New Year, New You
She Quit Her Job For Wine — And Loves It
What do you do when you realize your career has been great, but the job is no longer the right one?
For Amanda McKenna, the answer was to quit, relocate hundreds of miles away, and start over.
She couldn’t be happier to have made the move.
McKenna lived in Los Angeles just six months ago, working as the wine director at Hatchet Hall, one of the city’s most successful restaurants. It was, in many ways, a dream come true for the 2013 graduate of the College of Charleston in South Carolina, where she studied business administration and management prior to diving into the world of food and hospitality.
She had made it to the nation’s second-biggest city to a place that is arguably the biggest food hub in the nation, where new chefs became famous, and celebrity chefs travel from across the globe to plant their flags.
“If you want to work in food and hospitality, there are few better places to land than L.A.,” McKenna says. “But life can also make you reevaluate things.”
Before relocating to the West, McKenna was a server, bartender, bar manager, and beverage manager at restaurants in Charleston, Philadelphia, and Cape May, N.J. Along the way, she became a certified sommelier, a skill she put to use at Martha — an acclaimed beer, wine, and cocktails bar near Philadelphia's Fishtown neighborhood — and Vedge —- a fine-dining vegan and vegetarian restaurant in Center City.
Having long wanted to live in California, she moved to Los Angeles in 2018, and her career in Southern California's bustling food scene began to blossom. Hatchet Hall, already known for its fusing of Southern food with California ingredients and wood-fired kitchen techniques, also found itself on the map in Los Angeles for its creative wine program, where natural, unfiltered varietals and local winemakers became the highlight.
But as the pandemic hit, fooderies shut down and the new era of masks, sanitizing, and social distancing became the norm, many workers like McKenna re-thought what they wanted out of work. (A recent CNBC survey found that 50% of workers said they had considered a career change in the last year.)
“Those crazy hours in a restaurant were not benefiting me anymore,” McKenna says. “I saw the writing on the wall. I loved my job and my colleagues and what we gave to customers. But I knew I wouldn't be happy in the long-term if I continued on this path. I had done all these jobs in restaurants and worked my way up the ladder. But the logical final step would be to run and own a restaurant. I definitely did not want that.”
McKenna says she remembers thinking to herself, “What are you doing here?”
So she leaped.
She applied on a whim for a position in Forestville, Calif., a town of under 4,000 people. The job: running operations for a small, Sonoma County-based independent winery called Ryme Cellars. She interviewed with the husband-and-wife team that ran the business. The job was hers.
“I knew about wine. I loved wine,” McKenna says. “But helping run a winery? That felt like starting all over.”
Today, McKenna manages the tasting room, the membership program, direct-to-consumer sales, and, when she gets a chance, helps make the wine, too. The winery, which focuses on southern Italian varietals such as Aglianico, produces a tiny 5,000 cases a year. For comparison, Kendall-Jackson, one of the best-known U.S. brands, makes more than 5 million cases each year.
“I’ve always loved drinking wine, and as I got more into the restaurant world, I realized I sometimes felt farther away from where my heart really was, which was the wonderful world of wines,” McKenna says. “Growing up, my mom would always buy white zinfandel and pinot grigio from the grocery store. I have these vivid memories of stealing not sips but smells. As I got older and started working and studying, I realized how much more there was to wine. The number of grapes, combinations, types of fermentation and styles, it can almost seem endless.”
McKenna says she used to desire a more defined, traditional path in her career, “where one job leads to another bigger one and that to another bigger one in a bigger city.”
Now, living in the tiny city of Healdsburg, Calif., and being engrossed in a new education about viticulture every day, McKenna says she proudly embraces the small and the unknown.
“I am just so excited to see where my path goes,” she says. “It feels like this exciting question mark.”
She offers a piece of advice to those considering making a switch in their jobs and livelihoods: “Love what you do. Be open to the doors you come across as you ride along that journey. And don’t be afraid to make a jump.”