Jennifer Wilhelm: from terrified server to author

Jennifer Wilhelm Podcast Episode 2

It’s hard to believe that when Jenn Wilhelm started her journey in the wine industry that she was a terrified young woman who couldn’t pronounce the names of grapes, let alone the places where the grapes were grown and the wine was made.

Yet here she is now, enjoying an unbelievably rich life. Jenn was a member of the first graduating class of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers – and at a time when very few women were in the field. She managed restaurants and learned every aspect of the food service industry. She became a full-time instructor and managed wine and hospitality programs at Niagara College.

She was mentored by passionately committed people, including pioneering women in the Niagara wine industry, without whom, as Jenn says, “The industry would not exist as we know it today.” And to give back and commemorate those women, she’s now writing a book about them. Can’t wait to read it, Jenn!!!

Listen to the joy and passion in Jenn’s voice – she’s doing what she loves to do in a part of a world she’s in love with. And she’s sharing that joy and passion here at Wine Behind the Scenes.

What you will learn from this episode:

  • Find out the most important thing about the wine industry that you have to work on, first and foremost.
  • Hear of one fundamental connection to the wine that makes the whole idea of winemaking and buying wine an enjoyable experience.
  • Know about the book that recounts stories of women who made a very significant contribution to the flourishing industry that wine is now.
  • Learn how relationship-building is key to one’s success in the wine business
  • Find out the core characteristics you must carry with you to make it in the wine industry and in all others that you want to excel in.
  • Hear stories of struggles and triumphs, as well as passion, love, and dedication that will help you navigate the world of wine and the people who are passionately involved in it.

Jennifer Wilhelm has worked in hospitality and event management for 30 years. She is a certified Sommelier by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS). She holds credentials from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) in both wine and spirits, credentials from Prud’homme Beer, and a diploma in Hospitality Management. She joined Niagara College in 2006 as an instructor, was Wine Program Coordinator from 2009 to 2014, developed and taught classes in the wine, beer, spirits, culinary, and hospitality programs. She is a past board member and instructor for the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, international wine judge, and VQA panelist.

Jenn has been the recipient of several prestigious awards, including Ontario Wine Educator of the Year through the VQA Promoters Awards, 40 Under 40 Business Achievement Award, and in 2014 was awarded the Lieutenant Governor’s Community Volunteer Award for her contributions to the Ontario wine industry. She is currently completing a book about the women who shaped the foundation of the Ontario wine industry, a compilation of memoires, tributes, and yet untold behind-the-scenes stories of these influential women and their contributions. She believes it crucial that the significant impact these extraordinary women have had on the industry itself and as mentors to generations of those of us working in the industry today is documented and appreciated.

When she doesn’t have her nose in a glass of wine or a book, Jenn’s happy place is the garden. Her early restaurant experience introduced her to Ontario’s passionate and dedicated farmers. Understanding how and where both grapes and food are grown has always been important to Jenn. If she isn’t growing it herself, you will hear her enthusiastically promoting local organic farmers. Most recently, she took that love of growing to another level and traded her traditional classroom for a unique farm and field experience at Mingle Hill Organic Farm. In her newly created role as Experience Facilitator, she creates and leads one-of-a-kind interactive workshops, and corporate retreats for folks looking to embrace a healthy lifestyle.

Get in touch with Jennifer Wilhelm:

Topics Covered:

01:49 – Taking it all back to Niagara College, where everything started for Jenn and where she and Laurel met

04:31 – How building solid relationships with people creates a domino effect

07:06 – Becoming one among the first graduating class of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers [ after that terrifying and intimidating experience ]

09:38 – Her strength and the critical factor in building her reputation and credibility in the industry

12:32 – Not just about the wine; it’s about the people and the connections you make

14:14 – Finding the time to get connected with past students and colleagues

15:04 – A book she authored that speaks of appreciation and gratitude towards the women who started it all and made wine a flourishing industry that it is now

21:02 – More reasons to look forward to Jenn’s book

22:40 – Talking to the Jenn of 30 years ago [ advice she would give herself then]

24:03 – Would she have thought then to end up where she is now?

26:47 – Focusing not just on a bottle of wine; but also on the passion, love, and dedication that goes into winemaking

Quotes from Jennifer Wilhelm:

“I was quite intimidated by the fact that I hadn’t traveled. I didn’t have money, so I didn’t have a wine cellar.”

“The truth is that in my early twenties, wine terrified me. It absolutely terrified me.”

“We said we’ll work for wine. And we did.”

“The more we worked together and the more we tasted, the more we learned and the more passionate we became.”

“We now in the industry have so much experience, but back then, in the seventies, and early eighties, selling Ontario wine and even using the words premium Ontario wine in the same sentence was unheard of.”

“We are all more than our career and our profession that people see.”

“There’s so much passion and love and dedication in each wine bottle.”

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