Lia Jones - Founder & executive director of Diversity in Wine and Spirits- a non-profit.
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I have been in the hospitality industry for 20 years, but have only focused on wine since 2014. I’ve completed courses at the Sommelier Society of America and went on to become a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, and, I am completing the diploma program with WSET. Regarding my hospitality, I’ve always had a passion for culinary arts and attended what is currently known as the International Culinary Center receiving a diploma in French Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management. Upon graduating from culinary school, I interned and worked as a line cook until starting my own private dining company called Dining Endeavors. In recent years, I worked at Eleven Madison Park in NYC but left to become the founder and Executive Director of Diversity in Wine and Spirits, a nonprofit promoting diversity and inclusion within the international hospitality industry.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
How I got into wine is an unfortunate story of feeling that I had to prove myself, being a Black woman in the industry. I do like to focus on telling the story of being in a wine class and having another student point out that a wine we were taking notes on happened to smell like NYC streets. In that moment I will never forget, I actually smelled exactly what the person was talking about. It was the first moment I started to truly understand how to nose a wine, and from then on I felt like I was told a secret that not everyone knew.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is when I have someone from a marginalized community reach out to me to let me know that they appreciate me creating visibility for them and that they felt heard and recognized.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
To be honest, I intersect many marginalized groups, I am Black, I am a woman, and I am queer. I have gotten so used to all of the prejudices that I can no longer discern what part of me is being discriminated against. What I can say is that I never accept no for an answer; when I see a barrier, I put on my sneakers and run to jump over that barrier no matter what it may be.
Women are victims of the patriarchy as well, and are often more judgmental of other women as a result. How can we as women become more aware of our own prejudice towards each other and change that behavior?
Funny that you ask, as it goes back to the question about how I got into wine. Years ago, a woman coworker humiliated me on the restaurant floor, challenging knowledge of wine. It was one of the most daunting moments in my career, so much so that I went on to become certified in wine with three different organizations in one year. This week I had the opportunity to tell her what she did and how she made me feel. We sat on a Zoom call and listened to each other—tears and apologies were all on the table. We are two women with one goal in mind, which is to make our community better, and now we will be teaming up on future projects. We all need to take a look at ourselves and decide what’s most important. The first step is to talk and listen to one another… then share a glass of wine.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
Creating a safe space and a culture of inclusivity allows us to reach our greatest potential. Supporting us means you are paving the way for our future innovators and leaders alike.
What changes do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I hope to see a focus on intersectionality. We are all women, yes, but White women, Black women, Latin women and many other ethnicities all have different sets of challenges and privileges. I would like for us to create a space where we can acknowledge our differences in order to embrace and celebrate what makes us all unique women. This will encourage a more equitable and prosperous community.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Be unapologetic and proud! We are here, we work hard, we are successful, and if for any reason you have doubts, reach out for mentors and allies.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
The hardworking professionals in our industry who have the money, power, and respect should not be a reflection of the people who make up our entire community; that reflection should be diverse. This concept will be the norm when we acknowledge that equality cannot exist without equity.
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
With Diversity in Wine and Spirits, we look at all aspects of diversity and inclusion. We are here to help facilitate, with mentorship, internships/externships, scholarships, and resources for marginalized professionals. In so doing, we are offering underrepresented groups a competitive advantage in the job market.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
I look at Wonder Women of Wine as the prototype for a female superhero in wine. Resilient, knowledgeable, leaders, strong moral codes with a mission to fight for the good of all wine professionals lol.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
RANIA ZAYYAT!!! I remember first hearing about Rania and the first thing I said was “I need to meet this woman”. The gods must have read my mind because I received an email asking if I would like to speak at the WWOW conference this year. I was so thrilled to participate, but the most exciting part was meeting her in Austin. It was my first time having a one-on-one with someone who had a similar trajectory in their career, and I was in awe. I know the challenges I have had creating DWS and she made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I admire her work, her willingness to do the work, and go above and beyond, and frankly, I don’t know how she does it all! She is truly inspiring, and if she ran for president, she would definitely have my vote.