Dorothy J. Gaiter - Created "Tastings" column, & is senior editor of The Grape Collective, magazine.
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
When people ask me how to get into the wine business, I tell them I haven’t a clue; I’m in the journalism business. I’m senior editor of The Grape Collective, an online magazine based in New York City. Grape Collective also has two retail stores, but I am not involved in the business side. I became a journalist 47 years ago to write about race and social issues. I met John Brecher, the man I married, on the first day of our first jobs out of college, at The Miami Herald, in 1973, the year we also began tasting and studying wine. I’ve been a reporter, editor, columnist and editorial writer at the Herald, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, which twice nominated my writing on race for the Pulitzer Prize, and once for “Tastings,” the column about wine that John and I conceived of and wrote from 1998 until 2010. We’ve written four wine books and created the annual, international “Open That Bottle Night” celebration of wine and friendship. We have appeared many times on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR, Martha Stewart Living, CNN, Today (for which we selected and uncorked the wine for the show’s 50th-anniversary celebration) and other TV and radio shows. I’ve won awards from the Newswomen’s Club of New York and the National Association of Black Journalists.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
The first wine John and I shared was Andre Cold Duck. It was a gift from his parents when he got his first apartment. I knew there must be something better!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Everyone has a story. Learning those and sharing them with readers who might act on them was always the best part of being a reporter. Winemakers are incredibly interesting. Sharing their stories and their wines is boss.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
I walk into rooms as a black woman, not bifurcated as black and female. A few years ago, I walked into a famous wine store in Manhattan to buy Beaujolais Nouveau for a tasting. An older white male employee advised me not to lay it down. I told him that I was aware and that’s why I presumed it was called Nouveau, that it was meant to be consumed while new, young. I’ve been followed around wine stores as if I’d steal. I was once chased out of a store by a salesman who was so incensed that I kept politely refusing his assistance that he shouted to other shoppers, “She says she doesn’t need my help. Guess she knows a lot about wine!” I’d heard the awful advice he had given another female shopper. Skinny wines, anyone?
Women are victims of the patriarchy as well, and often are harder/more judgmental of other women as a result. How can we, as women, become more aware of our own prejudice towards each other and change that behavior?
A few years ago, I was on a panel discussing diversity in the wine industry. At some point, I related to the virtually all-white female audience that when I wrote about race, black women told me that white women were their greatest obstacle in the workplace – that white women were less likely to hire and promote them or to recommend them for a job than white men were. Women in different industries. They also said that white women were more likely to consider black women affirmative-action hires than white men were. It was as though women were competing for a limited number of spaces, and white women were shunning these black women. The white moderator asked the white female expert on women’s workplace issues to respond and she said, more or less, that what I’d said wasn’t true. And with that, the room exhaled. Afterwards, the one Latina and the three black women in the audience thanked me for saying that.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
Talented people doing jobs they excel at and love doing is always a good thing. Whether it’s making wine, managing vineyards, selling wine, owning wineries—whatever.
What changes do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
It would be great if there were more women and people of every ethnicity and persuasion throughout the industry.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Same as for any profession: Know your stuff, believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. If you won’t, who will?
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Same as in any industry. People should be paid equally for their work if they’re equally talented at it.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I stand on the shoulders of giants, especially black ones, so I have to try to be at the top of my game—always. It’s stressful, but if I’m not, it gives people a reason not to give other black women opportunities that they deserve. Some black women wine writers say that my example showed them that it was possible for them to write about wine.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
They are smart, strong, persistent, honest, and caring.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
Merry Edwards: Founder of Merry Edwards Winery, a Pinot Noir specialist. When she was at UC-Davis in the early 1970s, women were being steered into laboratory jobs, not winemaking jobs. She refused to accept that, and got that practice halted. While working on her Master’s, she did research that proved that lead-based capsules used to seal bottles were leaching harmful lead into wines. Her research ended their use. Julia Coney: Before George Floyd and COVID-19 exposed once again deep racism in this country, she was challenging the wine industry to be inclusive. She is fearless. She speaks truth, from her heart, to power.