Alison Smith Story, 10.11.19
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
Officially since 2002 and unofficially since around 1999 when I was hunting and buying for friends who had cellars and leading wine tastings. I was living in Dallas then San Francisco working in pro-sports, radio and the tech world.
My first official job was with a big Napa winery who fired me after a few weeks so the owner’s best friend could take my position. It was the best thing that happened since it led me to working for K&L Wine Merchants.…an amazing experience learning about wine and the industry. Oh, and where I met my future husband Eric Story too.
After many years of buying for K&L, Central Market and then founding & running TexaCali Wine Co., a sales and marketing firm based in Austin, I started Smith Story Wine Cellars in 2013 with Eric. I currently handle all the business strategy, sales and marketing for the most part.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Oh easy, the people I get to meet along the way! Also, the freedom to produce pure and insanely delicious wines that I absolutely love to drink and share with the world.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
See Krista’s answer from a few weeks back. Plus I dealt with some sick misogynistic males along the way, all in leadership/ownership roles in this business. I do not and never have used my sexuality or ability to show anyone up with my drinking skills to win a deal or be a part of the cool-kids club. I’ve kept my career above-board and am very proud this.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
As a now 47 year old female, I can’t say enough about leading with listening, compassion, work ethic and integrity. It’s so hard when you know buyers and sales reps can be easily influenced by a free trip here, some gift cards there... it’s more of a challenge these days than ever before. But stand your “grace” I say and win with your brain and real-deal partnership.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
My light-bulb moment was the summer of 2010 while moving back to California from Austin. I stopped for a few days of reflection in New Mexico and a Wine Spectator magazine was on a table in my hotel room. Cover to cover, there was not a single mention of a female in any article... only wealthy, busty, attractive white females in advertisements. Right then I said to myself that this HAS to change and began being committed to mentoring other women in our business and putting myself in roles that I knew I could conquer.
We must take care of one another with softer edges, bigger hearts and clear communication to build our strengths together. A few ladies have always made me feel like I was the most important person they spoke to. It’s a feeling that totally lights me up with energy and empowerment.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Learn as much as you can from the older folks. They have circled the world of wine (literally) before Instagram was an idea. Historically wine making and its craft hasn’t changed much. The person and segment that innovates is going to have the longest crack at the bat.
Also, don’t let other women get away with being nasty to you or about someone. I have really let my heart be hurt over the years by other women assuming something that wasn’t correct about me. Stand up for yourself and as Karen McNeil says “own your successes”.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
This really goes far beyond having a balance of men and women... think of our entire supply chain. It’s more segmented than ever by our government rules, sommelier groups, wholesale consolidation and elitist attitudes. It takes all of us to make it.
I’m as grateful to our vineyard workers and warehouse staff as I am for that hard working ethical wine buyer at the end. The intersection of acceptance here is so very important.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
Leading by example. Taking the time to help out others who ask. It’s amazing how many people among the trade visit us, hang out in our tasting room on their off hours and days. I feel like both Eric and I have kept the bar raised as an example of equality in running a winery. We certainly decide and conquer duties and have set an example by keeping compassion at the helm, being true, and showing our true selves, which allows everyone to see in and hopefully be inspired a bit.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
Never giving up, leading with fun wicked wit and cleaver ideas too!
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
As a whole, I am awestruck by the women with children in this business. It’s hard enough without them (ask me!). I am also always cheering on and admiring women who I’ve watched grow into very successful roles over the years. I know first hand what blood, sweat and tears have been shed. Thankful to be among this awesome wonder women of wine community!