How many years have you been in the business?
Professionally, I’d say I have been in the world of wine 25 years now. But, as an enthusiast, that truly started in high school... not kidding! And yes, there’s a story there. A good one. Hey, it’s one of the more interesting reasons I’m into the wine world today.
Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I grew up in San Francisco... the gateway to wine country! ha! My father truly believed that wine is for everyday living. From the time we (me and my siblings) could sit at the table, we had wine at our place setting. Of course, he put water in it when we were little. I can still remember the feel of the wine glass stem as my small hands tried to hold onto it properly - I’d pretend I could hold it as easily as my parents could. It taught me balance at a young age. My parents were really into entertaining. Especially my dad. Ohhhh the dinner parties they would have! As it turns out, that was the inspiration all along for me to create the career I have today. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. Fast forward a number of years, I went to broadcasting school to study the world of voice overs. As an actor, I thought this was going to be a great career move; little did I know it was going to bring me right back to wine. The first paying gig I got was a 60 second commercial for a winery! Talking to the producer after the recording session, he asked me a funny question... “Ziggy, if you could have anything in the world, what would it be?” Answering right away, off the cuff, I said, “I would want my own radio show to talk about wine- make it understandable. I hate the pretense around wine. Wine does not require four-syllable adjectives,” I said. Some months later, he was the program director at a well known FM radio station and he called me and asked if I still had a desire to have a wine radio program! I couldn’t believe it. So I went for it. I’ve been told I am the first woman in the United States to have a radio program about wine! A few years after I started my program, I was awarded “Best Non-News Radio Program” in the Bay Area from The American Women in Radio & Television association. Mind Blown! Today, my career in wine covers many areas. Beyond my radio programs, I write about wine and am also a professional wine judge and educator. The same goes for spirits now too. One of the more rewarding parts of my gig is working with musicians. About 12 years ago, I realized that with all the musicians I knew, there was nobody curating a wine program for their tours! The band Journey was in the studio finishing up their epic album, Revelation, with new lead singer, Arnel. They were in the stages of planning their world tour once it was released. I talked to Jonathan Cain about my idea of being their Rock n Roll Somm... he loved it and poof! That became a new avenue for my career. Creating a really fun and interesting wine program for their world tour was amazing! Since then, I have worked with, and continue to work with many famous musicians/bands: rock n roll and country stars alike!
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
Every moment with wine I can remember seems to have been an “aha” moment. I still continue to have “aha” moments...those are constant motivators and swirls of inspiration for me to keep doing what I do.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Every day that I can embrace doing what I love to do... which is, essentially, drinking for a living... that is the definition of a career reward!
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
Between both the wine world and the radio world, men have dominated and have also been, for the most part, at the forefront of both these fields. I have had a dueling challenge being in both these domains at the same time...and I feel a sense of balance now being on the same playing field. I am strong and focused, which has both created grace and been my saving grace.
Women are victims of the patriarchy as well, and often are harder/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?
Love one another. Help one another. We are stronger together than alone. I embrace these statements every day. Women can be so mean and competitive. I’m not sure why. I have noticed that the nicer you are and the more you try and help your friends, colleagues and neighbors, you gain allies not enemies.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
Benefits to the wine world and all careers will be stronger when women are treated as equals. Positive places of work and home, family and community are happier and stronger when we are not spending energy on proving ourselves based on gender, but instead using that energy to accept, help and love each other. Division is only positive in math, not lives.
What changes do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
Equal pay and recognition as winemakers instead of being called women winemakers. You never hear the term ‘men winemakers’. A winemaker is a winemaker regardless of gender.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
GO FOR IT! Ask lots of questions every day. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When times are challenging, keep reminding yourself why you entered the wine business to begin with - that’s so helpful when feeling discouraged. Rely on experts and colleagues when you need answers and encouragement. The wine business is the only business I know of that has a seemingly endless education stream. You can learn in every direction be it from experts in the cellar, tasting room or university.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
I’ll refer to the answer I gave about changes in regards to women in the wine industry over the next five years - equal pay and recognition as winemakers.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
Treating and appreciating everyone I know as equals, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Using my voice to positively promote all avenues of equality in the wine world on my radio programs and when I’m teaching wine education classes, as well as when I’m asked to be a speaker for various organizations.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
A woman who shows her smarts, helps others and stands up for herself.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
Honestly, the list is too long to mention, yet has so much room for more. It would be like me name-dropping on all my admired colleagues. I would seriously hate to leave someone out, and I will, because I’d have to sit, swirl, sip & swallow on this for a while, and I’ve got to get back to the studio. Without thinking, and for all the obvious reasons why-- not in any particular order and immediately coming to mind: Heidi Peterson Barrett, Kimberly Charles, Kim Stare-Wallace, Gina Gallo, Leslie Sbrocco, Marcy Smothers, Shelley Lindgren, Eileen Crane, Traci Dutton, Joy Sterling, Phyllis Zouzounis, Regina Martinelli, Julia Jackson, Chiara Lungarotti, Marimar Torres and of course my daughter, Teale.