How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I started in the wine business in 1997. I worked as a salesperson for two distributors in Chicago from 1997-1999/2000. I left the wine business in 2000 for a sales career in pharmaceutical, medical device and litigation industries. While working for corporate America, I opened a salon in Chicago’s south loop neighborhood. Returning to the wine industry was a long-time goal. However, I was not able to find a wine jobs that were a good fit for me. In 2013, I asked myself, “How would your dream job look and feel?” and launched Shall We Wine. Today I run Shall We Wine, a wine and spirits experiential marketing and event planning company. We help our brand partners grow their reach through in-store demos, events, blogging and TV. We are also a lifestyle brand that invites our tribe to explore wine, spirits, food, and places through curated adventures.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
During a study abroad program in Besancon, France, I was invited to dinner at the home of a family who owned a wine shop. They decided they wanted to do something special for me. The father chose several bottles of Bordeaux and gave me my first wine lesson. This was my initial introduction to wine culture, and I fell in love. I fell in love with the ceremony of drinking wine. The way the father looked at wine and talked about each one as if it were a work of art. I am still in love.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Making the client happy. Whether the client is a brand or an individual. When a brand manager or owner sends an email where she is happy with the results of an activation on an event, all the work is worth it. Or if the client is a SWW (Shall We Wine) member and they are excited to have found a new favorite wine or spirit at one of our events. I love seeing a tribe member go from novice to enthusiast. Lately, what has been giving me life is our virtual series, Cocktail Hour. At these events, we host a wine or spirits brand or a chef for an interactive virtual class tasting. We have such a great group of members who support our brand partners by purchasing bottles. After the one-hour event, we stay on for the ‘After Party.” This is a safe space where those who decide to stay share the highs and lows of our week. We openly and respectfully discuss our views and offer resources. The ‘After Party’ has provided a space for debate, learning, understanding and — dare I say — healing.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
This question is on everyone’s mind. I have mentioned in past articles that I feel that I have been given support from colleagues in the wine industry. What I have experienced is being overlooked for opportunities and being underestimated. I remember attending a trade event where I walked over to two men. I knew one of the men, let us call him Bob. As I approached, I heard Bob and the other man (let us call him Joe) speaking in French. “Hi, how are you?” I greeted Bob. “Joe, this is Regine.” Bob introduces me to Joe. Joe asked Bob in French, “Does she speak French?” Bob chuckles, dramatically shakes his head, and says, “no.” I am standing there. Joe shakes his head, ok. I am still standing there. I respond to both in French. The look was priceless. The real punchline here is that Bob sometimes worked for my company. I share this story because these are the typical encounters that I have as a black woman in the wine business. French is a language. You have learned to speak French so why is it so difficult to imagine that I have as well? Wine is fermented grape juice. You have learned about wine, why is it so difficult to imagine that I have too? There is this unspoken belief in the wine and spirits world that this liquid is so special that only an elite select group — usually white and usually male — can understand or appreciate it. So when someone who is “other than” comes into the wine world, we are suspect. It is beyond me.
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 and change that behavior?
I honestly do not have an answer to this. This is not my reality. Obviously not all women are allies of other women, but I do not think I agree with that statement. Maybe it is the word ‘prejudice’ that is giving me pause. I think what is keeping us from succeeding and sharing is that we do not have an abundance mentality. If we realized there is enough for all of us (men and women), then we would not continue to stop each other from thriving.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
It is just the right thing to do. We are not going to grow and prosper without inclusion. Through inclusion we will see innovation, creativity, and prosperity.
What changes do you hope to see in regard to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I hope to see more women in leadership positions who are willing to open doors for other women and mentor women who have been left out.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Give them hell! Also be tenacious! You will have to prove yourself over and over and over... did I say over? But the journey is worth it. It is an exciting industry to be a part of.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
My vision for equality in the wine industry seems so simple but feels grand. The short answer is that I would like to see an industry that understands that its greatest asset is diversity: diverse voices, palates, diverse perspectives. When the industry embraces its greatest asset, it will be open to listening to new voices, appreciate the diverse palates and become inclusive of diverse perspectives.
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I have a diverse team of consultants who work for Shall We Wine. I use my influences to create access for women and POC in the industry.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
A WWOW loves wine and the business of wine. She loves it so much that she is an ambassador who shares opportunities with other women in the industry. She understands that there is enough for all of us. She encourages women to “go for it.” She uses her privilege to make sure that other women are seated at the table. She recognizes the importance of equity and is a champion for equal pay.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
There are so many women in wine that I admire. Some move in big loud ways, others are quiet and unseen. Julia Coney- Julia has been a champion for all women in the wine industry and especially women of color. She has opened doors for me and other women. She works so hard, but also is a lot of fun to have brunch with. Brenae Royal, Vineyard Manager at Monte Rosso Vineyard. Brenae has been a bright light in the industry. She gives wonderful interviews, makes delicious wines and reminds me of the pure joy that comes with being part of the wine world. Susan Kostrzewa, Wine Enthusiast- About two to three years ago, I watch Susan lead the efforts to make WE more inclusive. She is a dedicated ally, smart, fashionable, and introspective. Emily J Saladino, Wine Enthusiast- When other writers were “blind” to POC in the wine industry, Emily was telling our stories. A great writer, amazing cook, also fashionable (must be NY) and a sensitive soul.