Allison Levine - Created her own business —Please the Palate— to organize wine trade & media events.
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I have been in the wine industry since 2001. I was working in Marketing Communications in the dot.com world and joke that when the bubble burst, I started drinking for a living. But that was never my intention. I had been taking some wine classes and when I found myself unemployed, I offered to help the educator with his classes utilizing my marketing communications and event planning background. Five years later, we had built the primary wine education business in Los Angeles. I then started selling wine for importer and distributor Chambers & Chambers, learning a new aspect of the business. But one year into that job, I was approached to work for a noted wine critic and run all the marketing and events for his business. This is where I shifted to the industry side of the business, as I started to organize trade events. A year into working for him, we launched a national trade magazine (The Tasting Panel) and I handled marketing and events for the magazine, as well as began writing stories. In 2011, I launched my own business, Please The Palate. I work with wine regions around the world, organizing events (eg. seminars, walk-around tastings) for the wine trade and media around the country. I started a blog when I began my business and over the years I have established myself as a freelance writer. I have a weekly wine column in the Napa Valley Register and write for California Winery Advisor, Beverage Industry News and other outlets. I am also the US host for the podcast Wine Soundtrack, in which I interview winemakers and winery owners and get to know them in 30 questions. I currently hold a WSET Level 3 Certificate.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
I have had a few “aha” moments in wine but I don’t know that I had an “aha” moment that propelled me into wine. No one had ever told me that the wine industry was an option for work. When I was in college at University of California Santa Barbara, my friends and I would go wine tasting on the weekends. We thought it was fun to do and felt sophisticated, but I really did not know anything about wine. I liked the sweet Muscats and did not like the tannic reds (not that I could explain that at the time). After college, I had an internship at the Cannes Film Festival and found myself at the opening film party. I remember being handed a glass of red wine and loved it. It was possibly the ambiance, but I remember it being the first red wine I ever enjoyed. I then went to live in Italy for six months to work as an au pair. I was living in the town of Vercelli in Piemonte. I made friends with some local people and would meet them for aperitivi in the afternoon. They handed me a glass of wine…it was a light red color, slightly sweet and slightly frizzy. I was hooked. It was Brachetto d’Acqui and that was the wine that really set me on my path. Vercelli is the rice capital of Italy, but it is surrounded by Ghemme and Gattinara and only an hour from Barolo and Barbaresco. Wine was on the table of every meal that we had. And, while I did not know what I was drinking at the time, in hindsight, we were drinking Dolcetto and Barbera and occasionally Nebbiolo. That is what I cut my teeth on.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
There are so many passionate, interesting people that work in the wine industry. Through my work, I am able to meet these people and share their stories. When I was in graduate school, I received my master’s degree in International Communications with a focus on Cross-Cultural Training. I have always had a passion for learning about other cultures and through wine, I am able to explore other cultures.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
I went to an all-girls school for junior high and high school and have always felt empowered and equal to all. Unfortunately, that has not meant that I have not experienced prejudices. I have witnessed men in the industry comment on female colleagues, not for the work they do, but for how they look. And, early in my career, I found that expressing concerns or issues would be interpreted as being too emotional.
Women are victims of the patriarchy as well, and often are more judgmental of other women as a result. How can we as women become more aware of our own prejudice towards each and change that behavior?
Be confident in yourself but also have humility. Confident does not mean arrogant. Do not compare yourself to others. It is great to admire and aspire to be like others but do not compare and compete. We are all in this together and we need to support each other and empower each other.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
There are so many more women in management and leadership positions today. I have the privilege to work with many women and find it to be a collaborative process. Women are wonderful multi-taskers, detail-oriented and conscientious managers. We need to keep encouraging and supporting each other so the number of women in wine is equal to or more than the number of men.
What changes do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
We will continue celebrating women in the wine industry. But I hope to see even more diversity and representation. I also hope to see equal pay across all industries.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Ask questions and do not be afraid to ask for guidance or advice. Seek out mentors who can provide insight and support you. Work hard and do your job well. Hard work pays off. Be open to opportunities and always strive to learn. The wine industry has endless opportunities for learning, whether for personal or professional growth.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equality in the wine industry is equal pay and equal opportunity throughout the industry.
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
As a small business owner and entrepreneur, I am proud to be a woman-owned business in wine. As a writer, I hope that I am communicating the stories of a diverse range of people in wine and am always conscientious of supporting and promoting women.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
A wonder woman is someone who is confident and smart but also kind and supportive. A wonder woman perseveres through hard work and collaboration and not by stepping on top of people along the way.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
There are so many women I admire in the wine industry, from winemakers to sommeliers to public relations professionals and journalists. I admire women who own and run their own businesses. I admire women who manage teams and who have achieved the highest levels of accreditation. There are too many incredible women to mention but I will name a few. On the winemaking side, there is Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead Cellars, Kathleen Inman on Inman Family Wines, Pam Starr of Crocker & Starr and Laura Catena of Bodega Catena Zapata. From Public Relations, there is Katherine Jarvis of Jarvis Communications, Katie Calhoun of Calhoun and Company and Kimberly Charles of Charles Communications. There are the Masters of Wine including Mary Ewing-Mulligan, Liz Thach, Bree Stock and Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan. There are the journalists including Lauren Mowery, Deborah Parker Wong and Leslie Sbrocco. I really could go on and on because there are so many strong, intelligent, passionate, driven, successful women working in the wine industry.