Rae Wilson, 8.17.18
Rae Wilson is founder of Wine for the People, owner and winemaker of Dandy Pink , and co-founder of The Grower Project, an initiative to bring more awareness to high quality, single vineyard sites in Texas and wines comprised of 100% Texas fruit.
How many years have you been in the business? Can you tell me about those experiences?
I’ve been in the industry since I was 15. I moved to Austin in 2005 and started to focus on wine then. I did WSET Level 3 in 2008. I think at that point I had taken smaller buying jobs and then was shifting from restaurants to just wine around then. I think the more that I was studying and doing all that it turned to an interest in production. I worked harvest in Napa in 2008 at Artesa. I went in ready to go and was beaten down pretty quickly. I had to fight for the position I was hired to be in with an all male Spanish speaking cellar. I had some Spanish to use but everything was hard, trying to do my own work. They kept trying to push me toward the lab. They offered me a position after the internship and I stayed for about a year then came back to Austin for a few months and then went to Portugal in 2009.
I worked a full harvest in the south and the north. Came back here and the economy had tanked. I started Wine for the People and started teaching classes in 2010. But it's really evolved into a different thing now. Putting together educational opportunities that were a little bit different than your typical classes. Some were little chef menus, then I’d do themed classes on any given region or style. I worked with a few different people in locations where I’d known some of the owners.
I started consulting with restaurants, which led to producers, and I became more curious about what was going on here with wine. I didn't know Texas wine was a thing. In 2011 I decided to explore Texas wine. I went out to William Chris Vineyards, and I saw they were looking for someone in their tasting room, but I had no desire to work in a tasting room but I tucked it in the back of my mind. I went out and tasted [the wine] and was super blown away. I was really impressed with what they were doing and how they were doing things. I said ‘I know you're looking for someone in the tasting room but, I’d be happy to do that if I can help out in the cellar. I made a lot of contacts at harvest parties.
Almost no one here in Texas comes from the wine industry. The concept behind production is something I really love working on and I ended up doing a lot of that for a while.
Then in 2014 I had the opportunity to get some extra fruit. We planted a small vineyard at my friends place, yelling at any winemaker that would listen to make more rosé and make it dry. That’s when Dandy Rosé started. I made one barrel, got it started and then the support from the industry, even with that tiny amount, has been so generous and open-hearted. A lot of folks that have been very hesitant to adopt a lot of Texas wines because of the inconsistencies. I’ m continued to be blown away by the industry support.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
It’s a broad and general answer, but just the familiarity that I have now about how wine is made [compared with] the gaps in my experience before, and then learning every part of the production. You can never go back to not knowing. The first harvest blew my mind. The shift is you realize, you can’t shift back. I really feel like it’s knowing that overarching thing where all the points connect to make this final bottle of wine.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
If we’re limiting our talent pool or information pool to half of the population or even less than that, we’re limiting how fast we evolve or how much better we’ll do. If we could pull from all the knowledge we have rather than just a small part, we’d evolve at a much faster rate. We can’t see what we’re missing in the wine industry until we bring in all these fresh, different ideas. We may not see that fully for many generations. It will open us up and make us more adept.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
Having the vision where something doesn’t exist yet. A lot of times for us it feels like you’re standing on this edge and you don’t have a lot of examples to look at. Being able to build that vision without having a clear path in front of you because it hasn’t been done yet. Having that vision, building it, sharing it , and being able to cultivate that in others. Once we have that and know how to build it and get farther down that path, then finding ways to write down what those barriers are that impede people’s interest in the industry. Different experiences from different places that allow more access.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
That’s a good question, but hard to answer. If someone on the production side had told me more about…I didn't expect the barriers I ran into, so if someone could have filled me in on the culture of a lot of cellars, and how to breakthrough that faster and being clear on what types of fiscal involvement that is, instead of not being certain of what those were or saying you can’t do that. Getting more information or clued into what certain things look like, like how to do a pump over. familiarity with some of those processes so that as a female, [you know] how to navigate a cellar more. You’re just as capable and deserving to be there.
Can you describe any prejudices or setbacks you experienced in this industry in regards to being a woman?
None more clearly than going into production. Along the way in production and working a floor in a restaurant, or around ownership. Someone else owns this and it’s harder to see your place there because there are fewer places that are owned by women, and it’s like you’re not deserving of this…something pushes you out.
There’s a lot of production roles that are less seen and that don’t involve a picture on the back of the bottle because they’re not the winemaker. Formality in history feels like clubbish. When someone really wants to be sold wine in a fine wine shop, you put a middle aged man in there and a woman, and nine times out of ten, everyone will go to the man. The history that agrees with the picture.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
I think a lot of what we need to do is listen to each other and share our experiences with each other, and passing on those skills the same way stereotypically you’d see a father pass to a son, like working on a car. We’re going to run into it but never know if we don’t discuss it with each other because we think we have to be tough. But we need that support because we’re human. It takes a long time to build that structure and now we especially need to be sharing, listening, interacting, talking about those places and parts that are going to look different for all kinds of women. I think getting more conversation, interacting, and passing on those skills.
What ways would you say you are contributing to the overall empowerment of current and future women in wine?
I think there is a lot of value for any of us that are in visible positions that contribute to the industry and in some ways we’ll never fully know. Visibility is really important. I think that visibility in Texas is that much more because there are fewer [of us] and it’s such a young industry. It’s necessary as we’re currently building it so see something that isn’t all male.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
Wow, so many! On the winemaking side, so many but Elisabetta Foradori, Kathleen Inman, Cathy Corison, Arianna Occhipinti. I think there’s a lot...I’d say on the sommelier side people like Paula Rester, June Rodil; people that are really building and are at some of the most visible points locally and regionally. They are championing a lot of women around them.
In winemaking a lot of people are just phenomenal winemakers that are extremely studied in their style, their region, the excellence of it, that hoping to strive to that level of worth is something to look forward to.