Bethany Jelks, 11.9.18
This is Bethany Jelks! She is our wonder woman of wine and we are excited to feature her on this #femmeFriday ! Bethany has worked in hospitality since she was 15, has been in distribution for the past seven years, and today she's the Vanguard Sales Representative for RNDC Austin.
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
My start in the service industry was at the age of 15, working as a hostess in a BBQ joint in Houston. From there, I worked in sports bars and music venues. High volume whiskey and beer joints. My first fine dining service experience was at a tiny Italian restaurant in Denton, which sparked my love for Italian wine.
As far as distribution, I started as a Sales Representative for Duchman Family Winery in 2010. RNDC hired me a year later and this past September was my 7 year anniversary with the company. My first year, I started out in retail as a Platinum Fine Wine sales representative, calling on HEBs. My second role with RNDC was calling on Whole Foods and independent retailers. After 3 years of retail experience, I made the move to On Premise Wine. I’ve been working in On Premise Wine for four years now, two years in my current role. Today I am the Vanguard Sales Representative and my focus is on customer service and presenting wines from my portfolio that fit my customers’ needs/concept.
As a passion project, I also serve as the RNDC chair member for the Austin Food and Wine Alliance.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
My mom took me to Napa on my 21st birthday and that’s when I realized there was so much more that went into wine…. soil type, climate, weather, varietal characteristics, production method etc. It was the geography that peaked my interest(pun intended). My mom has always been a Napa Cab lover so she took us to Robert Mondavi, Chimney Rock and Revana.
My first love was Merlot and the most memorable moment of that trip was a dinner at the culinary institute. We all ordered wine... My mom ordered Cabernet Sauvignon, my sister Pinot Noir, and I ordered Merlot. I loved the diversity in our palates and was intrigued with the reason why we each ordered the varietals we did.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I have the privilege of working with winemakers and winery principles. I love hearing their history, their families stories, their struggles and their passions. The opportunity to learn firsthand leaves a lasting impression which I hope to pass along to my customers.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
A few years ago, a buyer refused to buy wine from me unless I went on a date with him. Once I realized his intentions, I went to my boss and requested to be removed from the account. No questions asked, my boss pulled me from the account. I’m thankful that I work for a company that listens and acts fast to support any issues.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
Focus on female winemakers that are making great wine and continue to be leaders in our industry and community. We need to shift the conversation from gender back to what's in the bottle.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
By nature, women are more nurturing and intuitive. I think those qualities are important in connecting our community.
How do those qualities benefit the wine community?
It leads women in our industry to be natural mentors. Nurturing, wanting to see someone grow and thrive. Intuitive, I’m thinking from a sales point of view, but it helps me understand my customers, their concepts and their needs.
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I’d like to see more women in leadership roles as well as mentoring roles. I’ve seen a massive shift in the last five years. When I started in retail sales, I was 1/5 women out of 50 sales reps in Austin. Now the gender equality is pretty even with the retail team. Since day 1, my managers at RNDC have driven women and me forward in pursuing leadership roles. We also have initiatives within the company to support diversity.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Be honest and trust your instincts. Be genuine, build relationships. Biggest standard for me is not ruining a relationship because of a sales goal. At the end of the day, human connections are more important than a number.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Focusing on the families and the stories behind the producers, not the gender that is buying, selling and/or consuming. Gender shouldn’t matter. We need to concentrate on what brings us together, the love and passion for the wine.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
Within RNDC, I mentor and train the new sales representatives. Outside my role with RNDC, I love connecting local buyers and suppliers that have common interests and beliefs.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
Dedicated, hard-working, passionate, educated. Genuine.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
My mom, Linda Sternick. She’s the one who introduced me to wine and influenced me to pursue my passions in the industry. She doesn’t work in the wine business but she is a consumer. She is a strong, passionate, empathetic individual who raised my sister and me on her own, while working a full time job. True Wonder Woman of Wine!
Rae Wilson, founder of Wine for the People, owner/winemaker of Dandy Pink and cofounder of The Grower Project. I met Rae about 4-5 years ago and we bonded on our preference for high acid wines. More recently, our love for wines from Portugal. I have always respected her palate, passion in education, drive for building this industry and her current ventures with Texas Wine!