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Sarita Cheaves - Creator of Swirl Suite Podcast & Vine Me Up Blog

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

I've been in the wine industry for 14 years. After my first trip to California, I was bitten but the wine bug. I spent a lot of time going to local tastings and reading wine books. I reached out to every winery in Maryland despite some opinions of others about the prestige of Maryland wine country. Black Ankle Vineyards, had just opened and they invited me to visit. I was hired on the spot. While working at Black Ankle (2008), I passed my Level 2 WSET certification and created my blog, VineMeUp (2013). Since then, I have launched the Swirl Suite podcast (2016), self-published a wine workbook, and grown the Vine Me Up blog to a wine media brand.

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

I've had several but the one that sticks out the most was my first winery visit. I was in Sacramento for a wedding and decided to spend time in Napa. My first stop was Artessa winery. I just finished the tasting and decided to enjoy a glass of wine outside. I was standing outside near the sculptures, sipping Chardonnay. In that moment, I felt the world stop as I gazed at the rolling hills. I've been chasing that feeling ever since.

What is the most rewarding part of what you do?

The most rewarding part of what I do is sharing wine stories that people may not be aware of. The Swirl Suite interviews everyone in the industry. I have built a safe space for people to share their challenges, successes and their overall journey to wine.

What do you do to create wellness balance in your life? Any particular activity, practices, etc that are meaningful to you?

I love prompted journaling. Its a form of therapy for me. The questions spark memories and perhaps old wounds I thought I were healed. This activity also keeps me grateful. I often list my achievements and ways to show up for myself.

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

I hope the wine industry continues to diversify. In the next five years, I would love to see more organizations investing in minorities. I would like see more acknowledgment for newer wine regions, such as Maryland and Pennsylvania.

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

Equality in the wine industry looks like grape growers owning a part of the wineries they helped build, diversity and inclusion positions in each business plan, and more sponsorships for professionals to study abroad.

How do you feel you’re contributing to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive wine industry?

I created The Swirl Suite podcast because people needed to see Black women in the wine space. I was very enthusiastic about meeting my Swirl Suite podcast co-hosts, Leslie, Tanisha and Glynis, when I did. It was years of working in the wine industry before I met other women of color and we have a bond that not everyone understands. The Swirl Suite is open to everyone who has a passion for wine. This platform is my contribution.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the same sector of the wine industry as you?

My advice would be to find a mentor and listen more than you speak. Be present without pushing your agenda. So many of us have had challenges you may never have to face. Be open and absorb the wisdom of the people who came before you. Use that energy to tell your own story.

Name some people who inspire you in the wine industry and please explain why.

So many people inspire me in this industry. Ikimi Dubose-Woodson is beyond human with her leadership through The Roots Fund. Her ambition for all of us to succeed is tangible. Maria Calvert and Lydia Richards of Hispanics In Wine inspire me with all they have accomplished for the community. Lastly Thatcher Baker-Briggs has a phenomenal story and his accomplishments are amazing.

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