Emily Plant - Manager of an all-female staff at a Twin Liquors store in Austin.
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I’ve been in the industry for 15 years. It all started in culinary school, where wine education was a required course. I landed my first kitchen job at 19 and, two years later, transitioned to the front of the house as a server. I decided that I wanted to increase my sales so I made the decision to study wine. I increased my sales so much that my manager took notice and encouraged me to take the introductory exam for the Court of Masters Sommelier exam. I bought Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible, read it front to back and somehow managed to pass. I was so proud of myself. Over the next 13 years I went from server to bartender, bartender to assistant general manager. I helped open a wine bar as a sommelier and beverage director. Although I had a great passion for restaurants, I decided to embark on a new adventure in retail and I’ve never looked back. For the last year and a half I have been working for Twin Liquors. I now manage my own store with an all-female staff, have ample opportunity to continue my education, and get to work in a field that is more fulfilling than I ever thought possible.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
Yes, when I first discovered wine and food pairing. I never knew how magical wine could be when paired with the right food. I remember my first wine dinner. It was my birthday and my boyfriend and I went to a local restaurant and decided on the seven course dinner with wine pairings. All the pairings were exceptional, but one in particular hit a home run. It was the last course, a deliciously fluffy French toast, drizzled with maple syrup, dusted with powdered sugar and topped with Foie Gras. A savory and sweet dish paired with rich and sweet Sauternes! I was hooked.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I find it very rewarding when a customer comes back into the store and tells me that I nailed a wine recommendation. I really enjoy helping customers find their “aha” moment with wine. This can be tough, because in retail you don’t always have an open bottle of wine to taste with a customer. I use a series of questions to narrow the options and find the right selection. Whether it’s an austere Bordeaux for an elegant dinner or a delightfully fruity Gamay on the patio. I listen to them and genuinely enjoy helping them develop their palate and love for wine.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
Unfortunately, yes. I worked at a restaurant for years. It was time for my annual review. I was super excited, knowing that I had gone above and beyond and been a great asset to the restaurant. The review was overall positive but I was surprised, to say the least, when I was told I would be going on salary at a rather low wage with no benefits. I was not happy with the wage so I requested a meeting with the owners to discuss their decision. I came to the meeting prepared with statistics on the average wage for a restaurant manager. Despite my best effort, the meeting concluded in no wage increase and no offer of better benefits. Realizing that it was not possible to live on this wage I, sadly, I tendered my resignation. I quickly found another job and gave a month’s notice so they could find a replacement. During the last week of my employment, I found out my replacement-- a male, with basic management experience, who hadn’t worked in over a year--was offered significantly more money with full benefits. I was devastated and embarrassed. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence in the restaurant industry. Thankfully, I knew my value and was able to move on to better opportunities.
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?
We need to realize that it is just a behavior, and a behavior can be changed. I think that, as women, we work so hard to take a step forward and when we do, we hold on as hard as we can. I am guilty of having been dismissive and cold to a female peer that I was intimidated by in the past. I allowed my insecurities affect my behavior and I put up a wall because I wasn’t confident in my abilities and had never felt supported before. Women need to be part of the change. We need to start encouraging each other in the work place.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
I hope to see a narrowing in the gap of equality for women in pay. I also hope to see more interest by women in the wine world. It could be restaurants, bars, vineyards, distribution, tasting rooms, retail etc. Being part of a community of successful women that supports those who might shy away, struggle or be intimidated by, what they think, is a male-dominated field.
What changes do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I would like to see more groups like WWOW flourish within communities. Offering a place where women can support each other, share experiences, and explore new ideas.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Buy Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible and Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide. They are both approachable reads that will create a great foundation of education. The road is tough, know your values and stay true to them.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equal opportunity. No more, no less. Women take initiative and drive results just as much as men, if not more. It’s time to recognize a person based on performance and not on gender.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I am passionate about educating my staff and customers about the many amazing women of wine. I understand the importance participating in groups that promote change and have a positive effect on the community. Most importantly, knowing my value as woman of wine and striving to help those who struggle to find theirs.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
She is assertive and courageous when leading, empathetic when giving constructive criticism, and passionate about her work. In stressful situations, she is able to adapt quickly but still understands the need for self-care. She is imperfect, humble, and gives gratitude to those who have helped her on her journey.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
There are so many wonderful women to mention. Michelle Del Greco, a passionate woman of wine and food. Arianna Occhipinti, a pioneer of winemaking in Sicily. Rae Wilson, an entrepreneur in the Texas wine industry.