Cheryl Durzy, Vice President & Proprietor- MommyJuice Wines, Clos LaChance, The Vegan Vine – Spotlight on a Drink Careers 101 Project Advisory Board Member
Cheryl Durzy is a woman who wears many hats. She is a mother and wine industry professional who has made an art of combining the two with her wine brand MommyJuice Wines. Cheryl earned her stripes working in Sales and Marketing for Clos LaChance and is a Board Member for the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association as well as Free the Grapes. We are pleased to have Cheryl as a member of the Drink Careers 101 Advisory Board.
What was your path into the wine industry?
I was what some people like to call the “lucky sperm.” My parents are the owners of Clos LaChance and I have been working for them for 15 years now. However, I was not just handed this job. I actually started my career in high tech PR after college (University of San Diego. Go Toreros!) After about three years I realized that I was not passionate about my job. I wanted to love going to work and really care about what I did. Clos LaChance was in a growth stage at that point and my parents had just asked me if I would help them hire someone to help with sales and marketing. I told them I was interested in the job. They said no. I asked again and yes, I am serious, they still said no. After a certain amount of begging, they allowed me to interview, which was sort of humiliating. Their main concern was that I would not take it seriously and not work very hard. After a few glasses of wine I talked them into a 6-month trial. They agreed. I am going on my 30th 6-month trial as we speak.
What were the steps you took to prepare yourself for your career?
I went to college and got a degree in Business and Communications. I knew I wanted to be in some kind of sales or marketing. I was actually voted “Most Likely to be a Used Car Salesperson” in high school. Not quite Prom Queen or Most Likely to Succeed, but something that rewarded my “convincing” talents. I had several internships. One was at Taliget, the merger company between Apple and IBM back in the day. I did everything from data entry, reception, special projects, and even filled in for the mail guy when he went on sabbatical. It was grunt work, but it taught me to be flexible and how to work with many, many different types of people, which is a good skill in the wine industry. Many wine companies are very small, and employees often wear many hats. It is important to be flexible, and willing to jump in and learn. I also had an internship at a small local advertising agency, Carter Waxman. When I started there, I was really gung ho about advertising. When I left, I realized PR was something I was more suited to. A very good learning experience and gave me something to strive for upon graduation.
When I started working at Clos LaChance, I really did not know much abut wine. I absorbed as much as could via books (The Wine Bible is amazing) and different classes. I took a summer OIV course at UC Davis that was a great general overview of the industry as a whole. Then I successfully completed the Introductory Level to the Court of Sommeliers. I have since completed the Intermediate and Advanced courses at the WSET. Hoping to take the Diploma course soon! I found a great local wine bar and started going to as many tastings as I could to expand my palate beyond just California wines. One of the reasons I love this industry is that there is always learning to be done.
What drove you to found Mommy Juice? How did it all start?
As I mentioned before, I have been working in the wine industry for 15 years and I very much enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day and with dinner. My kids are used to seeing me with a glass in the evenings at home. They would point to my glass and say “That’s MommyJuice!” and it became a joke with all my mom friends. Then one Saturday after doing 10 loads of laundry, I thought to myself how I couldn’t wait for a glass of MommyJuice that night. A light went off—what a cute name for a brand! So I came up with a concept for the label, worked with the designer, and sent it to the TTB. After several long discussions with the TTB, it was finally approved. I started selling it online, a few cases here and there. Some executives from Target noticed it and approved it for their local (Northern California) stores. We have now been approved at CVS for 1100 stores nationally starting this Spring!
What do you hope to accomplish with Mommy Juice?
Three things actually:
First, I want moms to grab the bottle, have a glass of wine at the end of the day and relax. I want them to enjoy the wine but also see the label and recognize and hopefully be comforted by the fact that because of motherhood, they are part of a bigger community. Being a mom is hard, really hard. Both working moms and stay at home moms need to take a little time for themselves everyday and to lean on their “village.”
Second, I hope that people inside the industry can learn to appreciate fun, irreverent names for wines, and accept that they can be quality too. Let’s face it, the wine industry needs more drinkers. We made some strides over the last decade to make wine more readily accepted in the US. However, craft beer and ready-to-drink cocktails are knocking on our door. Hopefully, MommyJuice gets some people hooked on wine in general and keeps them on the right side of the force.
Third, to sell wine, of course.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Hands down, dealing with distribution. The distributor world today is such a challenge. There are very few distributors in each state and even fewer that are willing to take on new brands that do not already have huge customers or massive conglomerates behind them. Wholesalers do little more than take orders, deliver and bill. It is up to wineries to sell their own product. It has taken me some time to figure that out, but now that I have it seems to be working. We have a sales and marketing company managing the brand that has great relationships with accounts.
What is your favorite aspect of what you do?
I love coming up with marketing plans and implementing them. I have to be creative because the budget is always an issue. But once I see things work and start to sell through—I get so jazzed. I also love managing our social media platforms. MommyJuice is authentic and really, my life, so what I post on the Facebook page is like a little diary sometimes. I love getting feedback from other moms around the world that share in the MommyJuice gospel.
What advice would you give college students considering a career working in the wine industry?
There are really three paths in the wine industry: growing it, making it, and selling it. Each job supports those three tasks. Figure out which way you want to go and then determine your best option. I know most about selling and marketing it, so here is my advice if you want to sell wine or other beverages:
First, work part time in a restaurant or wine shop. They’re such a great place for a part time job and an opportunity to really learn and develop your palate. Taste as many wines as you can when distributor reps come in. Sit in on as many supplier presentations as you can. I never did this, but really wish I had.
Second, try and get a little experience on all sides of the three-tier system: Supplier (winery), distributor or broker, account (restaurant or wine shop). Those people that I have met that have done so are the most knowledgeable wine folks out there. They get how the system works, even if they only spend a year or two at one tier or another.
Third, don’t get intimidated. A lot of people who drink wine are trying to show off with big terms and tasting notes, etc. Wine is subjective, nobody can tell you what you taste in wine. So when someone starts spouting off “beautiful flavors of black currant, red fruits with a hint of vanilla and white pepper” and all you taste or smell is blackberry. Fine. That’s awesome. The more you taste, the more nuances in the wine will come out. But you are never wrong.