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SHANIKA HILLOCKS - Leads influencer marketing strategy in-house for E.&J. Gallo Winery.

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

It’s hard to believe, but this August will make it eight years working in the beverage alcohol space, primarily through PR, marketing, and freelance writing. Currently, I’m in-house at E.&J. Gallo, where I lead and strengthen the influencer marketing discipline within our Consumer & Lifestyle department.

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

I was working a serving job at Season’s 52 to support myself during college. During one of our seasonal menu rollout tastings, I had a bite of cobia curry paired with a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. The sip following that bite turned on a lightbulb—the marriage of food and wine in a setting like that was a first for me—and inspired me to take tasting more seriously.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Thinking strategically about marketing wine while integrating culturally relevant touchpoints—everything from memes, civil unrest, politics, food trends, intersectionality to insights—is one of my favorite parts of collaborating with my team.

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

I wrestle with this question often because the simple answer is yes, of course. Rather than highlighting a past prejudice, I’d like industry leaders and organizations to acknowledge their role in discrimination or prejudice and be aware of why this question is asked in the first place.

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

Advocating for diversity and inclusion creates a more equitable wine industry across the board. From pay to fair practices, when radical advocacy is present, that joy is given back to what wine is to be in the first place.

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

Fair compensation for immigrant farmers, unpaid interns, truck drivers who work overtime, and more transparency around those practices. Also, more women of color behind labels sits high on my list.

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

For me, it means that principals in wine who have a significant amount of access to capital disperse that wealth fairly, eliminating the dominance of an “exclusivity” model. It also looks like follow-through to hold our “wine heroes” accountable. If a person or organization has posted a black square or made a statement, demand for action needs to follow.

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

Right now, I’m focused on the inner work. I ask how I’m ingrained in the system, just as much as how I’ve been victimized by the system. When I’m in a meeting—virtual, of course—I take a look at who is present and ask who else could be in the room. Lastly, I listen to a variety of voices on topics outside of wine. When we neglect culture, we are unable to valuable make connections to our industry.

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

Never shrink yourself to fit this space. Show up exactly as you are, come to the table with an inquiring mind, and taste often.

What other industry heroes do you admire and why?

Ashtin Berry. Full stop. Spend just a few minutes on her Instagram, @thecollectress, and you’ll understand why.
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