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Jessica Sanders- DrinkWell, Austin

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

12

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

Though I operate a cocktail bar and spend more time entrenched in spirits, my first love in beverage was certainly wine. I am a big believer that the key to happiness is always having something to look forward to -- and the real catalyst for my passion for the industry was being able to see just how much people can look forward to opening a bottle and connect with others over food & drink.

What is the most rewarding part of what you do?

The most rewarding part of our work is opportunity to give people something to look forward to. Very few people look forward to going to the DMV or their next dentist's appointment. However, they DO very much look forward to their next meal, especially when it's shared with others. Eating and drinking together can really dimensionalize happiness and it's a privilege to be a part of that for other people. Moreover, giving my employees a work place to hopefully look forward to coming to each day and giving their best selves is enormously fulfilling.

What do you do to create wellness balance in your life? Any particular activity, practices, etc that are meaningful to you?

I am a fairly 'work identified' person by nature and the external pressure for "work life balance" can sometimes have an unintended consequence of making me feel LESS centered or fulfilled! I'm a stronger advocate for 'work life integration' - finding healthy ways to incorporate the things I love about my work with the things I love about my home life. This could mean getting into a creative 'flow' in brainstorming cocktail ideas while on a long run, hosting & entertaining close friends in my home or writing staff hospitality trainings that draw on baseball metaphors.

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

There's been so much progress in this area since I first began working in the industry, but I'd love to see more accessibility to wine education across all socioeconomic lines. It's often the case that those who work in food & beverage can rarely afford the cost (both in money and time) of some of the industry's most recognized certifications. We need lower barriers to entry for those who have a passion for this work.

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

Equal representation AND equal visibility. It's great to have a diverse team or a diverse clientele, but unless the opinions, voice and perspective of everyone in that ecosystem is giving equal visibility and equal weight & equal merit, we haven't fulfilled all of what's possible for our industry.

How do you feel you’re contributing to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive wine industry?

I certainly hope that I've lead by example as a woman-led, single unit operator and can provide a visible test case for other small business leaders in hospitality about how to advance conversations around pay equity & employee wellness. I've also had the opportunity to have some of my values really tested and have been challenged to 'walk the talk', so to speak. I fail often (and sometimes loudly), but I never stop trying to get it right.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the same sector of the wine industry as you?

Don't let the highs go to your head and don't let the lows go to your heart. Hospitality (especially at the ownership level) can be a really sexy, exciting line of work with big wins, big adventure and lots of people feeding your ego along the way. It can also mean big failures and bad calls and so many challenges that feel so far out of your control. You can't insulate yourself from those failures. Humans are messy and the work of serving & caring for others - whether they are a guest, a colleague or an employee - can often be messy. It's important to take it all in stride and know that no matter how good or how bad things seem...this too shall pass.

Name some people who inspire you in the wine industry and please explain why.

Two women in particular that I am inspired by right now include Lynette Marrero and Chevonne Ball. Lynette is a world renowned bartender, creative director, brand ambassador and advocate -- particularly for women in the cocktail space. Though I know it's got to be insanely hard work, she carries herself and her work with such grace & cheerfulness. And Chevonne!! Gosh, her tenacity and her spirit are infectious. She's such a talented winemaker, has a real 'never stop learning' mentality about her and just radiates a real peace around her that I find to be refreshing in a business that often feels so chaotic. I'm a huge fan.
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