Farrah Berrou - Founder of B for Bacchus & Associate with Woodland Hills Wine Company
How many years have you been in the business? Tell us briefly about your background and your current position today.
Informally since late 2017 but officially since 2019. I was working for the family business: a specialty big-box store in Beirut, Lebanon. We sold imported grocery items from Costco, Sam's, BJ's - all the clubs. After I quit my job in advertising and did some design work in Barcelona, my dad asked me to help him open a new branch and run the alcohol section. I didn't know anything about the sector at the time but dad told me to figure it out. So I did. When I went down the Lebanese wine rabbit hole, I was on my own quest to connect the dots. I kept wondering why there wasn't a source for an overarching timeline rather than the individual ones you get from each winery. Where were the real stories? Not the PR copy or the stuff you see in promo videos but the real juice? So I launched B for Bacchus as wine classes at our grocery store. Then the podcast came a few months later as things in Lebanon began to nosedive. With lockdown, the crisis, and then the Port Explosion, I wasn't in a good place mentally so I decided it was time to relocate for a while. When I came to California, I started Aanab, my mini newspaper, and got a part-time job at Woodland Hills Wine Company. My work continues in many different forms now - between building an Ancient World wine section at the wine shop and creating content for B for Bacchus. I still feel guilty that I'm far away from home - and that my podcast has been consistently inconsistent!
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
Not really. I can't pinpoint it to one particular moment. It was a gradual fall into the industry where I saw a gap that I could fill with my curiosity. I wrote about it here.
What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
I see wine as my Trojan horse. It brings the complicated yet beautiful world that is Lebanon into the lives of people who were just looking for something to drink with their pasta. While wine is just an agricultural product, that's exactly why it's so connected to the backdrop that its cultivated in. The history, the people, the crises that suffocate Lebanon's day-to-day - all of that can be explained through this one product. There are multiple layers to understanding the country's and the region's situation today and wine is my excuse to talk about it with others.
What do you do to create wellness balance in your life? Any particular activity, practices, etc that are meaningful to you?
This is something I'm not very good at but I'm trying to be better. One practice I've implemented since the summer: Sundays are no work days. They're my stay-in day to just decompress at home. I either spend them cleaning the house to my dance playlist, reading a book with my cat sleeping nearby, or catching up on all the newsletters I'm subscribed to. The idea that Sundays are for resting probably sounds obvious but, whenever I'm not working at the wine shop, I'm using all my time to write or create merch or research. Running your own thing creeps into every moment so blocking out one day a week where I'm not allowed to do any of that - not even send emails - has been a good first step toward balance and readjusting my priorities.
What changes do you hope to see in the wine industry in the next five years?
I'd love for more attention to go to regions that are deemed "less important" by traditional wine education and the market's sales numbers. For Lebanon in specific, I hope to see more cooperation between producers. It's a tiny country with huge problems. The scarcity of resources and opportunities makes it difficult for people to work together toward a common long-term goal.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equality gives weight and recognition to all parts that intersect with this industry. For example, I'd like to see vineyard workers be centered the way the proprietors and winemakers are. We always hear that "good wine starts in the vineyard" yet we don't know enough about the stewards that set that strong foundation. This industry is an ecosystem, not an organizational chart.
How do you feel you’re contributing to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive wine industry?
I hate to say this but the work I do humanizes people from the Eastern Mediterranean and the MENA because it's not just about wine. The media related to our region is one-dimensional and tired which serves no one but those pushing for poor, destructive foreign policy. Giving a nuanced account of our history and how things are right now - from a place of personal understanding - gives the audience more of a whole picture.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the same sector of the wine industry as you?
In my early days, I didn't feel confident enough in what I knew about the country and wine to have my own perspective on them. It's intimidating to be the new, young woman who wants to learn about an industry that's much, much older than your grandparents. It's hard to question what established names present to you as fact. Trust your gut. It's okay to make your own conclusions and have unpopular opinions that other wine folks aren't aligned on.
Name some people who inspire you in the wine industry and please explain why.
Katherine Clary, editor-in-chief of The Wine Zine, approaches writers and stories with so much grace, humility, and care. We started working together in 2020 and, ever since, I feel I have learned so much from her approach as a nurturing editor. Rania Zayyat, founder of the Lift Collective, made me feel supported when I first got to the U.S. last year. As someone who's been doing this solo for a few years and throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, I'm grateful when someone is willing to help me untangle my next steps. I'm so impressed with Tahiirah Habibi's Hue Society and Cristie Norman's work for the LA Somm Community and the United Sommeliers Foundation.
These women have been examples of how to not only be community leaders but also community builders. They don't shrink themselves, they take up space - for the benefit of everyone.