Traci Walker, 3.29.19
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
My path to wine was somewhat uncommon. I entered the wine industry by way of the cheese and beer industries. Around 6 year ago, I became the wine buyer for the cheese shop I was working for at the time. Four years ago, I started working at Jester King Brewery just outside of Austin, where I now run the wine program. My focus for this program is to bring in wines that adhere to the same principles as Jester King in terms of farming and fermentation. Jester King Brewery focuses on mixed culture and spontaneous fermentation, and it's well documented that a cheesemonger's best friend is the extra stinky washed rind cheeses, so it's no wonder my taste gravitates towards natural wines.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
It was pure curiosity. I understood the world of cheese and found its intricacies and politics interesting. The world of wine was a new frontier of discoveries for me. I’d say I had more of an “aha!” moment with natural wine than with the wine industry as a whole. Tasting with David Mayfield Selections, we opened Le Capitalism Rouge and Wah Wah from Brendan Tracey and I was ruined for life.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I’ve been in the unique position of running the wine program for what is essentially a destination brewery with 3 bars and a restaurant. Our guests often come for the beer, but what I find rewarding is introducing those beer drinkers to a wine that surprises them and changes their minds about what wine can be. It’s all part of my super secret long-term plan to convert beer drinkers into wine drinkers. Also, I feel quite lucky to be in the position to support the smaller distributors and winemakers that share my taste!
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
I’ve been fortunate to not come across many prejudices with colleagues in the wine industry. Not to say there have been no instances, but my time has been spent more in the beer industry which is unfortunately abundant with prejudices. With over sexualized women on labels and in commercials, it’s no surprise that the guests, too, will often behave in sexist manners. My recommendations ignored, those guests instead going out of their way to hear the recommendation of the male nearby. While managing the floor, I’ve had guests assume the male working next to me was my manager and then treat us accordingly. What I find most upsetting is when this behavior comes from a fellow woman.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
The first step to changing our behavior is to be made aware that these prejudices exist whether we initially recognize it or not. Call it out anytime you see prejudices being acted on. If you are called out, take a step back and reflect on your behavior. No one is perfect and most often we unknowingly act on our prejudices that we never realized existed in us. The more out in the open this information, the better equipped we are as women to recognize and change that behavior.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
The more diversity in anything, the better that community will be in the long run. The more women in the industry who speak their opinion and become decision makers in this industry and push for change, the more inclusive the community will be as a whole.
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
The women are there, I’d like to see more recognition of these women. More women in leadership roles and more support and mentorship for those women who would like to advance in their careers.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Confidence is key! You are just as capable as anyone else and you know it. I have a friend who often advises me to “think like a white man” in order to inspire me to advocate for myself. I wouldn’t say I’m always the best at it, but it’s helped me at times. So I implore women entering the wine profession to do just that. Think like a white man. Advocate for yourself.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equality to me means seeing more women as well as people of color working in wine. This industry is in need of some diversity. The more diversity and inclusivity we see in this industry, the more diversity we will see in the wine drinkers.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I advocate for women as often as I can. It is other women who inspire me and I hope to inspire other women, as well.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
One who is supportive and kind to those around her but can be tough when necessary.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
Adrienne Ballou and Averie Swanson are my wonder women of wine and beer! Both women have been advocates for me for years. These two women continue to inspire me with their beer making and winemaking and are always there to give me that boost when I need it.