Liz Dowty Mitchell, 8.16.19
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
My serious wine career began in 2007 when I was hired at a fine wine retail store in Costa Mesa, California. Up until then, I had worked in wine bars and restaurants part-time while I was in school.
I spent 4 years at the wine shop and then moved to Houston and got a job as a fine wine sales representative with RNDC. From there, I moved back home to New Orleans, LA where I was hired by a mid-sized distributor, Vino Wholesale, and worked there for 4 years as the Portfolio and Sales Manager. After that, I entered the Importing/Supplier side of the business where I worked for European Cellars/Eric Solomon Selections for 3 years covering the Southeast region. And now as of September 2018, I am currently the South Texas and Louisiana regional representative for Wilson Daniels.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
I was always into the food and restaurant industry but taking my CMS Intro exam sparked the fire to focus more on wine rather than the restaurant business.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Meeting the producers I represent and being able to share their stories and wines with consumers and sommeliers who get it.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
If I am side by side with another man in an environment discussing wine, I have experienced many times people directing questions and comments at the man rather than at myself. I often get the feeling that I’m not taken as seriously because of my gender and age. Most men have a difficult time wrapping their heads around the fact that I began my career in the industry right out of college and that I have 12 years of serious experience in the industry under my belt.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
I think we need to be overly assertive and outspoken while putting ourselves in as many rooms and situations where men typically dominate in order to keep women included in the conversations about the industry.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
I think that a women’s perspective is always very valuable because more often times than not, it tells a different story than a man’s. For so long, this industry has been dominated by men and I think now that women are part of the conversation, wine styles are being diversified and it’s a lot more dynamic and exciting!
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I hope that we see more women in positions of power in terms of top-level distributor and supplier executives who really help mold and shape the business side of the industry. It has been and continues to be very male-dominated and a woman’s approach to this side of the business is desperately needed.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
It is a very rewarding career but it is a lot of hard work to “prove” yourself; and due to the nature of alcohol being involved in so much of what we do, it unfortunately complicates things and you have to be even stronger than women in other professions to rise above difficult situations. Also, although it is not easy, it is possible to have a family as well as a career in this profession.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
I’ve noticed in the last couple of years that it is improving, but I think there is still a ways to go in having more women around the table in executive-level distributor and supplier positions.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I think that just by merely working in the wine industry today is contributing to equality in wine. We tend to promote female winemakers and female-owned wine businesses more as well. I hope that I can inspire other women looking at this as a career option that they are in good company!
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
I think that all women in the industry are “wonder women” at this point in time, because it has been such a male-dominated field historically. Every one of us are fighting small battles every day (most of which go unnoticed) to insert ourselves into conversations that previously excluded us and didn’t value our opinions and purchasing power.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
I admire the few women importers in the industry such as Becky Wasserman and Martine Saunier who were pioneers in the importing business along with legends such as Kermit Lynch and Neil Rosenthal. There are still very few women-owned import companies because it is probably the most difficult sector of the industry to succeed in. You have to convince vignerons to trust your palate, business acumen and networking skills; and respect your opinions and voice which is not an easy feat, especially with the French. Haha!
I also highly admire Catherine Miles, the Senior VP of Marketing for Broadbent Selections and how she has grown the reputation of that company and the wineries they represent, by intensely traveling all over the world all while being an amazing mother to three incredible children!