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Janeen Jason - Certified Sommelier, mentor & team member of Vinoteca Wineshop in Atlanta, GA

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

I’ve worked in restaurants for close to 15 years and got into wine to make more money on the floor. I became a certified sommelier in 2015 and started working for the Barteca group the same year. Currently, I’m the buyer/sommelier for Vinoteca, a retail wine store in Inman Park.

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

At my old restaurant (Two Urban Licks) they hosted anniversary dinners for empoyees each month. One year I experienced grilled octopus and red Burgundy together and I lost my mind. I didn’t realize wine and food had such a symbiotic relationship until that moment. This was the beginning of sublime relationship with wine.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Being a part of a newly minted sommelier’s success. It’s great when someone from my blind tasting group passes a new certification in wine or finds the position of their dreams. I’ve had really great wine influences in my life and I want to be the same for someone else.

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

Being an LGBTQ Black woman in the industry was a tough rope to climb. I’ve been passed over at tastings and for higher positions. My appearance has kept me from certain jobs in the past. When I got certified as a sommelier my appearance was no longer a first thought.

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

You’ll see more specialized retail stores and restaurants that showcase the smallest productions of wine. You’ll also see faces of color in positions of exposure that bring a fresh perspective of wine.

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

More faces of color in lead roles through out the industry. More wines made by people of color that are given the opportunity to share their wine with the world through major distribution. More access to wine knowledge and advanced ways of education on a major scale.

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

It means more women and people of color in beverage roles that are high priority. We need more education and resources for the underrepresented that will lead to diversity in wine. This ignites an interest and brings new perspectives to the industry.

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

It can be as small as representing black owned brands in the store to pouring female winemakers for tastings the entire month of March. Exposing underrepresented people and products to the masses is a contribution.

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

Let wine take you around the world. Learn another language and try to experience life from a different perspective.

What other industry heroes do you admire and why?

Big fan of Sarah Pierre and Steffini Bethea, and Katie Rice for being retail shop owners. I always credit Ryan Mullins for sparking my excitement for wine and making it cool.
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