How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I feel like I’ve been in the business forever! In reality, it’s about 23 years from when I got my first paycheck as a wine writer. I went to college in the Midwest, where I grew up thinking I’d be a lawyer. As soon as I moved to California, I changed my mind quickly. I got involved in television and video – both in front of the camera and behind it – and once I discovered wine, that was it. I was able to parlay my odd combination of talents by creating websites and content for Microsoft, The New York Times, and more. I penned two books about wine and wrote countless stories for magazines, websites and newspapers. I filmed one-minute wine tips for CBS television and wound my way back into television hosting. I currently appear on the NBC Today Show regularly, host an Emmy Award-winning show on PBS in San Francisco called, “Check Please, Bay Area,” where we just shot our 15th season. I am the executive producer and host of my own project, a national PBS television show entitled, “100 Days, Drinks, Dishes & Destinations.” It now appears on more than 200 PBS stations nationwide. I also speak and educate around the globe to consumers and trade, judge wine competitions, and am a consultant.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
Decades ago, I had a great bottle of Champagne (Krug) and thought, “I need to drink this all the time.” I don’t get to drink Krug everyday, but I do get to taste thousands of wines and spirits every year.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
My connection with people when I’m speaking or educating and seeing their eyes when they say, “Oh, now I GET wine.”
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
I’ve been very lucky. When I first started I was a younger woman (now I’m a veteran ;) and people would give me an eye-glance thinking…what does SHE know about wine. But the two people who gave me my start in wine were men. I’ve always had mentors who were men.
Women are victims of the patriarchy as well, and often are harder/more judgmental of other women as a result. How can we as women become more aware of our own prejudice towards each and change that behavior?
I believe in supporting other women and have always made it my mission in this business to do that. My first book was entitled, “Wine for Women” and it won the Georges Duboeuf wine book of the year when it came out nearly 15 years ago. I was focused – and still am – on education, networking, supporting and connecting women to help them advance. I think there are women who sabotage others’ progress, but I’ve never been party to that. I don’t put up with it. I work for myself and that’s part of the reason why – I choose who I want to work with on projects.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
We’ve come a long way baby! There are so many more women in positions of power than when I first got into the business. We have plenty of work still to do to advance gender equality, but in the past two decades I’ve seen a tremendous amount of progress towards that goal.
What changes do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
More, more, more. More women making wine. More women running wineries. More female sommeliers and wine directors. The only way to move forward is one step at a time.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Don’t think of it in terms of gender. Do your job and do it well. Kick ass and be so good it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Since we know women drink the majority of wine, why not have the same ratio of women making the majority of wine? That would be equality to me.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I think it’s just by being a force in empowering consumers with a level of comfort, a sense of fun and nuggets of knowledge about wine. Being a “personality” in the business who is known to consumers through books, tv, social media and events, I hope the fact that I’m a strong woman is a message in itself.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
Strength, smarts, humor, perseverance, and the attitude that you can do anything you set your mind to accomplishing.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
Victoria James – Cote wine director/sommelier in NYC and author. She just wrote a book and is open about her challenges in the industry. She also loves pink wines…my favorite. Anna Maria Ponzi – President of Ponzi Winery in Oregon. She’s possesses all of the characteristics above. She and her sister, Luisa (winemaker) are women of subtle strength. Debbie Zachareas – Owner Ferry Plaza and Oxbow Wine Merchant. She’s one of the most successful wine retailers in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is tough, smart, fun and savvy.