Grads on the Go – Uncorking the Wine Business

Entrepreneur pairs knowledge of food and wine

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Christine Fawcett

Christine Fawcett discovered the key to success when she started her own business, Keystone Fine Wines. “I’m not just selling wine; it’s the business of wine,” she says, adding that her knowledge of food and wine combined with her business background allows her to work with a variety of clients in the hospitality industry.

After graduating from U of G with a bachelor of commerce degree in 1992, she took a sommelier program at George Brown College in Toronto and worked as a sales representative for several wine companies. In 2008, she was approached by a winery to start her own wine business. “They didn’t want to hire someone who worked directly for them; they wanted to hire a company,” says Fawcett. “I was in this situation where I’ve got this great opportunity and I’m going to take it. That’s how I ended up starting Keystone Fine Wines.”

One of the challenges of being an entrepreneur is that all of the responsibilities belong to her. “If you don’t do it, no one does,” she says. “Being a sole proprietor, I have to rely on myself for everything,” but being her own boss also gives her the flexibility to set her own schedule and pace, which allows her to spend more time with her family. “I think you’re harder on yourself than when you’re working for somebody else.”

Hotels and restaurants account for about 75 per cent of her business. When meeting with new clients for the first time, she listens to their culinary needs and suggests wines to enhance their menu. “A lot of restaurants are trying to offer a better selection of wines by the glass as opposed to bottle sales.” She says more restaurants now sell wine by the glass as patrons look to save money, heed warnings about drinking and driving, and take advantage of recent regulations allowing them to bring their own bottle of wine. She has also seen more demand for organic and sustainably produced wines. “Consumers are more concerned about what they’re putting in their bodies.”

As a hotel and food administration student at U of G, Fawcett took a course on the history of French wine, which included a trip to Europe. “It was the most fun course I’ve ever taken.” Her time at Guelph was also filled with happy memories. “I remember my father saying before I went to university, ‘This is going to be the best time of your life,’ and he was right.”