Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
My particular “aha” moment came while I was tasting wine with my first beverage director Jordan Smelt at the now closed Cakes + Ale. He let me nose in on his tasting of some dope Loire Valley wines and tasting Chenin Blanc blew my socks off. I couldn’t believe it could be so layered and complex but yet pleasing. As I fell into the wine world, learning about the producers, winemakers, terroir - I felt that I had found a way to create an experience that also reflected farm to table values within a bottle. The fact that wine to me is a living, breathing work of art and an extension of a specific time and place - I have yet to find an agricultural product that spins a similar web as wine can do.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Helping a person discover a wine that is just a bit outside of what they might have chosen for themselves and they love it. The look in their eyes as they take that first sip and experience what the wine has to offer - seriously an unmatched moment.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry?
Overall I have been very lucky that while in the Atlanta wine scene I have been supported and encouraged. I really can’t say that I have faced any prejudice in this industry. My two biggest mentors have been men who really allowed me to learn and grow in all aspects of beverage management.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by advocating for diversity and inclusion?
This world is such a wide and diverse place - how can we not advocate and want our wine to equally represent our world and community?! As a community advocating for diversity and inclusion only further normalizes such standards and behaviors in our society - further compounding the ripple effect.
What changes do you hope to see in the wine industry in the next five years?
In the next five years I want to see alternative avenues for education and certification that gives qualification to as many people as possible that allows them to have an advantage in our community. I want to see the CMS gatekeepers step aside and allow us to really open up our inclusion at the most elite levels. I want our hospitality industry to see a livable wage standard achieved across the country.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equality in the wine industry is one that doesn’t weigh certifications over experience. That diversity in hires at all levels of our industry across careers. Equal pay & a livable wage for all. Fairer representation of producers and winemakers in markets.
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I am currently in the process of rewriting our wine list to make it more accessible for all guests. Instead of reading very technical - it will serve to guide guests between wine styles, regions, etc with some overview of what to expect from a given grape in a given region. The more we stop acting as gatekeepers to the guests the more we can drive conversations about diversity and equality in wine. I also work very hard and closely with the staff to educate them and allow them to have the tools to be the drivers in guiding the guest in their wine experience. I also work with the amazing Lift Collective as the social media manager to further the dialogue in the wine industry.
What message do you have for anyone now entering the wine profession?
Jump in, ask questions, connect and reach out to anyone for advice, knowledge or experiences. The gatekeepers are moving out of the way and we want more diversity and inclusion in this industry. Don’t back down, push for your seat at the table.
What other industry heroes do you admire and why?
Rania Zayyat hands down! I have been lucky enough to get to know her from afar and provide support to her causes because they are my causes! She has given me a shot to further my involvement by hiring me in this position! I have so much to learn from her and I look forward to giving her my all! Marissa A. Ross is an inspiration for her unflinching honesty in her passion for wine, the industry and herself. She is a badass and authentically herself. She gave me the balls to describe wine experientially vs traditionally. Randi Weinstein of the amazing FAB conference in Charleston. She also has allowed me to come in and give my time and she has repaid me ten fold in involving me in a lot of her amazing virtual conference content this past year.