Amy Bess Cook , 6.14.19

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

 I moved to Sonoma County and started working in wine ten years ago. I’d studied visual art and worked in book publishing. I didn’t know much about wine, but I had experience with creative production. The arts are also very centered around sensory exploration. So it wasn’t a stretch when I picked up work at a local winery.

The work quickly evolved into a full-time position where I stayed eight years, helping to operate the place in every capacity. Along the way, I also took enology coursework, made wine, and created a wine brand to raise funds for social justice organizations.

When I left the winery job in 2017, I felt deeply compelled to support women. In my mind, this support began with women’s work being seen and acknowledged. I began building a nationwide directory of female wine entrepreneurs. That effort has since expanded to include a consumer wine club and storytelling project. A year and a half  later, Woman-Owned Wineries is still growing.

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

 My “a-ha” moment actually happened when I was already working in wine. In 2011,  I was at a conference after-party in a tiny, crowded kitchen. Hardy Wallace offered me a pour of a mystery wine out of a shiner--a Grenache from a friend, he said. The camaraderie, sense of discovery, and--yes!--the wine, moved me to tears. It turned out to be Angela Osborne’s very first vintage of A Tribute to Grace, which is now a personal classic.

 What is the most rewarding part of your job?

 I love to witness and encounter other women who are fired up about their purpose, their wine, their mission as entrepreneurs. Watching them teaches me so much.

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

Lately I think about this one:

Direct, clear communication is considered a strength in men, but a sign of hostility and harshness in women. This double standard thwarts so many women in the workplace. I have been punished for being direct and clear.

For a long time, I compensated by “shrinking”. (As a six-foot-one woman, I mean this literally, too.) What’s worse, I blamed myself, as if the society’s warped expectations were somehow my fault. Now I know better.

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

 I like to practice being uncomfortable. Being friendly with discomfort can help us navigate change. It can help us speak out when that’s scary. And it can help us acknowledge how we might be contributing to dysfunction.

 When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?

 We’ve seen the research that suggests women supporting women yields practical, measurable results. I like to think about the less tangible ones--how our shared stories improve our sense of empathy and basic human connectivity.

 What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?

 First, we need to see pay equity. That’s the responsibility of the industry. Second, I’d like to see greater patronage of woman-and-minority owned businesses. That’s the responsibility of  the consumer. Wine lovers who are serious about empowering marginalized people can vote with their dollars and make change. Money is power.

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

 Don’t let anyone steal your joy. They might just try.

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

 Honestly? It looks like a mirage--something we keep getting closer to, only to completely disappear.  That’s not a very hopeful view, but I know the oasis is out here somewhere. So let’s keep going.

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

 My hope is that the Woman-Owned Wineries project reminds people that they can put their values into action. We are in the midst of a movement toward conscious consumerism that has the potential to affect all aspects of our lives and our world. We’re only getting started, and it takes all of us.

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

 A wonder woman deflects bad energy, bullets-and-bracelets-style, and keeps going no matter what fire comes her way.

At the end of the day, she leaves time to relax back on the island with her tribe. Maybe with some tropical drinks. (Balance, you know?)

 What other women of wine do you admire and why?

 A lot of people I admire are working in an interdisciplinary fashion. Anna Brones melds wine, lifestyle, and the arts to show us how to slow down and savor. Cathy Huyghe nerds out over wine data and also can quote you some solid Eastern philosophy. Ashtin Berry is doing deeply important work as a hospitality activist.

Any winemaker who is successfully engaging consumers around a social cause has my attention. Megan Glaab and Ashley Trout both do this effectively.

There are so many people to learn from.