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Nicole Poggi - Wine Brand Strategist & Route ‘n Roots founder

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

My story in the wine industry began about 10 years ago, when I was commissioned to develop the brand and business abroad for an Italian wine group. From Italy, London thus became my home for a few years. From that point, my career has been to travel the main wine markets – including the US – to create, revamp, and foster Italian wine brands, which remains my deepest passion. After a degree in interpretation and translation with an experience in Brussels, I studied in Nancy in France and then Moscow for a couple of years, earning an international MBA in management. Today, after a few years in that profession, I run my own boutique studio, where I and my team – a female one - build, manage, lead, and market wine brands on a global scale.

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

Yes indeed! It was my encounter with Alfeo Martini, my first employer and a true Italian wine visionary and entrepreneur. He took Italian wine to almost every corner of the world, and knew intimately what intuition, innovation and people motivation mean. I still remember my first interview, as clear as if it were yesterday: he asked me to grab a pen from his desk and said: ‘Ok, this is a bottle of wine. Sell it to me, tell me about it.’ When I left, I knew with certainty that the wine industry was my “professional playground” forever.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Inspiring and helping wine producers to evolve their brands. This involves encouraging and leading change, infusing, and enabling empowerment, creating, and introducing added value, fostering human connection among cultures. This is what I love and what drives me from my first wake-up moment every day. Disruption and energy as key ingredients for a daily recipe.

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

Having started in my twenties, but with a University Degree, an MBA, and a few years abroad already in hand, all the wine export managers I met were – and predominantly still are – men. Italy is a country where this industry is still run by “the patriarchy” --old men in families that are not inclusive and with egos always on full display. To say the least, a challenging environment in which to learn, network, make an impact. However, I believe that it is really these obstacles that can arouse, create grit and proactivity—at least they have in me, everyday! I am still “that branding young woman” (at 36!) for these dinosaurs that are hardly open to any change. Abroad, though, I feel it is much easier to find inclusion, diversity and a youthful mentality that pushes boundaries and looks for real innovation.

When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by advocating for diversity and inclusion?

I hope we’ll see a new generation of community projects aimed at sustainability and a sharing economy. And bringing out from under the rock geeky projects from unsuspected areas and ignored minorities. I want wine to finally become a medium to connect people, cultures, generations, and landscapes, and I’m working for that every day.

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

I see a voice being increasingly given to artisanal, disruptive and rebel wine producers from key remote areas that now hardly have budgets and skills to connect themselves with worldwide curious wine lovers. Also, multidimensional wine projects, where wine interweaves with visual art, music, different perspectives, and disciplines. I see more women achieving power, joining forces for bigger, bolder, more challenging projects across the whole chain, from wine growers to traders, sommeliers, influencers, and writers. In general, I hope an increased courage to stand out, do unprecedented things and do them in a totally new way. More revolution, please! I’m in!

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

More equality means more women in our outdated Italian wine industry, and more collectives that raise awareness on this matter. Equality can and surely is the medium to evolve our traditional status quo. Equality brings more voices, inspiring examples, brave entrepreneurs. We miss a Lift Collective in my country, let’s import it!

In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?

I love showcasing, spotlighting, and supporting small businesses and their people, those who struggle to make their efforts speak and talk to their people, whether they are trade – importers and distributors – or consumers. I love to magnify their voice and their impact. In our studio, we’re always looking for women-owned brands that have disruption in their DNA to help and put our heart and expertise.

What message do you have for anyone now entering the wine profession?

Focus on your values, welcome vulnerability, have courage to experiment, take risks, start something! Bringing change requires optimism, and sometimes just that is enough! Keep studying, embrace a growth mindset. Simply decide to make the impossible possible.

What other industry heroes do you admire and why?

Who immediately comes to mind is an Italian wine woman who stands for diversity, inclusion, small-batch production, experimentation, sustainability and new generational involvement: Elisabetta Foradori. The woman from Trento, the lady of Teroldego, who is contributing so much to fostering indigenous grapes, encouraging biodynamic agriculture, inspiring with her artistic, human, determined vision. Her wines make me train my ability to listen, feel, welcome nature.
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