How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I’m a National Beverage Director for the City Winery group and I oversee wine, beer, spirits, and non-alcoholic drinks for the company. In my job I work closely with our twelve locations to ensure that everything in the beverage world – from menus and partnerships to service standards and profitability – runs smoothly and efficiently, with guest and staff experience being top of mind. What started off as a serving job in a neighborhood restaurant ten years ago grew very fast into a serious passion for service and for making someone’s day brighter with simple pleasures of food and drink.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
I found the wine intellectually stimulating when I first started working with it. There is so much history, science, and culture behind each bottle, and each wine is a snapshot of its time. But it wasn’t until my first great food and wine pairing event that I had an epiphany that wine will become my job and my life. It was a Northern Rhone Syrah from an old-school producer, and it smelled of bacon fat, roasted meat, and coal. I still remember that particular moment when I tasted it and realized that wine is with me for a long time.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I get to work with many amazing professionals of hospitality and service, some with decades of experience behind them and some who are just starting off. What is most rewarding is seeing them grow and advance, and being able to support their development. I benefited greatly from mentorship in my professional career, and I also made mistakes because I didn’t have anyone to ask for an advice. So now I’m overjoyed when I can help others and I find a lot of fulfillment in that.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry?
Of course, there were people who doubted my ability, knowledge, and experience, my whole substance and validity, for being a young woman, and for being an immigrant. From guests to vendors to prospect employers to peers, there were closed-minded people who couldn’t look past their outdated idea of what competence looks or sounds like. But there were also many others who I prefer to speak about. Those who saw potential. Those who supported growth. Those who gave opportunities. Those who celebrated winnings with me.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by advocating for diversity and inclusion?
The wine industry has missed on many great ideas because people from marginalized groups were not included into the conversation or were not listened to. We all see how one-dimensional and elitist the wine world can become when lead by old white men in suits. Advocacy discourse is important for the change in our communities – fresh ideas start with someone speaking up and challenging the status quo. We should see new and exciting flavors and pairings, innovative approaches to marketing and sales, ancestral knowledge of nature and culture that turns so-believed “standards” upside-down and gives us a new version of the wine world.
What changes do you hope to see in the wine industry in the next five years?
I’d like to see wine demystified even further and made more approachable to everyone. I’d like to see less star sommeliers and more focus on those opening the gates to others. More BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ folks in executive roles and roles of national prominence. More conversation about vineyard, farm, and winery workers, and more protection and benefits for them. More benefits for restaurant workers. Less stardom, more taking care of each other.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equal access to opportunities, capital, pay, and protections. Representation at all levels and in all roles.
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I look for opportunities to elevate BIPOC and women in wine and beverage industries through supporting their businesses personally and professionally – carrying their wines and spirits, producing events that bring the discourse to a wider audience, and rallying behind them. I have a very strong aversion to exclusivity, I want everyone to have the opportunity and access to the many resources this industry and community has. I maintain a radical openness and support policy for anyone who needs it.
What message do you have for anyone now entering the wine profession?
Speak your mind and stay true to yourself.
What other industry heroes do you admire and why?
There are so many incredible folks, such an amazing community to be inspired by. To name a few, Elaine Chukan Brown who shows up to the wine community in more ways than seems humanely possible, through her writings, mentorship, and vocal support of marginalized wine professionals and their businesses; Tahiira Habibi of the Hue Society who creates opportunities for others and leads to success by example; Ashtin Berry with her dedication to the advocacy work and to challenging the hospitality discourse and how we participate in it; I’m amazed and humbled with how many talented, passionate, deeply knowledgeable and supportive people are forming this community. And just like that, things can only get better.