How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I am originally from New Jersey and spent a good twenty years in the restaurant industry in New York City, from dishwasher to bar owner, with a brief hiatus running a wine shop. I moved to Atlanta in 2013 and after spending a few years in restaurants here, I moved over to the distribution side and now work as a sales rep and the spirits portfolio manager for Avant Partir.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
I certainly did. In 2001, I was working as a server’s assistant at a restaurant in New York City. My original mentor Karen King, the wine director, asked me to start joining the wine classes she was teaching for the staff. At the first one I attended, she offered me a taste of Chateau de Pibarnon, Bandol Rouge which was not in the line-up that day and it blew my mind. It was the first time I had ever experienced a wine that, upon reflection, wasn’t all single note ripe fruit. She then recommended I start reading anything that looked interesting about wine as well as tasting as much as possible and I was hooked.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is meeting people who are working extremely hard to be a part of successful businesses. Having put in many hours in restaurants, I know the intensity that goes into creating and maintaining a consistent operation while also remaining dynamic and fresh. I don’t think I will ever forget the depth of that challenge. I also get to taste a whole bunch of amazing wines on a regular basis which comes in a distant second.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry?
I have witnessed all sorts of prejudicial activity towards my friends and colleagues which includes any brand of “ism” you can imagine. This happened mostly during my tenure in restaurants, but I have seen it on the distribution side as well. In restaurants, servers of all genders being sexually harassed was the most common culprit though the other categorical examples were not far behind. Unfortunately, I experienced most of this in a time where expressing injustice fell on deaf ears or was literally laughed at without overwhelming proof. We took our grievances to the bar after work, had some drinks and vented. I sincerely hope I created a better environment for my staffs when I eventually attained positions of power.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by advocating for diversity and inclusion?
Any time I talk wine with people I find myself saying, “the more the merrier” and I truly believe that. Expanded diversity and inclusion can only lead to wine becoming attractive and inviting to more people. I believe one of the biggest obstacles in wine is the perception of an elitist category which is intimidating or unappealing to a lot of people. If we can somehow lessen this misperception, our entire community could gain a host of new members. If we actively recruit and create a comfortable space for people of all backgrounds we can infuse our industry with more perspectives, more talent, more passion, more everything! Actively trying to broaden the demographics of who we are hanging out with, drinking with and tasting with, is the perfect place to start.
What changes do you hope to see in the wine industry in the next five years?
I will refer back to the previous question. I would love to see a more diverse community. I mean this both in terms of groups of people who have historically been absent or under represented and in terms of taste. The California Cabernet drinkers never hang out with the Pet Nat drinkers and it’s a shame. I want to experience tastings and gatherings where we no longer count what kind of people are there - they are all just there. While we are all equally responsible for these changes, I call upon the youth to make it so! Welcoming in and properly educating our industry with younger, diverse voices will make the biggest impact.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
When I think of equality I think about the word respect. Both material and emotional respect. Respect for your local community and the communities you’ve never engaged; respect for everyone involved in the crazy supply chain; and, most importantly, respect for mother earth from whom we harvest our passion.
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I try to put myself in positions or conversations I’m afraid of, uncomfortable with or don’t understand as often as possible, to talk about what is actually going on equality wise in our industry. I feel like this is the only way to truly keep evolving as a human being and have a positive effect on our community as well. Talking with as many people as possible gets the word out. Regardless of opinion on the issue the discourse itself creates a legitimate reality. Unfortunately, I sometimes find myself in situations where people who look like me assume I have their same stale and often downright deplorable points of view. It’s at these moments where I take the opportunity to discuss change, diversity, inclusion, and other topics these individuals are not always thinking about. Most importantly though, I look to invite or support however I can, anyone who wants to be part of this world we love so much.
What message do you have for anyone now entering the wine profession?
The most important thing is to read books about wine, spend time having fun with wine, and surround yourself with people who have a lot of experience with wine. Host dinner parties or tastings and go to places with friends to enjoy good bottles, but also don’t forget to learn about the specifics. Even if you find some of the classic opinions outdated or questionable, you need to have a basic understanding of them to excavate why you might enjoy a different perspective of the wine world.
What other industry heroes do you admire and why?
I have countless heroes in the industry and a list too long to elaborate. It has developed over time from the servers, bartenders and wine directors I looked up to and learned from, to the importers and winemakers I have had the pleasure to meet and study. My ultimate hero is probably anyone who has an open mind about what the wine world is or can be and the energy to convivially share this attitude with others.