How these wine industry pros found success on their own terms. 

By Vicki Denig
October 21, 2019
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At the 8th annual Women in Wine Leadership Symposium this October, women from all corners of the wine industry gathered in New York for a day of panels, guided tastings, and networking. The unofficial theme? Creating your own table.

The wine world has long been male-dominated, and many women at the symposium admitted to feeling unwelcome at industry events, which, until recently, have been rather flavorless, colorless, and downright monotone. So, if there's no seat at the table, you have to create your own table—at least according to some of the most influential women in wine. 

That's exactly what Emily Wines, one of only 24 female Master Sommeliers in America, did as she built her career in the a somewhat homogenous industry. Wines estimates that the industry has overlooked 99% of wine consumers by privileging collectors and high-earning individuals.

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Alpana Singh, another Master Sommelier, described her own battle with “compare-itis,” which she believes many women “without a seat at the table” tend to experience.

“I was constantly comparing myself to others,” she says. “I didn’t even feel worthy of having my own logo.” After two years of brainstorming and planning, Singh finally created her own blog, which highlights recipes and her favorite wines.

The panel “Navigating Success Throughout Your Career,” led by Jessica Milli, featured Ariel Arce, owner of Air’s Champagne Parlor, Tokyo Record Bar, Niche Niche, and Special Club, wine writer and consultant Julia Coney, and author, consultant, and television host Leslie Sbrocco.

Arce, a young business owner and native New Yorker, reiterated the constant feeling of being an outsider in her early 20s. Through her restaurant concepts, Arce sought to create spaces where women could feel like they belong. Arce notes that 80% of her employees are women; she says that creating a women-facing business was essential to the establishment of her “table,” which now boasts a few hundred literal tables across downtown Manhattan.

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Similarly, Sbrocco said that her career didn’t exist until she created it. Pursuing a television career that focused on food and beverage, she pitched the idea around until someone finally bit.

“You have to embrace the risk, and even if you’re afraid, keep going,” she says. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get it.” Sbrocco emphasized the importance of having a three, six, 12, and 24-month plan.

As a middle-aged African-American woman, Coney described the constant feeling of being unwelcome, recalling numerous experiences of being treated as an employee at tastings that she was attending, even once being told she looked like “the help” by a fellow taster. Coney continues to advocate for diversity within the wine industry through her writing, tours, and consulting business.

To learn more about the Women in Wine Leadership Symposium, click here.

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