Rania Zayyat, 3.1.19

Photo by  Olive & West

Photo by Olive & West

How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.

I’ve been working in restaurants for 15 years, and with wine for the past nine years. I fell in love with the idea of being a sommelier when I started working at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in 2010. It was and still is a dream somm job, with crazy old, rare, and high end bottles going out on a nightly basis, where cart service is still a thing. I moved to Austin in 2014 and opened laV Restaurant and Wine Bar, then moved onto the Four Seasons in 2016. I moved on to the Beverage Manager at the newly opened June’s All Day, and then in May 2017 I joined the team at Bufalina Pizza, where I still work today.

I also own a wine education and consulting business with my partner Chris Kelly, called Vintel. It’s freelance work mostly and is a great way to balance restaurant life.

In March 2018, I first thought about putting together a conference for women’s equality in the wine industry, and I decided to name it after my first public wine class that I taught that same month on the eve of International Women’s Day. That Wonder Women of Wine conference has been incredible experience putting together, and we are in the process of applying for 501c3 status.

Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?

I remember the first time I understood what “balance” meant in a wine, when I tasted 2000 Chateau Pavillon Rouge, Chateau Margaux 2nd label.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Right now with the conference, it has been creating relationships and connections with so many incredibly talented women and men that are all participating and supporting the event for the same reasons. Because the cause matters. It’s overwhelming.

Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?

Absolutely. I’ve been looked over for positions in favor of men, I’ve sat through tastings with suppliers who ignored all of my questions and comments, and instead talked only to the other buyer at the table who happened to be male. I’ve been accused of receiving wine trips at the stake of my integrity, and I’ve been talked over more times than I can count.

Gender prejudice can come from any gender, and so many are subconsciously ingrained into our culture. Kind of like when I say I work at a restaurant and someone asks if I’m the hostess. And men I work with always get asked if they’re the owner or manager.

How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?

I think as women, we need to extend more empathy toward one another. We have experienced a lot of the same scenarios, and all ships rise together.

What communal benefits do you think we’ll see by bringing more women into leadership positions?

It’s definitely an economic benefit, especially in wine, where 80% of wine purchasers are women. More women in leadership means a better connection to the leading demographic. Leadership teams work more effectively together when everyone is respected for their unique contribution to a team, meaning diversity is necessary. And more ideas means the possibility for more sustainable and well-rounded solutions.

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 stepping into the role of mentor and being comfortable with it. I think we tend to undervalue our skill sets and that can translate into us not being able to coach or mentor a young professional that could be learning a lot from us.

What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?

Jump in with both feet! There are many paths to success, so choose the one that is best fitting for you, and it doesn’t have to be linear. Don’t stay in negative work environments. Challenge yourself constantly with new projects so that you’re always learning. Bring something to the table. Learn to negotiate and learn to value what you do. Find balance in your schedule and take care of your physical self.

What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?

Equality looks like women being valued as equals in all facets for the contributions they bring to the industry and community.

What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?

I am giving women and men a platform in this industry to collectively initiate positive change towards gender equality, and in this, creating connections and building relationships. I am championing other women who have similar missions.

What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?

Someone who views themselves as an equal, who enjoys teaching others and is always on a quest to learn. A wonder woman of wine defines success on her own terms.

What other women of wine do you admire and why?

I’m very inspired by the amazing women in the city of Austin. There are so many, all of them doing incredible work in this city. I have always admired Paula Rester, Rae Wilson, and Cristin Moxy Castro. But living here for five years, that list is now pages long.

Rania Zayyat