Katherine Wallace, 10.4.19
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I currently serve as a senior category merchant on Whole Foods Market’s global wine team, overseeing our domestic wine and sake assortment in partnership with regional and store buyers. When I started at Whole Foods Market over a decade ago, I was working as a logistics intern while studying Agricultural Business at California Polytechnic State University SLO. I then spent several years on the produce team as a buyer before finding my way to the global wine team.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine
My “aha!” moment happened when I saw Cathy Strange (Vice President of Specialty & Product Innovation) crack a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano at Whole Foods Market’s global office with Chef Massimo Bottura. Shortly after I met the leaders of the wine team, Devon Broglie (Master Sommelier Senior Leader of Beverage Innovation) and Doug Bell (Senior Leader of Beverage Innovation). I was immediately impressed with the way they made wine and specialty products so approachable, fun and interesting. It was the easiest job decision I’ve ever made and I’m grateful to be a part of such an amazing team!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
On the retail side, we’re sometimes planning what we’ll carry in our stores over a year in advance, partnering with wineries around the world to bring in what we think will truly satisfy and delight our customers. Seeing those projects come to fruition on the shelves or in a customer’s cart at the checkout line is really rewarding and exciting.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
Since becoming a part of the wine team, I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by women who are passionate about what they do – from senior management and our regional teams, to team members in our individual stores. I’ve had strong mentors inside and outside of Whole Foods Market that continue to help me learn and grow within the industry. They’ve shared their career paths, their ups and downs, and have truly created more opportunities for women in a male-dominated industry. I’m inspired by them and hope that I will be able to do the same.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
I think being an active listener and always looking for ways to improve is crucial. Whether it is constructive or a genuine compliment, I try to provide meaningful feedback to those I work with and I crave that feedback as well. Small changes make a huge difference in the long term.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
We’ll see more diversity and an industry that understands consumers better than ever before. A more diverse workforce will support innovation and growth. Ultimately, it will better cater to the current and potential wine consumers.
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
Internships were so crucial in shifting the direction of my career, which is why I am a huge advocate for them. There are some amazing internships and mentorship programs available for women interested in the wine industry. I’d love to see those opportunities expand, help attract others to the industry, as well as develop and retain talent.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Follow your passion. Be grateful. Stay focused.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
According to a 2018 Wine Enthusiast study, women make 71% of all retail wine purchases yet only 20% of the wine industry’s workforce are women. This number should continue to shift to better reflect the diversity of the consumer.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I’m passionate about finding small to medium sized family owned wineries, and wines grown organically or sustainably. Our team selected a rosé wine from Stephanie Rivin several years ago that was a huge success. As a result, they started an import business and she moved to France to run their winemaking and sourcing. It totally changed the course of her life and career. It’s a great feeling to be a catalyst in stories like that.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
Always curious, open minded, hardworking, authentic and solution oriented.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
This is in random order and there are so many more!
Our regional and store teams - the best part of my job is collaborating with our teams – it’s such a creative process and some of our biggest wins come from our regional and store teams.
Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal from Chateau Angelus – I was so impressed by her at a tasting earlier this year and wish I could drink their wines all the time!
Dr. Laura Catena – She is one of the most interesting people I have met so far and has done so much to advocate for Argentinean Wines.
Angeline Templier from J. Lassalle – She is just as impressive as her wines are. Visiting her was my second “aha” wine moment. Also, Trésors de Champagne is one of the best wine bars I’ve ever seen.
Terry Wheatley from Vintage Wine Estates – She is an innovator and a powerhouse. I am inspired by the impact she has made with her nonprofit.
Jordan Salcito from Ramona – I love the Ramona project. She is someone making wine fun and approachable for consumers.
Monica Samuels from Vine Connections – I always learn something from her. She is an expert and eloquent teacher.
Emily Peterson from Valkyrie Selections – She is a creative force and incredible at making things happen.