knowledge. The WSET was particularly interesting
because it’s not so service-oriented. It’s not
about knowing producers and appellations so much. Instead
you look at marketing components, image, production…For
example, there could be a question on the exam about trends
in flavored vodkas, or on how gin producers are introducing
lighter-flavored gins to court new customers. It’s
not just the story of the winemaker.
The SWE was interesting because it’s not just for
trade people. Their conferences are also great for networking.
Looking into the future, I think I may eventually move into
some other part of the trade, and education – wine
seminars, teaching classes – might be part of that.
I don’t think that restaurant work is great for starting
a family and having kids, because of the hours.
Unlike a lot of sommeliers, I don’t want to make
wine; the science and technology part of it is not very
interesting to me. Also, I like knowing a little bit about
everything and as worldly as, say, Napa is, I feel like
I’d get pigeonholed working in one specific wine region
JC: You’ve completed the SWE’s
Certified Wine Educator program. How important are certifications
JB: I think the certifications and courses
help me market myself. Especially as a woman; it can be
a lot more challenging unless you have a certification that
is recognized everywhere.