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Etinosa Emokpae - Distribution for Skurnik Wine & Spirits

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

I have been in restaurants and wine for about 12 years. I started working for Union Square Hospitality at Shake Shack and from there I worked every position from busser to captain at an assortment of restaurants including Maialino, Lafayette, and Mission Chinese. Moved to Philly in 2016, and worked as a Sommelier and Beverage Director for Walnut Street Café, and later Wine Director of Friday Saturday Sunday. Now, I am on the distribution for Skurnik Wine & Spirits.

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

I have had a few I think, but the one that sticks out to me is when I tried this wine by Damiano Ciolli, “Silene”. It’s 100% Cesannese from Lazio. We had it during pre-shift at a restaurant I was working for at the time. And I just remember finally understanding why people lose their mind over wine sometimes.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part are the people. Wine is such a conduit and through it, I have met some of the most incredible people that inspire me every day to keep doing what I am doing.

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

Well, being Black, Queer, and a Woman in this industry is no cake walk. But I have found that where doors have been closed to me because of my social location, others have opened. Because of the communities I am a part of, I no longer feel the need to burst through doors of places that don’t want me there. I would rather just build my own space that is open to all.

When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by advocating for diversity and inclusion?

Well just the sheer range of diversity of thought, experience etc alone makes it so much FUN! It makes for a richer, interesting and robust industry when we can see more women, BIPOC, LBGTIA +, disabled people given the same opportunities that white cis-gendered men have had.

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

Well, it’s already happening, but more BIPOC winemakers and land owners. Also, more BIPOC in distribution, portfolio management and importing.

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

Having true self-determination in this industry. Knowing regardless of who you are, you can work where you want and be given the same access to opportunities.

In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?

Sharing of resources is huge. I think it is our responsibility to make sure we are spreading resources and information to as many people as we can so we avoid gate-keeping. I think that’s why I value my work with industry Sessions and Hue Society.

What message do you have for anyone now entering the wine profession?

No one is island. Everyone needs help in this industry and if you find someone that says they did it on their own, they are lying. Find your community of people who are going to hold you up but also hold you accountable.

What other industry heroes do you admire and why?

Marquita Levy, Tonya Pitts, Julia Coney and Lee Campbell. They inspire me every day and I know I have a place in this industry because they are unapologetically themselves and are just so damn brilliant.
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