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Courtney Kingston - Founder & CEO of Kingston Family Vineyards in Chile’s Casablanca Valley.

How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today. Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?

I’ve been working in wine for twenty years. Our family came from the farming side. My passions are our 100-year old farm in Chile, championing financial literacy for women and wine. I am the Founder & CEO of Kingston Family Vineyards; we organically farm and handcraft small bottlings on our family’s vineyard in Chile’s Casablanca Valley. We welcome guests for intimate, wine & food experiences off the beaten path in South America. The (very) early seeds of my career started a century ago with my great-grandparents. They left their homes in the USA looking for gold in Chile. They never found their mother lode, but their search yielded a farm in the western hills of Casablanca just 12 miles from the Pacific. Five generations later, we’re still exploring -- this time it’s new frontiers in Chilean artisan winemaking and organic farming.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The farm is a cornerstone of our family. It’s what brings us together. It is also where I feel I can make a small difference on our planet. Through our vineyard and winemaking, we’ve found a way to share the essence of this special place in a lasting way with our community and the world. I also have the opportunity to talk to my sister-in-law Jen (our COO), father Michael (CFO) and brother Tim (enthusiastic volunteer) every day — all for my job. I grew up in a tight-knit family, and yet when I was beginning my career, I found myself drawn to places far away geographically. My career gives me the opportunity to connect and see them often: in the USA and in Chile. Our family business is a tie that keeps us connected across generations. Finally, it’s rewarding to know that we are playing a small part in helping our Casablanca community transition from export-oriented ventures to an Evergreen entrepreneur model that is sustainable, purpose-driven with a long-term focus on stewardship and community.

Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?

My own awareness tends to be more oriented around cultural differences than gender. Chile has a strong bench of highly respected women winemakers, including Sofia Araya (Veramonte), Andrea Leon (Lapostolle), and Constanza Schwaderer (Schwaderer Wines) among others, and elected its first woman president in 2006. I was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and am very much pura gringa despite being part of a Chilean-American family. I am comfortable being in the gender minority, particularly as an entrepreneur and woman in business. I have two older brothers. I went to college and got my MBA with only about 30% of my classmates as women. When I was in my 20’s living in San Francisco, I struggled with how I could help the family farm from a distance and as a woman. I was drawn to Northern California because it reminded me of Chile — the San Francisco Bay Area’s Mediterranean/coastal climate is very similar to the Casablanca Valley. On the other hand, it was more socially progressive back in the 1990s, and as a woman in business I felt more comfortable. California was more at ease with my direct, exigente approach that others could find too forward. Culturally, Chile was and still is more traditional. I needed to shift my direct style to a more nuanced one south of the equator. I learned to adjust to the South American hospitality where meetings begin with coffee and personal catchup, rather than agendas, standing huddles and KPIs. In the late 90s, I led our vineyard’s grape sales with Chilean and international winemaker clients, but was quickly replaced. It became abundantly clear that my Chilean uncle Enrique was much more effective negotiating a handshake spot agreement via un abrazo in the predominantly male rural culture of Chile than I was. (My best practice researched grape contracts were modeled on bottle price agreements of independent vineyards like Hirsch, Peay, and Bien Nacido. They were works of art, but no one cared and they didn’t get the deal done.) It was a hard lesson, but it was the best thing for the business at the time. I found the healthiest thing was to figure out how to leverage my strengths to best contribute. When necessary, I leveraged my close relationship with my father and my brother in settings where my voice was less able to be heard. I used my experience and network in California to help guide us in Chile. Like our family, we pulled together a Chilean-American team, and as time went along, I became more affirmed in the value I brought as a bicultural woman at the table.

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?

Teaching women tangible, tactical skills early in their careers is critical to finding our leadership chair at the table. That is why I am so passionate about mentoring women in financial literacy. You need to be strong in the tactical so that you can then move to the strategic. If you teach women tangible skills around reading financial statements, establishing your own credit, lease vs buy, the importance of a 401k when you’re 22 — you enable them to stand on more solid ground both professionally and personally. This can impact careers, families, and communities.

When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?

Communities are what continue to propel women forwards, and finding or creating community is key. Wonder Women of Wine is a terrific example of a much-needed resource. If finding a community isn’t easy or doesn’t exist, I’ve held myself accountable to create one. Peer-to-peer advice and collaboration can be powerful. All boats will rise when we work together. In the Northern California wine industry, Christine Wente, Cynthia Lohr and Jaime Araujo and I created a circle that meets quarterly. We talk about everything from working with our aunts to equity ownership. As an entrepreneur, I’ve found the guidance from my Tugboat Institute forum to be invaluable. We have candid conversations and shared values, thanks to the 7P framework around purpose, perseverance, people-first, private, profit, paced growth, and pragmatic innovation. As a female leader, I helped start a ‘true north’ group of women in the San Francisco Bay Area across disciplines to learn from each other, and we’ve now been together for nearly 8 years. While we operate in very different worlds; for example, Odette is a neurosurgeon, Amy in military intelligence, and Olivia in tech. We capitalize on the value of an outside perspective looking in, share parallel experiences and hold each other accountable. I can’t emphasize enough how much these trusted relationships have meant to me over the years.

What changes do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?

More of the above! As women move up throughout organizations, we’ll see more collaboration across teams. Integration of women across all parts of the business, particularly in areas where we are frequently underrepresented, matters. Finally, it’s important that women support and hold one another accountable to continue to ascend, learn and grow. Cheerleaders aren’t enough, we also need to be challenged and pushed.

What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?

Try to get as much hands-on experience and diverse exposure as possible early in your career. Take risks and initiative where you can roll up your sleeves and try new things, particularly in organizations with leaders and mentors you respect. Collect and invest in as many tangible, hard skills as possible to put in your “quiver.” Those will increase and further your own human capital. Focus more on the learning and hands-on experience you will achieve versus the near term compensation or title. Find an organization that is about more than just wine. Consider their purpose, their core values. Those matter. Make sure they are walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Play it forward: envision once you are in the door, how you will contribute and where you will continue to grow and move within the team. Reach out to alumni or people who have moved on, and find out how their time at that organization later impacted their careers.
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