Senay Özdemir, 5.24.19
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
My wine adventure started in Austin, Texas! I have been in media for more than 25 years now, starting as tv-host for one of the largest broadcasters in Holland. In 2004 I launched a woman’s magazine SEN, which was elected Best New Magazine of that year, later published solely online. In 2009 I was invited to teach at UT School of Journalism. When I couldn’t source wines from my native country of Turkey, I began importing wine, and then went on to found the wine marketing agency called House of Red & White to promote winemaker’s untold stories. I am also a TEDx speaker, the executive producer of the first documentary about women leadership in the wine industry and just currently organized the first women in wine conference in Europe.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
Yes, when I promised my girlfriends in Texas to prepare a delicious mediterranean meal with some delightful Turkish wines, I couldn’t get any in Austin. I had to drive four hours to Houston. That moment, as a journalist, I started researching about wines from Turkey. It’s where the cradle of wine is, yet not many people know Turkish wines and they have never tasted them.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I am a true storyteller. I have always been telling stories of strong women. I have done that with my columns when I was a tv-host, I launched a woman’s magazine especially for this reason. The best moment for me is when I give young women a platform. Many interns that worked for me when I was a publisher, and even now with House of Red & White did get nice jobs in publishing. And I think women have to be aware of the power of media and use it.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
Many people do not associate wine with Turkish women. So they are surprised when I tell them about Turkish wines but also very surprised to hear it from me. They just don’t know how to react but they are very curious of course. And I was surprised too. When I started my research and visited more than 13 wineries in Turkey I was surprised how many Turkish women I met who are working in the wine industry.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
Like I mentioned before, I think women should be aware of the power of media. I always say: ”People influence people. Especially these days, your reputation counts. No matter how good your company or your product is, if nobody has heard of it, you might as well not exist. In this world PR isn’t fake. It’s the only thing that’s real.” Men use PR really well. They are in the papers, in the magazines, in the opinion pages, in the juries, in the sources of researches. Women should find access to all these outlets.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
Diversity is always good. For all of us. It makes us curious. It makes us more aware of the variety of life. Women can add flavor to the industry. They can add more ingredients to the wine history. They can be role models for younger women who want to start in wine. They can be examples for banks and venture capitalists to invest more in women owned wine companies.
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I hope we get to see more women in the media. As wine columnists, wine jurors, wine writers, eventually as wine buyers. More specifically I hope we will read more about wines from lesser known wine regions like Turkey, Georgia, Lebanon, Morocco and that we will get to know more of their winemakers.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Just do it. Really. If you have a certain idea, go for it. Call people, offer your help, let them know that you want to do it.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
No prejudices. More colour. More women. And: Equal pay!
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
First of all: open mindedness. And we need this from influential people in the industry. Publishers or Magazine editors should also be open to new people in the industry. I’d love to write for Decanter or Wine Enthusiast about my adventures as a newcomer. I think it can be fun for everyone. And I think men like Miguel Torres who also left a video for my conference Women in Wine Expo talking about the three important women in his life: his wife, his sister and his daughter also will help a lot.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
Go getter. Curiosity. Stubbornness.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
I admire wine travel editor Lauren Mowery. I wish I could write as beautiful as her. Maybe one day I will.