A woman could feel her palms sweating as she entered the traditional fine wine shop filled with beautifully carved dark wooden shelves that held expensive bottles of wine from around the world. She had read about a particular bottle of Burgundy, France, that she wanted to buy, but she was new to wine and the anxiety of having to ask for the bottle was starting to mount. As one of the staff members dressed in a jacket and tie approached her, she began to question her clothing in jeans and a t-shirt. “Can I help you ma’am? the man asked, and immediately the woman shouted, “I’m sorry, I went to the wrong store!” as she stormed out and caught her breath around the corner. It was a moment that many, men and women, experienced for themselves when it came to visiting a high-end wine store or having to deal with an overwhelming wine list in a restaurant.
But interestingly, one of the top leaders in the U.S. wine industry is shattering many stereotypes about how the traditional wine expert should look or what path she should take to achieve such status.
First job, dream later
Annette Alvarez-Peters started working in the audio merchandise department at Costco almost 40 years ago. She didn’t go to college, but went to work straight after high school and found a company that promoted from within if workers were willing to work hard and make the sacrifices that helped them become one of the best in the specialty retail store. industry. Of the 37 years she worked there, she worked 25 years in the liquor department as vice president and general merchandise manager, and she eventually led a team in the United States that brought in 4.8 billion in global sales (2019). Since wine information was not accessible to the masses as it is today via the internet, she felt she had to “step up her game” and she ended up taking wine courses. to WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) and Society of Wine Educators.
Over time, it has become one of the most influential wine buyers in the world and a vital part of introducing wine to a wider consumer base, making the United States one of the countries the most wine drinkers in the world. But from the start, it was about Annette constantly doing the work for several decades, and over time, she became part of a retailer offering American consumers a friendlier and more inclusive wine shopping experience. .
Avoid being placed in a box
Others have also found unconventional paths in wine that each have their individual card and speak to different situations.
Wanda Mann, East Coast Editor of The Journal of the Somme and founder of Wine with Wanda, had a different expectation of the path she ended up taking since attending prestigious schools such as Phillips Academy (Andover) and Pomona College, which has one of the lowest acceptance rates in all American liberal arts colleges. Some thought she would become a lawyer or work towards becoming a corporate executive, but she followed her passion for creating and promoting high profile events in New York and eventually became one of the leading voices of the wine world. “Everyone’s path to wine is different, and our paths shouldn’t be the same, and that’s what adds so much richness and texture to this industry,” Wanda explained.
Another woman at the helm of the wine industry almost went down the path to becoming a lawyer, but after college there was something about “the pace of this kind of work that just didn’t fit” with her. Today, Mandy Oser is the owner and wine director of Ardesia Wine Bar in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, for 13 years. She encourages people to talk to as many people as possible in different areas of the wine world to find out where they belong, whether in sales, retail, food service, writing, etc., because everyone has her own unique qualities and she noted that even a 15 minute honest conversation with someone who works in this industry might give someone an idea if it would be right for them.
And then Mandy said someone just needed to throw herself around wherever she got the chance, like she did when she got the chance to work at City Harvest, a local food rescue organization. She could never have imagined working in such an environment before that time, but she realized that she was “the right person immediately”. Mandy went on to explain that there was something about being surrounded by “food, wine and hospitality” that really clicked with her. And while she always valued her staff very much as a business owner, during the pandemic she found she wasn’t utilizing the full talents of every staff member. She and her manager had to take over kitchen duties when the chef was away, and she had someone from the kitchen to take over house duties when staff members were away for weeks. Her biggest takeaway from the pandemic is that as a company they had “a pretty rigid view of how roles should be defined and what people should be doing” and not only does Mandy consider this kind of perspective is bad for creating a dynamic environment, but that’s terrible for overall morale; she sees that her employees are more likely to be “happy” and “more satisfied” with their professional life if she does not put them in a box.
Jirka Jireh, who grew up in an alcohol-free home, moved to New York to pursue the world of hip-hop and she first worked as a courier in a restaurant. She was lucky to have a few wine directors who encouraged her to taste wines and gave her knowledge about wine. Over time, she discovered that wine had everything she loved about hip-hop: creativity, rawness and true stories. A few years ago, she left New York for the West Coast to defend “BIPOC and LGBTQIA +1 representation among national natural winegrowers”, and she is the co-founder of Industry Sessionsa digital wine education program exclusively for marginalized people that spans 14 cities across the United States and Canada.
“Seeing a room full of people who looked like me and had the same passion made my heart burst with love,” Jirka said passionately. Because she knows firsthand, if you don’t see yourself in the world of wine, it’s never considered an option. Although her primary mission is to lobby for representation of underserved communities, her overall passion is to have deep connections with people who are unlike her or who have different backgrounds and that this will create a stronger wine industry. healthier and fairer like people’s destiny. will no longer be decided by a handful of guardians. This old attitude of having to jump through hoops for the guardians of the wine world, which sometimes forced people to choose between their dignity or their career, is being demolished by the younger generation. There is no need to go to a wine class that makes them feel inferior because of their background, as Jirka noted that anything can be learned on the internet and platforms like TikTok can offer a safe way to learn about wine without being humiliated.
Like recent surveys have shown that some of these guardians of the wine world demand sexual favors from women for educational and career advancement opportunities, it becomes essential to create alternative pathways to success that are not only vital for women but also for the men who themselves have been ostracized for speaking out against such bad behavior.
Allowed to dream
People’s journey to their dream of wine can vary widely, with some entering it without a formal education at a young age and others starting a second career after 20 years in a completely different industry and sometimes some don’t initially have that dream on their radar because they could never visualize themselves in this world.
Annette Alvarez-Peters greatly values the opportunities she has been given at Costco to learn, grow and ultimately become one of the most powerful wine buyers in the world. “Working for Costco was the most wonderful time of my life,” Annette noted, and it was a big decision when she decided to retire a few years ago after being there for 37 years. She loved this period of her life, but she had to prioritize her personal life as she sacrificed a lot of long working hours as well as weekends and vacations. But as she moves on to another stage in her life with the creation of her own wine consulting business, annette ap Wine and Spirits Inc, and the role of mentor as she sits on the advisory board of Unify the wine, a non-profit organization to promote and celebrate diversity in the wine industry, she is beginning to rethink how her own dream came true. As this dream only grew because she was empowered and educated by Costco, and in turn, she was a loyal employee who always provided what the company needed from her.
Yet, now that she has time to reflect, she knows how important it is for the wine industry to create an infrastructure that is open to everyone and rewards hard work and passion instead of being an exclusive club. . As she still remembers how “intimidating” and “overwhelming” wine seemed, she wants to help make it more accessible to people willing to get the job done. And in the long run, it will not only create more ethical work environments, but also help companies find ideal candidates who will eventually rise to important positions. As in the past, the perfect candidate may have struggled, stuck in a dead-end job, because she never imagined herself in this world, in this position; the person loses, the company loses and the wine industry loses because of circumstances that do not allow for dreaming.