Carson Demmond - Owner of Rive Gauche Wine Co.
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I’ve been focused on wine for almost 15 years now and held my first floor sommelier position at 24 years old. I finished school thinking I’d work in publishing, but when I walked into my first interview in New York and realized I would earn more waiting tables than what a starting salary would be, that’s the path I chose. Oddly enough, I did end up in publishing years later, with staff editorial gigs at Wine & Spirits and Food & Wine. That’s largely what inspired me to start Rive Gauche Wine Co. when I moved back to Atlanta. At Food & Wine in particular, since the readership is so vast, I was always having to make sure the wines I was referencing in articles were available in multiple markets. So: I realized there was this issue of access to a lot of my favorite producers.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
No. People always ask this question, and I can never pinpoint one precise bottle or moment that felt like an epiphany. For me, it was gradual as I came to realize that wine encapsulated all my curiosities. There’s the practical side (agriculture, production, chemistry, biology) and the artistic side (the sensorial experience and the romantic notion of a unique expression of place or set of circumstances), but also the culinary and historical sides. Also, I think that speaking French probably helped…
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing Rive Gauche’s impact on the wine culture here in GA. Hands down.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry?
Sexual harassment was rampant when I was coming up in the restaurant business. I think it’s probably a little better now, since those responsible are being held accountable, but I’m one degree too far removed to speak to that with any authority. I’ve also felt overlooked and underestimated more times than I can count. Thankfully, there have been more good people than bad who have made lasting impacts on my career, or I would probably be doing something else.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by advocating for diversity and inclusion?
It is crucial to have diverse voices at the table, always. The wine industry is no different from any other industry in that respect. That’s how we all learn and grow and open our minds to possibilities beyond the scope of our own tiny existences.
What changes do you hope to see in the wine industry in the next five years?
I’d like us to be talking more about what changes we can be making to combat climate change. I think all the time about my diesel-fueled delivery van and about the carbon footprint of shipping wine over the ocean in reefer containers on giant vessels. Making more eco-conscious choices means our customers will have to wait longer and pay higher prices. All of that really sucks, but we should still be getting together to discuss how we’re going to make it work.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
I was at a prominent Château in Saint-Julien once chatting with the Managing Director, and the subject came up of lack of female leadership in Bordeaux. When I mentioned several women-led properties on the Right Bank, he said, “well yes, because the vineyards there are smaller.” Equality doesn’t look like that. So as much as things have improved, we need to keep doing the work, because there are still people out there thinking in this deeply ingrained sexist way.
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
Well first, I know I should be doing more to contribute to equality. But hopefully just showing up every day, making my company successful, paying all my suppliers on time, and making sure my team feels taken care of and proud to work for Rive Gauche will help to start to normalize having women-led businesses in my tier of the industry.
What message do you have for anyone now entering the wine profession?
Ask lots of questions. You can never stop learning.
What other industry heroes do you admire and why?
Two people immediately come to mind. One is my friend Talia Baiocchi (Founder / Editor in Chief, PUNCH) because not only is she a great writer, but she also has a fantastic head for business and knew how to make PUNCH a sustainable publication at a very young age. The other is Angela Osborne of A Tribute to Grace. When I first started working with her wines, I received a somewhat delayed email reply from her in which she apologized and explained she was trying to be a “present Mum” for her three children. Of course, no apology was needed for that, but it was a great reminder that our default setting should be putting family first. I hope my kids grow up knowing they’re my priority, so I aspire to Angela’s model of tabling work and just being present. It’s way harder than it sounds.