Sommelier student shows career changes are key to loving what you do

When Amy Spears thinks about one of the first times she had dinner at her in-laws’, she thinks about a certain bottle of wine. It was a Barolo, a red wine produced in Italy. Her father-in-law, Guy Dubois, had brought it out during dinner, he loved it. Trying to impress him, Spears went to LCBO […]
Photo: Madalyn Howitt
The Wine Lab, used mostly for wine tasting in the Sommelier program, will hold half the students it normally does if students return to campus for face-to-face learning.

When Amy Spears thinks about one of the first times she had dinner at her in-laws’, she thinks about a certain bottle of wine.

It was a Barolo, a red wine produced in Italy.

Her father-in-law, Guy Dubois, had brought it out during dinner, he loved it.

Trying to impress him, Spears went to LCBO before their next dinner and got him a bottle. They ran at least $40 each – a stretch from her usual $12 choice – but it would be worth it to see the look on his face.

At dinner, she gave it to him. He thanked her and said he would add it to his collection – a case of the wine he kept in the basement.

Spears laughs about this today. She insists he is still one of the toughest people to buy wine for.

That’s one of the reasons she told Dubois that he would be a fantastic sommelier – an expert in wines.

“Every time we go over for dinner, he’s always pulled out a nice bottle of wine and told us about the wine, why he loves it and why it’s going to go well with our dinner,” she said. “He’s kind of a natural, I think.”

Sommelier student Guy Dubois (right) said he owes a lot to his family for their support during his careers. His father, Paul Emile Dubois (left), his son, Daniel Dubois (center) and his grandson, Emerik Dubois are part of his support system.
Sommelier student Guy Dubois (right) said he owes a lot to his family for their support during his careers. His father, Paul Emile Dubois (left), his son, Daniel Dubois (center) and his grandson, Emerik Dubois are part of his support system. Photo credit: Provided by Guy Dubois

Dubois took her advice and decided it was time to chase what he loves again by enrolling in the Fall 2020 sommelier program at Algonquin.

Semi-retired, Dubois chose to pursue wine after careers in areas of work he would say are “a pretty big jump,” from one another.

Even though he would go on to earn a degree in chemistry from McMaster’s University in 1986, it was not exactly a straight shot to the finish line. He faced what many experience in school: uncertainty.

“Science was not even in the realm of possibilities,” he said, reflecting on his time in high school. “I still remember in Grade 9 and Grade 10 science, I was horrible.”

In Grade 11, his chemistry teacher gave him his lightbulb moment. “He turned me onto sciences,” Dubois explained. “Just the way he was teaching and how much fun he was having. And I’m thinking, ‘Wow! This is awesome.’”

He knew he was headed into science. Then, after a trip to the chiropractor to treat a hockey injury, he thought he had it figured out. He was told he could be a great chiropractor, so he gave it a shot.

His degree in McMaster’s actually started in biology. “I tried biology,” he smiled. “Unfortunately, I could not pass biology if my life depended on it.”

Rolling with the punches and determined to pursue what he loved, Dubois met with a counsellor who told him the next decade was going to be all about chemistry. Ready to jump at a chance, he responded, “Well, I have no idea what I want to do. So, let’s do this.”

Today, he would tell you he was glad he did. He would also suggest you take the big chances in school – if it’s what you want.

“You have to follow your dreams, you have to have fun,” he said with a smile. “Life is too short. If you find, all of a sudden, that you have to do something different, then you have to do it.”

Flash forward to having worked for two chemical sales companies over the span of 25 years, he said the best part of his job was the extensive travel. “My territory was pretty much this side of the world,” he explained. “We spent some time in Chile, we spent some time in Brazil, Canada and the U.S.”

He described his work as a sales representative for Alchem, the international laboratories incorporation, with a glow you only get when you love what you do. He raved about his work in paper mills, improving the paper and figuring out how cardboard could be a better recyclable.

“That really pushed my buttons. I really, really did enjoy that a lot.”

In 2011, the company was bought-out and decided to let go of Dubois’ department. He was faced with a barrier, over which he took quite a jump.

For the following six years, he worked as a business development manager at a Canadian bank.

During that time, he worked alongside financial advisors that would later lead him in yet another career change.

In 2016, he became a financial advisor himself, earning his life insurance and security certificate online. Though Dubois was feeling good about where he was, he was not feeling great.

“I have to admit that I liked the financial advisor’s position, but I didn’t love it,” he explained. “It was more of a means to an end.” And according to Dubois, if he is not loving what he is doing, then he should not be doing it.

“I decided I was done doing the rat race,” he laughed.

Today, he is the newly elected class representative of the sommelier program, making the best out of a changing situation.

Due to restrictive access to campus, the sommelier program re-organized its fall semester schedule. The first seven weeks are being delivered online, focusing on the theory aspect of subjects normally filled with practical learning. After the Fall break, students will be able to attend on-campus labs to taste wine – a crucial part of the program.

Marie-France Champagne, the program’s coordinator, said she is pleased with the amount of participation on Zoom so far.

“I think people have had enough of the confinement and being at home,” she added. “They are looking to pursue their passion.”

Dubois is doing exactly that. Doing what he loves has been his guiding principle throughout his different careers.

“I’ve always done the work that I am really passionate about,” he said. “It’s not just the paycheck.”

As he heads into the uncertain remainder of the term, Dubois said it is important for students to keep thriving towards their passion, no matter what it is.

And for students worried about being stuck in the first career path they have chosen; Dubois gives the same advice he was once told.

“Do not kid yourself, this is not going to be your last job. You’re going to change – people do,” he explained.

Dubois thinks that as long as students are not afraid to take that jump as he did, they will succeed.

“And I’m living proof,” he said, breaking into laughter.

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