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Melanie Young - Founded her own PR & marketing firm & launched the James Beard Foundation Awards.

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

I have worked in the industry for over 30 years. I started in marketing and public relations for restaurants, hotels and destinations when I graduated college (Tulane University, B.A. in International Relations). I opened my own culinary events and PR agency in 1989 called M. Young Communications. Based in New York City, my agency produced high profile culinary events and promotions around the nation with top chefs, wine and spirits brands, magazines and non-profits. I was responsible for the creation and launch of The James Beard Foundation Awards in 1990, after working on the Who’s Who of Cooking in America for two years with COOK’s Magazine. I brought the program to JBF after COOK’s ceased publication. The Foundation retained me to help formulate the structure of the award, working with the various awards committees. For 16 years I served as the Awards Director while running my agency. Over time, my business took on more wine clients to produce large and small B2B and B2C tastings around the U.S. We worked with Wines from Spain, Consorzio Brunello di Montalcino, Les Vins Georges Duboeuf and numerous other trade agencies in Italy, Spain, France and Greece. I closed my agency in 2011 after experiencing a health scare (breast cancer) and decided to streamline and refocus on what I love to do most: writing, speaking, interviewing and advising/supporting businesses and nonprofits. I also wanted to travel more and have a virtual office with minimal overhead. Today, I write and produce media content and host two of my own weekly national radio shows. Both are available on iHeart.com and iHeart App and other podcast platforms. The Connected Table LIVE! features conversations with thought leaders in wine, food, spirits and hospitality. Fearless Fabulous You! (Women4Women Network/ W4WN.com) focuses on women’s health and empowerment and lifestyle topics, including wine, food and travel. I interview many health experts and women entrepreneurs. Our mini podcast series, The Connected Table SIPS (iHeart) spotlights wine and spirits brands, wine destinations and wine business topics. These are sponsored custom content and we work with many wine companies and agencies to support their marketing efforts and deliver a strong brand message. I also write about wine, food and travel for several media outlets including Wine4Food, The Epoch Times, Jewish Week, Beverage Enthusiast and other outlets, as well as my blog. And I speak and write frequently about creating/running a business, building a brand and maintaining a balanced life.

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

Working in wine was always important since we produced major culinary events that required serving good wine. We always believed that when wines received equal billing to food, winemakers would share their stories alongside chefs. I always get frustrated attending other events where the wines are secondary to the food and not well-presented. We moved more into wine and consulting for large organizations and brands when the European Union began allocating funds to help market wines in the U.S.A.. We pretty much followed the money. Today, I work in wine from another vantage point— similar but different. I am always open to supporting new programs and initiatives.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I have always been a storyteller, and most of what I do now is sharing stories about wine producers and wine destinations with readers and listeners. I enjoy the travel and the continual learning experience. Wine is always evolving as are we as individuals.

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

At one of the PR agencies I worked for in Manhattan before I started my agency, my boss made sexual advances. I should have reported him but didn’t out of embarrassment. Instead, I demanded a new position and said I did not want to work for him and no longer needed supervision. I was considered “difficult” and was told there was no other position for me, and I was terminated. Now I have experienced ageism which is equally hideous because it affects women far more than men. Many of my colleagues have been “aged out” of their jobs and are trying to reinvent. It can happen to anyone at any age, so I advise everyone to make an exit plan early to make sure you know where you want to go next in your career and have a solid financial plan and cushion.

Women are victims of the patriarchy as well, and often are harder/more judgemental of other women as a result. How can we as women become more aware of our own prejudice towards each and change that behavior?

Women can be very competitive toward each other. I believe the “glass wall” is as bad as the “glass ceiling” with women building barriers to block each other instead of bridges to support each other. Sometimes it is actions and other times it is words. I have had professional women say the most snarky things to me to feel superior. Maybe they feel intimidated. Who knows? I keep a letter written by a senior woman executive at New York PR agency who turned me down for a job. I was living in Atlanta at the time and eager to move to Manhattan to further my career. The letter said she did not feel I was “New York material’ and that I needed more time and polish. I ended up getting a job that same year with another agency.

When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?

The wine industry offers many career paths for women. I am enthusiastic about how many women are already working in the business,. I just want to make sure they are getting the training, tools and support to rise to the top of their profession.

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

I’d like to see women in the wine business have more access to venture capital for their businesses. I also want to see women invest in women by hiring them, mentoring and helping finance businesses. Training and mentoring are both important.

What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?

Learn every part of the business you can - sales, marketing, brand management, production, finances, etc. Even a Master Sommelier or Master of Wine will admit she is always listening and learning. Stand up for what you want and ask for it. Know your worth. Don’t back down or let anyone marginalize you or your talents. If the job doesn’t fit, another one will.

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

I envision a business world of gender-ification- we are all viewed by our accomplishments and contributions and not whether we are a woman or man or any other definition. We are all equal.

What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?

When I ran my agency, I hired and trained women from many backgrounds and look for spark and willingness to learn over skills. I constantly seek out ways to support women moving up in their careers and moving on to new (ad)ventures. I also go out of my way to spotlight women in wine on my shows and in my articles. I enjoy advising and support women-owned businesses and initiatives, especially when there is a social impact program involved.

What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?

Several characteristics some to mine: First, having a vision and the roll-up-your-sleeves attitude to see it through. Second, having compassion. Wine is a business, but for all of us it is a community that we must support at every level. Third, having both grit and grace in business to be able to work with many people and face many decisions with confidence and conviction. Fourth, shining a light to help others find their way in the business.

What other women of wine do you admire and why?

I admire many women in wine and have interviewed several of them. In the U.S.: Shari Staglin, Staglin Family Vineyards, and Barbare Banke, Jackson Family Estates, for their philanthropy Eileen Crane, Domaine Carneros, for her business acumen Susan Sokol Blosser, Sokol Blosser Winery, for being a pioneer in the Oregon wine industry and learning as she went. Rita Jammet, La Caravelle Champagne, for reinventing her career after closing her NYC restaurant and building a champagne brand. Rita is an enthusiastic supporter of the industry. Victoria James, Cote Steakhouse, is a young rock star who is unabashed about telling it like it is. I love what she is doing to help train women and minorities through her new program Wine Empowered. If you have not read this article in Eater that Victoria wrote this year, please do: https://ny.eater.com/2019/10/31/20931063/wine-buyer-white-male-statistics-ny Don’t even get me started with my European friends in wine! Too many to list.

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