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Grace Gates - Food and Beverage Director for Austin’s Carpenter Hotel

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

I have been working in the restaurant industry in Austin, TX for five years. I was a member of the Emmer & Rye opening team, and then moved over to Launderette where I worked my way up through every FOH position and eventually became the AGM. The first time I tasted Rene Ortiz’s whole branzino with a Chardonnay from Chablis it changed the way I thought about the relationship of food and wine, and it started my own personal journey of wine education. That led me to books and classes and tastings that have made me a forever wine lover. My experience at the Carpenter Hotel has only strengthened that love. I am currently the Food and Beverage Director there, and I was fortunate enough to inherit a beautifully built low intervention wine program that has been such a pleasure to curate.

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

My first restaurant jobs were in chef-owned spaces, so I was introduced to wine as a way to enhance the guest’s experience of the food. However, I soon became enamored with wine’s ability to share stories of time and place. When we opened The Carpenter Hotel, Carenn Mackinnon (my personal Wonder Woman of Wine), inspired me so much with the care she took in telling the stories of each bottle. There have been a lot of bottles of wine that have made me “aha”, but it is the stories of winemakers and regions that have inspired me to delve deeper into the industry.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I work with some of the most thoughtful food, wine and spirit nerds out there. So the most rewarding part of my job is the receiving and sharing of knowledge. There is nothing more wonderful than someone being truly enthusiastic about what they do. Which speaks to my other real love, which is my team. Even though we have our ups and downs, building and growing a team is endlessly rewarding.

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

As a young woman, I feel the need to prove myself every day. I need to be more present, consistent, empathetic, and organized than anyone in the room. I have had the opportunity to work under badass females who have been excellent examples of strength and compassion. Because of them, I have always thought of my womanhood as an advantage, and I hope to bring out the same feeling for all of the women who work for me.

Women are victims of the patriarchy as well, and often are more judgmental of other women as a result. How can we, as women, become more aware of our own prejudice toward each other and change that behavior?

By allowing women to learn from their mistakes without judgment, and then sharing our own mistakes and allowing for them to learn from those as well. In hospitality there is such an emphasis on never saying ‘no’ to guests, and I think we can reflect that same energy back on both the women and men we work with. Find what someone is good at and afford them the opportunity to learn and become great at it.

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

Diversity. Empathy. Greatness.

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

Equal pay and equal respect in all areas of the wine industry. I think this starts with transparency about what is being asked of us and how we are being compensated.

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

There can be a lot of pretension that surrounds wine education, so find someone who is willing to answer all of your questions without judgement. Drink wine, talk about wine, and find the things that excite you. Also, there are so many paths to success in this industry and not all of them require you to pay a lot of money in education and certification. All of the knowledge you need is out there for you to find.

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

Drinking women-made wine without it being presented as if it was made by a magician. Having women in fields, and offices, and on the floors of restaurants recognized for their strength and intelligence.

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

Showing up to work every day and doing the absolute best job I can do, and then asking for what I deserve in return. I have been built up by so many women in this industry and I will spend my career paying that forward to others.

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

As I look to all of the women that I admire, I see perseverance and strength coupled with the ability to ask for help…along with empathy, transparency, curiosity and a very good sense of humor.

What other women of wine do you admire and why?

As I stated above, Carenn Mackinnon was a true delight to work with and a forever friend. Her detailed knowledge of wine is so impressive, and even more impressive is her ability to share that knowledge with the people around her. Martha Stoumen is a woman whose wines inspire me every time I open a bottle. There is so much life that translates through her work. Her 2019 ‘Patatino Nouveau’ was a celebration of a new life in her family, and I tasted that joy in every sip!

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