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Ellie Cohn - Running the wine program at The Island House Hotel in Nassau, Bahamas.

How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.

I have been in the service industry longer than half my life!!! I started really early on, working as a waitress during my high school days. I kept progressing, looking for better opportunities. I was in university and the schedule was ideal. By the end of my Political Science studies, I came to realize that that field was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But I still wanted to develop a professional career, and wine appeared as the answer to my needs. I enrolled in a two year Sommelier Training at a well-recognized culinary school in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I am from. The more I started to learn, the deeper I fell in love with wine. At that time, I started to work for a myriad of wineries, and for a couple years I was in charge of the wine and viticulture program at another culinary school in town. Soon after, I realized I wanted more, much more, and moved to US, looking to deepen my knowledge. This is the real chapter about how I immersed myself into wine. Both the Court of Master Sommeliers and WSET signed the path. Lots of courses, certifications, blind tastings, incredible mentors, and really awesome jobs allowed me to become the wine professional I am nowadays. I am so grateful for everybody I have met along the way. In 2018 I was offered a position in Bahamas at The Island House Hotel, Nassau. The wine program is a curated low intervention-small producer piece of art. Feels like I have found paradise, in more than one way!

Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?

Hmmm. I don’t know if there was a moment that propelled me into wine, or if it was more about reaffirmation and realization about having finally chosen the right thing. Years ago, both my mentors –Dilek Caner, MW and Melissa Monossof, MS- kept insisting on me moving forward. These women empowered and validated my work, allowing me to develop my career, and I am forever grateful for them in my life. Another honest moment I can acknowledge was blindly falling in love with Champagne. That love has been cultivated and the niche I now want to dive deep into. I follow a fair amount of women leading this path, Ariel Arce and Yoko (@yokobubble) are the most inspirational young professionals I could think of.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I truly love what I do. I have a passion for service, for making people happy. When I can enhance someone’s dining experience, recommend a wine that someone falls in love with, transmit knowledge, tell stories, spread the word about awesome winegrowers…That makes me the most accomplished wine professional ever. I see myself as a communicator, as a provider of experiences. Wine is a vector.

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

Probably, all of them. We are consistently told by society that we [women] are not smart enough, that we choose to utilize the “wrong” skills to advance in our careers, that we are weak, easy to manipulate, and I can go on and on…But I also feel that recognition and parity is growing, and a brighter future is arriving. And this is only because of the hard work WE are putting in. Yes, we still need to prove ourselves, and make this male-ruled world know we are not better, but equally good.

Women are victims of the patriarchy as well, and are often 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?

Criticism is part of human nature. We are, at the end of the day, creatures that fight for survival. In my own understanding, we can overcome that by creating positive networks and supporting cooperation instead of competition. We are more powerful if we join forces. The result will eventually reward all of us, the ones to come. We are meant to create and mark a path today thinking of the future, solidifying new structures where recognition and partnership are the foundation and pillars of women’s action.

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

Wine is just one more front where we are fighting this battle. But we can do so much to be an example, for others and us. It is all about recognition, about praising work, acknowledging skills, efforts, history, and stories. The wine industry has so many incredible women in it. It is our mission to spread the word, and we need to take action and responsibility for it.

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

More of us!! More support, more camaraderie, more empowerment. We as women need to lead the movement, consciously and unconsciously; the message needs to be delivered. Not everybody will hear, or pay attention, but if we keep up with it, the progress will show its own results. Every single woman featured in this series, for example, they were not given anything. Honest work, dedication, devotion for what we do, the product of a labor of love, regardless of the strategic position we occupy. We are all indispensable. Not more, not less than men. Just equal.

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

Give yourself away every day to deliver the best quality of work you could possibly achieve. But don’t do it because of being a woman, but because that is the only way we should all function. This is hospitality, this is people treating people. If we all dream of a better world — yes, I am such an Idealist — we need to produce and lead the change. Let’s not ask for permission. Let’s show everybody we are here out of love for what we do. There’s nothing more powerful than that.

What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?

In my eyes, equality in this industry is signed by trust. Understanding gender does not define sensibility, strength, quality of work, intelligence, creativity, skills or dedication. Unfortunately, we all have a long way to go still.

What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?

I am an advocate for support and empowerment. Give what you want to receive, allow your colleagues to thrive and shine with you. Be a listener, a learner, and a mentor at the same time. I seek out equality in multiple ways, definitely trying to transcend the obvious gender barrier. Let’s understand titles as mere job descriptions, and approach our daily tasks as revolutionary acts of progress and success.

What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?

Trust, self-confidence, believing in your own dreams, regardless of how big or small they are. Wonder Women of Wine question and challenge the world, they don’t question themselves. We can still be sensible and loving without losing our strength, sense of community, teamwork, and endless effort to make this industry a fair one, where everybody can succeed only based on the quality of their work.

What other women of wine do you admire and why?

Well, you have heard me already talking about Melissa and Dilek. I have been lucky enough to meet so many wonderful women in this industry. Naming a few is unfair to all the others. Mimi Casteel has changed my mental understanding of winegrowing for ever and all the times to come. Maggie Harrison with her “Yes” necklace has marked me just as much. Pascaline, Megan Glaab, Karen Ulrich, Severine Perru, La Garagista, Alice (Feiring, and in wonderland), and so many more. All women that disregarded the challenges imposed by a world directed by men, and created their own paths towards showing that we are equally capable of occupying key powerful positions, in every single segment of the industry.

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