Marissa Ross, 7.26.19
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I’ve only been working in the wine industry for four years, which is wild because it feels so much longer than that. I grew up in Upland, California, dropped out of college and moved to Los Angeles in 2008 to pursue my life-long dream of comedy writing and performing. When I moved to Los Angeles, I was so broke that I really only drank really cheap wine, and it became part of my comedy. In 2011, I started a comedic video series called “Wine Time” for Hello Giggles and then my blog, Wine. All The Time. in 2012. But it was just for me. Like no one read it. Seriously, I got like 14 hits a month. In 2015, Grub Street did a feature on me after finding my videos and site and soon after I signed with a literary agent. In June 2015 I sold my book, Wine. All The Time.: The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking and in December 2015, I was offered my current position at Bon Appétit Magazine, where I have served as their wine editor for the past three years.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
I honestly never in a million years thought I’d have a career in wine, but when I had a bottle of Olivier Lemasson’s “R-13” that was when I knew I wanted to focus my wine writing—even as a hobby—on natural wines, which was an important turning point for me.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A pillar of my work is making wine accessible and relatable. I’m a college dropout without any formal wine training but was able to teach myself, and it has always been important to me to instill that confidence in others. But someone just reading me saying, “Hey! You can do it!” doesn’t necessarily make it easier for them to actually do it. Wine is still really intimidating. So the most rewarding part of my job is hosting tastings and instilling that confidence in people on a personal level. I love when someone comes to one of my events and at the beginning is so nervous to say the wrong thing and I’m like, “Yo, there’s no wrong answers. Take your time, I’ll be back.” And by the end of the event, that same person is excitedly talking about how a wine smells like a powder their mom used or their favorite beach. I love that. I love giving people the power to enjoy wine more.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
Men constantly question my palate. I’ve had bar owners who don’t believe me when I say wines are faulted until I’m served the last glass from a bottle they’d been pouring all night and it’s unquestionably corked. I’ve had winemakers tell me I don’t know how to taste because I supposedly couldn’t detect sulfur and then offered to teach me how to taste if I’d take off my shirt. But I’m most often reduced to and/or criticized for how I look, how I talk, how I dress, and it usually comes down to Instagram. I’ve had extremely powerful men tell me, “You’re just a girl with an Instagram.” I’ve had women I’ve never met corner me at wine fairs and berate me for “ruining the wine industry for women” when they never read any of my work and have just scrolled through my feed. I’m regularly attacked for my body, for cussing, for expressing politics or owning my sexuality. The truth is people still have trouble accepting strong women with a voice and agency, especially when the opinions threaten the power of their establishment.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
For me, it’s been important to recognize my own internalized patriarchy. We are socialized our whole lives to see other women as competition. So when I feel threatened or annoyed or angry, I try to isolate that feeling and ask myself if that’s coming from legitimate actions or if that’s coming from my own insecurities. Because more often than not, it’s from my own insecurities. By acknowledging those feelings and their roots, we can then address them and learn to love ourselves and others more, instead of working from a place of fear and judgement.
What change do you hope to see in regard to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
Right now there is a lot of talk, and I hope to see a lot more action. I don’t believe problems are solved just by getting people together to discuss problems without also creating actionable steps people can take to achieve that change. You can hashtag photos all day long but that doesn’t equate to access or opportunity. I also hope to see men in positions of power do more to engage with, advocate for and create opportunity for women and other marginalized groups.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Don’t let the bastards get you down, but don’t forget to lift others up. Also, get paid! [laughs]
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Not a bunch of white people [laughs]. But on the real, for equality, we need intersectionality and we need accessible education. Even though wine has become more approachable over the last few years, many people still don’t have the means or opportunities to explore wine in the way middle-class white people do. So equality in the wine industry to me should look like equal access, equal opportunity and equal pay for all.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I do my best to use my platforms to spotlight the work and voices of women and marginalized groups, and to engage in conversation with those people to find impactful ways to contribute to equality. As a white woman, I’m innately privileged, so it’s extremely important to listen to others and always be educating myself so that I can do more to enact real change in people’s lives.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
Strength. And strength comes in many ways, but it’s the most important to be strong. To be strong enough to be yourself and to pursue your passions and preserve your work, but also be strong enough to look at yourself and see how you can grow and how you can impact others.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
There’s so many, but I’m going to go with Amy Atwood of Amy Atwood Selections because I’ve never known a better business woman or anyone better at setting boundaries, which I am terrible at [laughs] and Krista Scruggs because she not only works her ass off to farm and make incredible wine, but has used her success to create so much space for herself and other marginalized members of the industry.