While brainstorming this essay, I struggled to pick a female mentor that has significantly shaped or influenced my career. Picking JUST one, that is. My path into the world of wine came after nearly a decade stagnating in the service industry. I was insecure about not having the opportunity to finish my college education and accepted that this was all I COULD do. Then I met Hannah. Hannah was 8 years younger than me – and my boss. We found we had a lot of hobbies and interests in common and formed a personal bond. She told me how she loved CMS and the wine world because she was a “nerd” and loved to study! And I FELT that. She has been my cheerleader and information source throughout my wine journey – from answering hundreds of questions to writing glowing letters of recommendation to prospective employers. She introduced me to my true love – wine school. Hannah went on to become a wine rep and introduced me to her new boss – Rachel. Rachel is a boss – colloquially and literally. She is in charge in every way. She is loud and brash and opinionated and uses very…effusive language, and she is usually the only woman in the room with a bunch of male wine-industry big shots. And they’re all listening to her and lining up to talk to her. She doesn’t care if people are intimidated by her, she knows her business and she’s very good at it. Then there’s Melly. Melly is the first generation daughter of Mexican immigrants and the first person in her family on both sides to graduate college, much less get accepted to grad school. She also loyally serves her country in the Air Force, even in the face of a growing tide of xenophobia towards her family’s home country and their ethnicity. Oh, AND she’s a new mom. She’s a server too. She’s smart and sassy, doesn’t stand for injustice, and we’ve made quite the formidable duo in all of the restaurants we’ve worked in together. Did I mention she was the one that came up with the idea for me to give wine education classes? And that she booked my first one? She hoists everybody up and she still does it all. Natalie has been in the service industry for over 25 years and has always done things the way she sees fit. She has never done things the prescribed way and she has had a lot of fun doing it! The stories she tells are thrilling and funny but they also remind me that there isn’t one path for us all and of the value of connections – who knows, a friend you make along the way may ask you to estate-manage their luxury villa in St Croix one day.
A lot of people in the wine industry benefit from the sponsorship and support of a restaurant, a winery, a distributor etc., I haven’t had the privilege , but instead I’ve had the support of 3 incredible women – Erika, Becca, and Sky. Each of these successful women contributed to my achievements thus far in their own way. Erika with her rationality, head for business, and 25 years of friendship and unconditional support. Erika will never let me doubt my potential, no matter how obstinately I do so sometimes. I’ve counted on her my whole life and always will. Becca is my official tasting partner. She started her career by winning Food Network’s Cupcake Wars and is now managing the Human Resources department of a large brewery with national distribution. Her nose/palate, knowledge of complementary flavors, and mind have all been indispensable. As has her commitment to enthusiastically celebrating the victories of everyone she loves. Sky is both the comedic relief and the marketing mind of not just mine, but everybody’s goals. Her unique perspective and jolly chuckle can brighten even the darkest moments of self doubt. Last, but assuredly not least, is Napa Valley Wine Academy’s very own Jess Helfand. Jess was my instructor for WSET Level 3 and is one of the best educators I have ever come across. I emailed Jess at least 3x a week for the entire length of the course and she enthusiastically and patiently answered every single question I threw at her. She made me feel capable and special. Professionally, she is exactly what I want to be – a knowledgeable, personable wine educator that translates high-level complexities into ways that each of her students can individually comprehend.
So it wasn’t one woman that has shaped and influenced my career, it’s every incredible woman that I have had the pleasure of coming across. Every woman that showed me that I could DO IT, both by example and through their unwavering support. So now I’m doing it – I’m learning and continuing my education and I’ve started my own business leading personal wine education classes and tastings. I have a lot to learn but luckily I know people ;). The success of all women is all of our success.