scorecardI'm a wine consultant who creates custom tastings and dinners for private clients. Here's how I transitioned from writing about wine to running my own business.
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I'm a wine consultant who creates custom tastings and dinners for private clients. Here's how I transitioned from writing about wine to running my own business.

Dena Roche   

I'm a wine consultant who creates custom tastings and dinners for private clients. Here's how I transitioned from writing about wine to running my own business.
Careers5 min read
Dena Roché is the founder of TKTKTK    Kristin Heggli/Splendid Photo
  • Dena Roché is a wine consultant and founder of Vin Roché, a private wine services business based in Phoenix, Arizona.
  • After 10 years working as a travel writer, Roché decided to make a career change centered around her love and knowledge of wine and launched Vin Roché.
  • Through partnerships with other vendors, Roché's clients have access to a wine club membership and direct delivery services, as well as curated wine dinners and virtual themed tastings.
  • A late-stage career change can be challenging, so Roché says it's important to combine something you're passionate about with your existing skills and expertise.

For the last 10 years, I was living a dream life, paid to go on vacation and write about it for magazines and online publications. Through a lot of networking and pitching ideas, I built up my reputation and portfolio as a freelance travel writer. But with the surge of bloggers and influencers willing to do my job literally for free, my industry began to die before my eyes. The COVID-19 pandemic and global lockdown was the proverbial nail in the coffin.

Unlike many people who make a radical career transition to leave a soulless job, I was being forced out of a career I loved. The thought of a typical office job without flexibility and the ability to travel was panic-inducing, but so was the stack of bills piling up. Stuck in lockdown, I had plenty of time to think of my plan B.

I didn't want a job I despised to be my only option, I wanted to find something I loved.

I realized that through traveling to 32 wine regions around the world, touring countless wineries, and tasting a diverse amount of wine, I'd developed a strong interest and expertise in wine. I was fascinated by how the same grape could taste so different depending on terroir, the winemaker's style, and the accompanying food. In April of this year, I decided that wine was my new path to success.

Since I'm not a night owl, I quickly ruled out working in a restaurant, so instead I decided to create a private wine services business, called Vin Roché. I know what you're thinking, launching a business during the worst economic recession of my life was a bit crazy, but the thought of being chained to an office was even worse.

Moving from travel journalist to a private wine educator might seem like a stretch, but there are a lot of similarities.

Dena Roche looking left
Dena Roche      Kristin Heggli/Splendid Photo

I've found that while people want to learn a bit about wine, what they really want is to have an interesting experience, and that lies in weaving a good story about the wine, where it's from, and who made it. It's almost like telling a story verbally instead of writing it down. For me as the storyteller, it's even more gratifying because I actually get to see people's reactions and watch their aha moments, whereas with writing it's hard to know if what I wrote actually inspired anyone.

Even if it seems your new job has little in common with your old, every industry has transferable skills that you can bring to a new role to sell yourself to a prospective employer or boost confidence in your entrepreneurial journey.

While many skills carry over, I felt that even though I know a lot about wine from my travels and self study, it was important to get some formal training too. In April, I began studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers, the international organization that certifies sommeliers. Unfortunately, the pandemic canceled my planned test this fall and pushed it into early 2021, but instead of waiting to launch the business, I pushed forward.

Read more: A former chef and restaurateur founded a successful snack brand after overcoming addiction. He shared how investing in his self-care made him a better leader and entrepreneur.

I was inspired by colleagues and friends who told me the person who cared the most about my credentials was me, not my prospective customers.

Dena Roché pouring wine
Dena Roché TKTKTKT      Kristin Heggli/Splendid Photo

For most of my clients, it's all about a fun and entertaining experience.

I officially opened for business in July. My clients initially come through word of mouth, and were on the wine sales side. But I'm now implementing a public relations strategy and social media ads to help get the word out to grow the tastings and private events from one event a month to a target of eight within the next six months. While COVID-19 has made aspects of the business slow to start, one thing that made this business viable was that there are multiple lines of revenue.

I do private wine dinners and tastings, sell a collection of French and California wines, consult, and will lead exclusive wine region travel in the near future. While all of our services are customized, wine dinners generally start at $250 and wine tastings are dependent on the cost of the wine.

COVID-19 actually created a new segment of my business-virtual wine tastings. It's essentially the same tasting I'd do for clients in their home, but now it's over Zoom. It's pretty cool because it allows clients to invite friends in Phoenix, New York, or Miami to a virtual party and taste wine together in a way they couldn't normally on a Friday night.

Partnerships are vital for getting the word out about my small business.

I sell a strong, diverse portfolio of wine through a relationship with the Boisset Collection so my clients have access to a wine club and direct-to-their-door delivery, a big selling point because of COVID-19.

I developed a relationship with Phoenix's top private chef, William Turner, to offer curated wine dinners and tastings through our respective businesses. I'm also partnered with Sebastien Noel of My French Vineyard to add a winemaker's knowledge to tastings and on wine tours. Now, I'm working to create relationships with boutique wineries in various wine regions to get ready to be able to offer VIP wine travel experiences.

Read more: 4 women who are redefining the male-dominated alcohol industry and making a substantial profit in the process

Making a late-stage career transition is never easy, but having a job you love is worth it.

Dena Roche up close
Dena Roche      Kristin Heggli/Splendid Photo

For me the key was to find something else that I was passionate about, and also to find a way to incorporate my old career with the new. In my case that is offering Vin Roché wine vacations, and continuing to write with a focus on wine travel and wine. Whether COVID-19 forced you into a career shift or you've wanted to make a move for a long while, it is possible to reinvent yourself in 2020.

Dena Roché is a luxury lifestyle journalist published in BBC, Forbes, American Way, United Hemispheres, Modern Luxury, and more. She is also the founder of Vin Roché. You can connect with her on Instagram @denaroche.