Daniel Stewart was assistant wine-buyer for off-licence chain O'Briens when he decided to leave Ireland to become international sales and marketing manager for Italian wine company Guerrieri Rizzardi.
“I received a call from Guerrieri Rizzardi [which was one of O’Briens’ key importers] asking if I would be interested in applying for the role,” Stewart says.
“At first I was between two minds about what to do as I liked the job I was already in, and this was quite a different role from the buying. I spoke to my wife Hannah about it and took the decision to go for a weekend to meet with the owners and eventually go through an interview.
“From that visit, our decision was made, and two weeks later I got a call confirming that I had the job.”
Guerrieri Rizzardi, which is in the wine-producing Veneto region of northern Italy, is owned by an Italian noble family, managed by the Contessa Maria Cristina Rizzardi and her two sons, Giuseppe and Agostino Rizzardi.
The company’s history is intertwined with the combined Guerrieri and Rizzardi family history, their locale and its traditions dating back to the 15th century. In 2011, the company opened a new winery on the hills of Bardolino as part of a long-term plan to relocate and modernise production
Stewart’s versatile role means he does everything from updating the website to discussing how to communicate a new wine and label designs to keeping in touch with customers.
There is always something new to learn, and being located close to the vineyard has afforded him the opportunity to acquire inside knowledge of the wine-making process and have daily dealings with winemaker Giuseppe Rizzardi, an invaluable experience that would not have been possible in Ireland.
“In Ireland, I was an assistant buyer, so I would’ve been looking to become a head buyer somewhere. Now, because I work for an international wine company, I’ve met people and visited places that just would not have been possible in Ireland.”
The position involves travelling around Europe, meeting old clients and researching potential new ones. One business trip began at scenic Lake Garda, close to where he lives, went on to modern Milan and then to Zurich, while another required him to fly to Canada for a wine-tasting.
The role also involves learning about the variety of business cultures – and what it is never safe to assume.
“Not everybody speaks English as a native language, so when sending emails, you have to make sure to avoid slang and informality, as some people find it confusing and off-putting,” Stewart says.
“Because I work in international sales, I have to spend time researching different business culture dos and don’ts. There are certain ways you should and shouldn’t hand business cards to people, depending on their culture and business.
“Then there are general cultural ticks as well – in Japan it’s considered incredibly rude to blow your nose, and that’s just one example of many.”
Passion for wine
Like the Rizzardi family, Stewart’s interest in wine was inherited from his family, in particular by his father’s passion for and in-depth knowledge of wine.
“My dad is a self-taught wine expert. Although it wasn’t his job, he loved experimenting with different wines. That definitely rubbed off on me, as I’ve been in the business for 20 years now, and on my brother, who’s also in the wine business.”
His upbringing also prepared him for the culture shock of living abroad as, due to his father’s teaching role, Stewart was born in Kenya, lived in Malawi for a time and was then raised in Co Down.
It’s through his time in Italy, however, that he has learned it’s possible to integrate quite quickly in Ireland, as the Irish are a gregarious, open people who don’t get angry easily.
“Habits here are very different though, and they can change from one province to the next. In this part of Italy, it can take longer to integrate, mostly because it’s a very tourist-orientated region, so the residents aren’t sure if you’re here to stay or not. But that changes once the kids start to going to school,” he says.
And is there talk of moving back to Ireland? “We’re not even thinking of it at the moment. Hannah has taken Italian lessons and the kids have started their education here. Because of the region we live in, we get loads of visits from family and friends, so that’s not a worry for us at all either.”
Although acknowledging that it has become less necessary to emigrate because of how the world has developed, Stewart thinks it is important to spend some time living and working abroad and to experience another culture first-hand.
“I know it’s clichéd, but it does broaden your mind, and can rid you of prejudices you may not even know you have. If you do decide to emigrate, accept the country on its terms. It’s not your country, and it’s up to you to accept it for what it is or is not.”