Joelle Cousins, 8.10.18

Photo by Rania Zayyat

Photo by Rania Zayyat

Joelle Cousins is a key account manager for RNDC, and an integral part of the local sommelier community in Austin.

Joelle has spent countless hours volunteering her time to help coach sommeliers with blind tastings, theory, and service. She is also a founding member of the ATX Somm Society.

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

Actually I do. It was at III Forks...there were two things. My table ordered a bottle of 2004 Gaja Barbaresco. I was 22 or 23 years old and had been reading about wine but was just getting to experience it on that level. I had been eyeing the bottle and standing table side, and then tasting that wine with them, smelling and tasting tar and roses for real. For it to really make a connection, you have to experience it. The III Forks manager at the time was great and used to bring me tastes and smells, and I realized I had a good palate.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Working with the top tastemakers and beverage professionals in the city with all their different concepts and passion, and being a part of that in a small way. Being able to source incredible wines that aren’t in Texas yet. Distributors are the unknown tastemakers, and it’s great to have a working relationship with a distributor and a buyer.  

When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?

I think that women are brilliant strategizers and have an ability to observe in a way that, perhaps, men cannot...our brain chemistry is different. We can have a high level of observation and come up with a great strategy. In terms of wine programs, marketing, branding, that all requires a lot of observation and strategy...excellent in terms of a leadership are you going to achieve your goals? By running reports, analyzing menus, presentations, coming up with a plan. It would be easy to not have a plan everyday, but you're not going to achieve the long term goals.

Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?

For me in distribution, and I will say that I do have women around me, but on my team, as a fine wine specialist, I’m one of two out of 12. It’s not that there is prejudice. There are really strong and loud personalities, and me as a calm, relaxed individual, I had to learn to speak up without seeming aggressive. I didn't want to stand up and say “blah blah blah”. I had to learn to speak up and do it quicker.

What change, if any, do you hope to see with women in wine in the next five years?

I want our community to come together and be in the same room, to have conversations and gain perspective. I think that will fix a lot of things like the incredible no show rate, lack of professionalism and understanding of professionalism. As a buyer, being able to use your distributors and suppliers. We’re too segmented.

What ways would you say you are contributing to the overall empowerment of current and future women in wine?

Any way that I can. I have sommelier friend in another state and we talk about the issues we face on the regular. Getting the ATX Somm Society up and running so that everyone has a platform. Constantly trying to network and help other people network in our community.

What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?

Someone who is motivated and continually seeking education. Education and knowledge, be that through a test, a trip, a book, whatever. Someone who is continually a student. There is no possible way to try be a wonder women of wine without acknowledging that you are going to be learning everyday. I’m dynamic because I’ve done restaurants and supply and distribution. Seek understanding in the different tiers of the industry to have more perspective to see what our community needs and wants and how we can work together to make that happen.

What women of wine do you admire and why?

Rae Wilson, because she has a very diverse background and understanding. She’s humble. Paula Rester, because she’s been in other markets, and the way that she does business with her distributors is very professional.