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Translating a love for wine into a career

Elizabeth Schneider holding a glass of wine on a porch

Elizabeth Schneider (MBA ’05) never felt at home in corporate America – so she decided to use her business skills to focus on her passion for wine and created Wine For Normal People. Her company translates the world of wine into “normal” – easily accessible – terms that she shares through a podcast, a blog and speaking events.

To reach an even broader audience, she wrote an intermediate wine primer appropriately titled “Wine for Normal People: A Guide for Real People Who Like Wine, But Not the Snobbery That Goes With It.” O, The Oprah Magazine featured the book when it was published in November 2019.

Schneider spends her days studying wine, talking to people around the globe who are doing interesting things in the vineyards, and finding ways to put practical information into the hands of people interested in wine.

Schneider credits her time at UNC Kenan-Flagler for helping her choose a career path. “The reason I feel so tied to this University is because it changed my life in so many fundamental ways,” she says.

Before applying to UNC Kenan-Flagler, Schneider quit her job at a top research and advisory firm and moved to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands where she slept under a mosquito net, waited tables, took the GMAT and applied to the full-time MBA Program.

As a student Schneider got involved in international experiences and projects, traveling to India on a Global Immersion Elective and to South Africa with a classmate. She spent her summer internship at an over-the-counter drug company and disliked the “do this, act like this, wear this, and say this to get ahead” atmosphere of the corporate world.

Schneider had always had an interest in wine and in her early 20s she took introductory wine classes, which started her on the path toward figuring out how she could incorporate this fascinating subject into her life in a meaningful way. Today’s she is a certified sommelier.

After graduating from UNC Kenan-Flagler, she worked at a large, industrial winery in California. She launched several successful brands and co-authored a nationally acclaimed wine training program for servers in restaurants worldwide. But when the focus became profits at the expense of product quality, she left her job.

After traveling to the Galapagos Islands for a wedding of a MBA classmate, she listened to her gut and decided to create her own company. Wine for Normal People was born.

“I realized I could not go back into corporate,” said Schneider. “I loved the culture of wine, but hated the politics of it.”

Average people face many barriers to entry for appreciating wine – the lexicon, the geography, and the regional complexities make it difficult to jump in without help. “You actually can’t fake it until you make it with wine,” says Schneider.

Schneider began her award-winning podcast, which has an international audience, and teaches online classes, does corporate speaking events about wine around the U.S. and is the face of a new online wine company, The Weekly Tasting.  She is thriving in a career that makes her happy.

As an entrepreneur in the niche market of wine-related media, Schneider had to create her own blueprint. Through trial and error, she discovered successful business models that included her podcast and corporate speaking.

“I decided instead to be an advocate for wine, not for a specific brand,” she says. “My number one concern is my audience. I want to be the person I wish I had met when I was first getting into wine – a helpful, nice friend who knows a lot, but doesn’t make you feel bad when you ask a question. My focus is not pandering to big wineries. I’d rather make less money and have integrity about what I do and how I do it.”

Sticking to your values and listen to your gut in your careers and personal lives, advises Schneider.

“Despite what people tell you, life is actually very long,” she says. “When you make mistakes like neglecting your relationships or not keeping up with friends you’ll live with that for a very long time.”