How many years have you been in the business? Tell us briefly about your background and your current position today.
Three? Four years? I'm first and foremost a server, but I help manage the list. I’m the Wine Nerd on Duty, so to speak.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
This may be disappointing, but it's true: a manager at the first serious wine restaurant I ever worked at told me "wine is going to make half of your paycheck." She was right -- I quickly saw that the most successful servers knew the list inside and out. I've always loved history and culture, so I took to studying wine like a duck to water. I remember the book Wine & War being particularly meaningful at the time.
What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
I like guiding people towards their own aha! moments! Whether it’s teaching my co-workers how to spot oak or carbonic maceration in a wine or turning a guest who “hates Chardonnay” onto really good Chablis, I live for watching the little light bulb flicker on. I like sending people down rabbit holes and checking in with them as they go deeper.
What do you do to create wellness balance in your life? Any particular activity, practices, etc that are meaningful to you?
I run occasionally to help keep my mental health in check. I also make a point to drink wine without thinking too academically about it. A lot of my social circle expects me to always have something to say about a wine or want to pick what we're drinking together-- but it's really pleasurable to let someone else drive, drink something I maybe wouldn't have chosen, and do what you're supposed to be doing with wine -- celebrating, catching a merry buzz, falling in love.
What changes do you hope to see in the wine industry in the next five years?
The wine industry still feels very classist to me. I’d love to see the perception of wine as stuffy or exclusive thrown out the window entirely. Wine is for rare, special occasions and also for chugging on the river — I speak from experience! I’d also love to get away from the idea that having “good taste” in wine is meaningful — what does that even mean? As a person whose livelihood depends on selling wine, I prize my ability to listen and make connections with guests who have less experience in wine over my own palate and preferences by a wide margin.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Obviously, I'd love to see more diversity among winemakers and fair pay and health care for the people actually working in vineyards. I think we could also look at who we sell wine to and invite into our restaurants. My experience is primarily rooted in the natural wine scene. It feels like a lot of that marketing is pointed at, well, affluent white men and women, and that feels like an elephant in the room.
How do you feel you’re contributing to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive wine industry?
I try to meet people where they are in their wine journey. I feel like I actively try to build a person’s confidence when they tell me “I don’t know much about wine.” You don’t have to— that’s my job— you just have to know what you like. I think this is going to be even more important as we get away from marketing wine strictly towards one demographic.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the same sector of the wine industry as you?
Skip the wine certifications! Spend the money traveling and meet with winemakers and farmers whenever you can. Drink wine with people who know less about it and if — only if — they ask you, teach them! Drink wine with people who you admire in the industry and listen very closely. Drink wine after work while you’re closing the restaurant. Drink what you like without care for prestige, price point or what anyone with a pin tells you is good. Drink wine with dinner and out in nature and in the shower before a night out. Drink whatever, whenever, as long as it sparks joy.
Name some people who inspire you in the wine industry and please explain why.
Does everyone say Rania? I can’t think of a better example of someone bridging the gap between wine as a fun beverage and wine as an industry in a capitalist society that comes with its own bag of problematic garbage.