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Woong Chang - Owner of 6ft Wine Club

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

15+ years; I started as a busser in a mom & pop Afghan restaurant in Berkeley. Been in beverage pretty much the entire time, as a sommelier/wine buyer for about last 10 years. My last restaurant gig was at an award-winning natural wine bar/restaurant as a GM/Wine Director. I started a wine subscription business in 2020 as a way to pivot and transition during the pandemic, and I've been running my own business for last 2 years.

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

It was when I took the CMS's intro class that wine stopped being just a beverage. That's when I realized that wine was a vehicle for geography, history, geology, chemistry, philosophy, etc. There were so many rabbit holes to go down in, and I knew at that moment, that I would never get bored with it.

What is the most rewarding part of what you do?

Building community; I've always felt that wine's true power is its ability to bring people together. Wine is first and foremost about the people. 6ft Wine Club was my attempt to use natural wine as a catalyst to bring people together and to start a conversation beyond what's inside the bottle. It has organically grown into this weirdo community of winos that are dropping birthday cakes on each other's front porch and helping each other with childcare. I'm super proud of the community we've built, and it is by far the most rewarding thing I've done professionally.

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

Exercise has always been my #1 medicine. I have a daily movement routine, and it's usually the very first thing I do when I get up in the morning. Meditation has been helpful, and finally, taking the time to actually spend some time alone and travel. Travel inspires and recharges me.

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

I would like to see us include labor side of wine as a part of sustainability conversation. We are so quick to talk about organic farming, sustainability, climate change, but not enough of us are asking questions about labor practices, working conditions, social mobility of workers in the vineyards. Again, for me, wine is first and foremost about the people. Let's humanize it.

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

I don't really know how to answer this question. I can give you some common answers like Fair wage for fair work, equal opportunities, no equity gap, more BIPOC sommeliers on restaurant floor, etc. etc. etc...but we all know this already. For me, the question what does equality look like, it's more of how do we get there? And, the honest answer if I don't know. What we are talking about is a complete paradigm and systemic change that requires a shift in racial, economic, and cultural relationships. Until we, as a society (all the way from migrant labor harvest interns to producers to importers/distributors, to retail/restaurants, to sommeliers and to final consumers), can fully reject the notion of hyper Capitalism that constantly puts profit over people, I just don't know if true "equality" is possible, whatever your vision of that equality may be. So, how do we as a human race reject this hyper Capitalism that the global economy operates on? The best answer is...I don't know. But, I do know that it all starts with your community. I talk about this issue of inequality in wine industry constantly with my wine club members. Maybe it will resonate with one person deep enough for them to change the way or at least change the questions they ask when making a purchase decision. Or maybe, it resonates deep enough that they go out and talk to their circle about it. I think that's how it all starts.

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

My wine club is currently committed to donating 1% of its Gross Revenue each month to an organization whose mission statement aligns with our values. We have donated multiple times to various organizations that are doing great diversity and inclusion work, including Lift Collective. I constantly talk about it in my wine club in hopes of raising awareness about inherent structural problem within the wine industry. I often host BIPOC wine professionals on my wine club as guest speakers. I want to give them a spotlight and let my wine club members be aware of these professionals and their incredible work.

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

Hospitality above anything else. Learn to serve and take care of people first.

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

Rajat Parr; he was the 1st non-white sommelier I've ever noticed, and it made me realize that it was possible for someone like me to make it in this industry. He was probably one of the most important professional influence in my career.

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