How many years have you been in the business? Tell us briefly about your background and your current position today.
I have worked in restaurants since I was 15 years old! I will be turning 44 this summer so that is almost 30 years.... I worked in hospitality all through high school and college, but it wasn't until I moved to Atl in 2001 that I got my first fine dining job. Not sure why they hired me, but Van Gogh's in Roswell (now VG Bistro) took me in and really made me into the wine lover I am today. I really had no experience or understanding at all but had to learn very quickly. Fast forward 20 years and I had been a wine buyer at two other locations before a drunk conversation led to the foundation of VinoTeca. Originally we were a part of Barcelona Wine Bar but separated in August of 2018. As of this year I am sole owner.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
I think it was more of the stories than the actual wine. Learning about the families who have made wine for 10 generations or the history of the regions really made me fall in love. I am a history nerd and I love to hear about how wineries were started, about the dreams that came to fruition, and about the people who are doing it all.
What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
Turning people on to things they never would have tried. Getting someone who "only drinks red wine" to fall in love with Riesling! Also, I love pairing wines for people for dinner parties. A great pairing can change everything! It is the other peoples "Aha-moments" that are the most rewarding.
What do you do to create wellness balance in your life? Any particular activity, practices, etc that are meaningful to you?
I go on a 45 minute walk every morning - even in the rain. It helps to clear my head, plan out my day and I usually catch up on a podcast or call a friend.
What changes do you hope to see in the wine industry in the next five years?
Inclusivity. The faces in the wine game have changed a lot in the last ten years, not only by having more women in the field but having people of different races and backgrounds. When I got into wine, it was a collection of white men in suits with a few tough females who could hold their own with the "locker room talk." It was rough and you had to really have thick skin to keep up. More than ever the wine industry is becoming a place for creative people who don't all look the same. Wine isn't snobby and off limits anymore and I hope more consumers and professionals engage. I am also excited to see what the smaller producers can do. People aren't sticking to the same wines everyday - they want to try new things. There is an evolution of hand crafted wines that not only follow cleaner winemaking, but also environmental impact. Organics is becoming the norm with Biodynamics really entering the conversation.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
We do tastings every week at the store and really try to feature unique wines and often showcase the people who make them. We always talk about the winemakers and how they got there. I look forward to a time that we don't have to struggle to find diverse people in our industry - when I can do a tasting of Asian American winemakers and it is not difficult to track down the wines. Equality looks like the ability to see representation not only across race, but also the LBGTQI community and it be the norm.
How do you feel you’re contributing to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive wine industry?
I think mainly in being a restaurant manager and wine buyer. I have been lucky enough to hire, train and work with an incredible list of people that span across many lines. I am proud to say that many of them have been able to move forward with careers in the wine industry and I would like to think I had a hand in it. Also, by doing our tastings we have served a of different types of people. I truly believe I have changed a lot of people's palates who may not be into wine. When I opened the store, I wanted to create a place where anyone could walk in and feel comfortable asking questions no matter who you are. I really want a place where people can try new things or just have a beautiful place to sit down.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the same sector of the wine industry as you?
It is not that hard.... Yes, there is a never ending plethora of information about wine. You can never know everything about wine, but the more you taste, the more you read, the more you engage with other wine people, the easier it becomes. Just start with one bottle. And then try everything, Taste that oaky, buttery Chardonnay that you think you don't like because you need to know what it tastes like. There is a wine for everyone. And be yourself. Own the wine nerd that you are.
Name some people who inspire you in the wine industry and please explain why.
I would not be where I am today without Gretchen Thomas, Vice President of Creative for Barcelona Wine Bar. I learned so much under her wing, have traveled all through Spain with her and we founded VinoTeca together. She is a force in the hospitality wine world and truly knows everything about everything. Gretchen came up in this business too when women were a novelty and really proved herself with a tremendous palate and drive that is unmatched. I am inspired by an Atlantan named Lisa Bonet (not from that Lisa Bonet!) who has been in the Atlanta wine scene for longer than she would like me to mention. She began in this business as a wine buyer and moved into sales at at time when there were literally no men. This lady takes no shit but always with a smile on her face. For me, Lisa has paved the way for women in this town as well as been an educational influence to countless waitstaff, wine buyers and sales people. Lisa and her partner built B&L Brands from the ground up and have found success in the passion they have for the Atlanta wine community. Lastly, I am inspired by my co-star Janeen Jason. She has worked beside me for over 6 years, helped me to build a business that I am so proud of and basically runs half my brain. It is often that she fills in the blanks when my mind is going a mile a minute and does it with patience (to my face!). Janeen came up in the Atlanta wine world through being a server and bartender but has worked her ass off to become a Sommelier and be the best blind taster in this city. She is also an influence to countless young wine lovers especially people of color. Janeen has dedicated time to educating anyone who will listen and "ask the questions."