Vilma Mazaite de Flores, 10.12.18
Vilma Mazaite de Flores holds 20 years experience in the wine industry with a strong background in wine centric restaurants around the country. She is an Advanced Sommelier through the CMS and is now expanding her expertise to the supplier side as the Regional Manager for Domaine Select Wine & Spirits.
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me a little bit about your background.
I think a long time. Professionally I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 17 and did everything from busser to hostess, barback, and server. But my first job as a sommelier was when I was 22, straight from college.
I graduated in Lithuania and then moved to the U.S. and thought I was going to be here a year and it turned in to 17 years. I didn't know much about wine other than I knew I loved to drink it. I got the job with Michael Mina in Vegas and Raj Parr was the Wine Director. He just assumed European people knew about wine. I pretended that I knew some and got the job. It was a lot of learning and was stressful, but a great learning curve.
What is your current title and what is the most rewarding part of your job?
I am the Regional Manager for Domaine Select for three states. I thought I was going to do this temporarily and it turns out that I really like it. I love the flexibility, not being in the same place, experiencing different concepts and meeting different people and seeing what they're doing and supporting them at their places. I obviously just had a baby, so it's nice to be close to him, but to leave him too.
Sharing your passion with other people is really rewarding. Every job has its ups and downs. Sales isn’t easy. You really have to sell. It’s stressful in a different way.
Traveling! Discovering Texas, experiencing Houston and Dallas. You get inspired even going to other states and being on the move. It’s good to have a change.
Can you describe prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
Maybe I’m not that much of a feminist. I always wanted to believe that it’s not gender but your abilities that make a difference. But yes, I remember the days when I would go to the table to sell high end wine, and the older generation would ask ‘How old are you? Do you really know about 1982 Bordeaux?’ I think I chose to ignore that and push through. This is my job and I'm going to try and do it the best I can. I think that still exists in some cases but less and less because we’re seeing more and more women in winemaking, restaurants, distribution. It’s unfortunate that it still does [exist] but it shouldn't.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
Better products, just kidding! I just think we need to support each other, gender aside. If you support talent you're going to benefit from it. Believing in the more the merrier. There's plenty of space for any type of business and people. We just need wish each other the best, and we need to grow together.
This business has a lot of egos and having more women in the business would eliminate that. I don't know why, because it’s so subjective and personal and a passion. It shouldn’t be driven by ego. There’s not right or wrong.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Diversity. And then taking the challenge to communicate a message without driving a list or program by personal egos. You choose to go an extra step and educate customers. I think in this job selling wine, a lot of places choose the easy way out and choose labels that you can sell easily, but you’re not making a difference. A quality list means slowly putting things in front of guests that will change their habits.
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
More women taking charge. Following their dreams. Not being scared that they can't achieve something because they're a woman. You can manage your career and motherhood. It’s all possible. As long as you have passion and do what you love, everything else will follow.
What ways would you say you are contributing to the overall empowerment of current and future women in wine?
I wish I could say more, but I don't think that I’m that much of a feminist. I never saw myself as ‘I’m a woman and I need to make a difference or a change.’ I think I would love to be more in a position to support and push other women.
I’m being myself and showing that you can combine what you love and motherhood. It’s something that you see everyday but we don’t realize what it’s like. These women deserve metals! There’s internal conflict and you have to find peace with it and find a balance. A baby brings that balance. If I’m going to go to work, I want to love it, not just make ends meet.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
Strong, driven, inspiring. Passionate. Supportive of one another. I think that’s very very important. If you push one another, it benefits everyone. There’s plenty of room under the sky for more of us. I just wish there would be less ego, jealousy, etc. Not even gender specific. But of course that still exists. You should really trust what you're capable of as a person.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
A lot! There a lot of amazing women making wine that I really admire. My colleagues that are making a difference, that are making wine in Texas. Rae [Wilson] is making a difference. Writers. Jessica Dupuy. And even outside the industry. This industry is one thing but women are badasses in general. That should not limit what you can do as a person. Use your powers.