J.R. Ayala, 3.15.19
1. How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
5 delicious years! I’ve spent the last few of them wading through certifications and getting serious as a bartender. In early 2018 I became the wine buyer and bar supervisor for Clark’s Oyster Bar. I now work at Jeffrey's.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
5 years ago I was slinging tequila and struggling to justify my degree in literature by drinking like I was a Modernist poet. I didn’t know fine wine. My early 20’s were roaring, but it wasn’t until one of my sisters got me a job at a wine bar with a 200+ rotating bottle list that I ever paused to think about taste in the same way that I had dedicated my time to thinking about books. It took some one who truly loved me to teach me how to respect my mouth. After that, curiosity got the better of me.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Knowing that I work in a philosophy that many jobs have either confused or abandoned: kindness. There is nothing more utterly hospitable than kindness.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
Can't we all?
I’ve been passed over for promotions in lieu of men, told that because I could do multiple jobs well that I was too valuable to be put into a single (albeit significantly better) position. I’ve been the brunt of male-dominant management: silenced, cursed at, demeaned, bullied. I’ve had my livelihood threatened by the stereotype that women belong in supportive roles-- the jobs that make less money-- and forced to comply as a “team player” while male coworkers with less experience were automatically given positions that make more money. I’ve had male coworkers tell me that I made better tips not because of the work and care I put into my job, but literally because I “have boobs”. I’ve had male coworkers try to touch those boobs, and been groped by guests, and have been sexually harassed in more ways than I know how to quantify. And when I told the people in positions of power what happened, nothing came of it. I don’t think prejudice should be taken lightly-- it's almost entirely in the dark, and there aren’t enough of us able to talk about it. But I’ll leave this question with my most frequent and least-lawsuit-begging trigger: I’ve suffered through men asking me if the drinks they ordered were “too girly” and personally have struggled to find the best way to explain that if they’re going to be emasculated by a mere drink, then they have bigger problems to face.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
Talk to each other! We can only move forward if we know what we’re up against.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
I can’t wait to see the potential of a group of people who have been both suppressed and gathering momentum for so long, realized. I imagine better wine programs with more diversity, rounder education, and more accountability across all jobs in wine.
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
When something wrong happens to a woman (or anyone) that it will be corrected without question. Also, more wine movies where Sandra Oh breaks some schmucks’ heart and Paul Giamatti pays his mother back with significant interest.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
You’re going to have a lot of people telling you that you can’t do something that you’re more than capable of doing. Trust your gut, surround yourself with people who push you forward, and edit out the ones who hold you back (the same advice goes for jobs, relationships, strategizing Settlers of Catan, building a solid tasting group, and finding the right person to cut your hair).
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Being in an environment where no one feels the need to have to prepare to defend themselves.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
Empathy! That same sister who brought me to wine also taught me that we have to hear each other. You help other people by hearing them.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
A WWOW is someone intrepid, who functions at a high velocity, who respects independence and acknowledges sincerity. A WWOW is someone who is driven by conviction and swats away pretension. A WWOW knows how to support others.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
Lindsay Drew-- a total badass who works harder at her craft as a somm than any other person I have ever met. She is unrivaled in her conviction, and reminds me daily of why passion is important.
June Rodil-- June is one of those effortless educators, who takes extra measure to include people. Professionally, she never leaves anybody behind. It is remarkable to see someone already so powerful use that to lift others up, and to experience that first-hand.