Sophie Stuart - Wine Manager of Salt & Time
How many years have you been in the business? Tell us briefly about your background and your current position today.
I’ve been working in wine and the hospitality industry in Austin as my full time job for two years now. After working at SXSW for six and half years I decided to take a leap of faith and pursue a career in wine. I did a lot of personal education and got a couple wine certifications to slowly begin consulting for individuals buying wine for events and parties. I started working part-time as a server at Bento Picnic and Saba San’s. Eventually I worked my way into the wine buyer position there. About a year ago I came over to Salt & Time to train under a Beverage Director I admire. I am now Wine Manager of Salt & Time, buying and curating the program for both the restaurant and wine shop.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
I love food and wine!! So much of how I’ve celebrated, explored and built communities has been through wine and food. It's something I've always felt drawn to and thrilled by. The most transformative bottle of wine I remember having was Julien Altaber's Sextant Po a Po -- my mind was blown at how alive and textured wine can taste and feel, no going back after that!
What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
Sharing the stories of the incredible producers we work with. I talk with a guests about a bottle of wine made somewhere far away in a tiny town that, against all odds, is now in our shop in Austin, TX. I’m fortunate to work in a restaurant and shop where I’m empowered to curate a list that honors small producers who are doing incredible work and make stunning wines with integrity -- and then share that with our guests!
What do you do to create wellness balance in your life? Any particular activity, practices, etc that are meaningful to you?
Running is huge for me, it keeps me sane and enables me to process things in a way I’m unable to elsewhere. Yoga definitely has gotten me through some stressful days as well. Besides those two, I love spending time outside hiking and gardening with my pup, Frida, and cooking at my house while listening to records.
What changes do you hope to see in the wine industry in the next five years?
More inclusivity and transparency. There's a shift in the industry, and I want it to continue in a big way. Working in wine can feel isolating at times and I'm proud of the conversations my colleagues and I have and need to continue having on larger scales. Transparency with pay, winemaking techniques, staffing, etc. are topics that should continue to be amplified as well.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equal titles and pay for hospitality workers across the board. Feeling valued for the time you are giving. Making a space for anyone to work in wine — wine is for everyone!! Wine professionals from diverse backgrounds can contribute a lot to the industry. People who work in the wine wear so many hats and we all need to be compensated for the many things we do.
How do you feel you’re contributing to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive wine industry?
Coming to work each day as myself, working to make my team feel valued and heard. Asking hard questions and creating a space for my team to feel they can do the same.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the same sector of the wine industry as you?
Invest in people, organizations, importers, and restaurants who are investing in you. I am forever grateful to my colleagues and mentors who believe in me. Ask lots of questions to people you trust and always continue your education whether it’s listening to podcasts, reading, or just opening a bottle of wine while cooking.
Name some people who inspire you in the wine industry and please explain why.
There are so many!! I’m fortunate to be in a community of folks in the industry that I deeply respect and love. Erika Widmann, former Beverage Director of Salt & Time, is a friend and mentor who never compromises on her values and is always uplifting others in the industry. Celia Pellegrini, Director of Ops for Suerte and Este is inimitable, always curious and leads with confidence and kindness. James Havens of the Heights Grocer and Marfa Wine Co. has immense wine knowledge and business savvy and was willing to share it with me at the very beginning of my career and I'll always be grateful and admire him for that.