Bree Boskov, 9.27.19
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I’ve been in the business for 22 years. I wear many hats and love that I can have such a complex role in the wine industry. I currently have a consulting company and wine brand in Oregon and work with the Oregon Wine Board as education manager.
I started in restaurants in Vancouver, BC when I was 20 and swiftly became obsessed with wine. I worked as a Sommelier in fine dining in Vancouver and then Nova Scotia for most of my 20s. Moving to Australia in the mid-2000s I worked for a large family-owned winery, DeBortoli Wines, and was their on-trade key accounts manager. I then moved into national sales and importing for Australia’s pre-eminent Spanish and Portuguese wine importer. I also began teaching the WSET courses in Sydney and Melbourne and also returned to Somm-life. There are so many fantastic restaurants and chefs in Melbourne, so it’s difficult not to be drawn in.
I began my Master of Wine journey in late 2011 and added working harvests to my roles, and they often coincided with research or buying trips to producers and regions that I imported. I worked in the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Douro, Dao, Burgenland, Mosel, Oregon and Georgia (the country) during that time and learned so much about winemaking but mostly about how the culture of a people and place form the wine style as much as the growing season and variety.
I received my Master of Wine certification in 2016 and continued making wine and then in 2017 was offered an amazing role to work in a dynamic region as education manager. That’s how I made my way to Oregon.
In 2018, I made my first wine for my own brand, Constant Crush, and I am loving working with some great farmers and fruit in the Willamette Valley and beyond.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
I have a couple. The cultural impacts of a place on wine style that I mentioned above, but my earliest was when I was working in Vancouver. It was the beginning of the 100 mile, farm-to-table, and slow food movements. The restaurant I worked in had a female head and wine director, and they both invested heavily in staff education and inclusion. There was no back of house/front house division. They would bring in the farmers and the winemakers and we would taste with them and hear their stories and their commitment to their craft.
It was a revelation listening to Rudi Kracher talk about the decisions he made in the vineyard regarding farming philosophy and the need to be protectors of, and stewards of the land and hearing the same concerns coming from a Salt Spring Island vegetable farmer.
There is so much interconnectedness when you are working with food and wine grown by families connected to place and the integrity they have representing that place in the bottle or on the plate. I keep these philosophies in mind when I am working with farmers and purchasing fruit. So much history and the culture of our humanity can be discovered in a bottle of wine or visit to a wine region. I have never stopped being completely enamored with it.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
So many things! As industry and trade education manager with the Oregon Wine Board, I am able to continue to use and build my viticulture and winemaking knowledge and bring my global perspectives to a relatively small and young industry. I am in charge of developing the curriculum and speakers for the Oregon Wine Symposium, a two-day industry conference each February. It is incredibly rewarding to bring together 2,000 industry professionals to discuss their successes and challenges spanning viticulture and enological research and the economics and marketing of Oregon wine. I feel like it keeps me in that constant MW journey of research and analysis.
I also love to teach and share stories of the winemakers and farmers so developing and delivering trade education for Oregon is also incredibly rewarding, especially when I am able to introduce the uniqueness of the place, people and wines to international markets like Japan and Sweden.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
That is a built-in patriarchy in our culture and so I think most of the prejudices are connected with this. I’m not sure that I’ve never received a job because I was a woman, although there was certainly a glass ceiling in distribution management that I think still exists today for women. There was certainly a lot of sexual harassment and innuendo working in a male-dominated industry, both restaurant and sales, and inappropriate behavior on ride-alongs, etc.
Still today, even in wine communities that view themselves as progressive, there is still a healthy amount of unconscious bias and patriarchal behavior that exists and is accepted.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
Calling out bias and patriarchal behavior when it’s observed. I’m shocked by the number of women that are blind to or accepting of the double standards and biases that exists in our industry. I think we need to hold each other accountable and be engaged and vocal when we see it happening and continue to share our stories and not get complacent.
I feel like there is too much time spent in ‘safe’ zones and the industry and culture would evolve more quickly if there was more time spent talking from ‘brave’ zones. What I mean by that is the current movement that exists for people to not want to offend or be seen as being impolite but it also excuses and validates a lot of unacceptable behavior.
I would like to see people speak from ‘brave’ places and that often means sitting with the discomfort of what is being discussed, acknowledging it, and learning from it. Change does not come easy, but I think if calling out these behaviors comes from a place of compassion it will be successful.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
More equality, inclusion and diversity throughout the entire industry. I would like to think we would see more transparency from a workforce position, to product and label integrity. Also a commitment to advancing environmental initiatives and addressing labor concerns, community initiatives to ensure the labor force is protected and has stepping-stones to advancement in a diversity of roles.
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
The acceptance and representation of equality and fairness, in terms of pay and being truly represented across all roles in the industry. Balance of women on boards and leadership roles.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Be fearless, be humble, ask questions and ask for advice. Be kind.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Women represented in all roles within the wine industry. Balance of women on boards and executive committees.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
Trying to be more aware of my unconscious bias, supporting women who reach out for advice. Supporting initiatives that bring real change to women’s roles in our industry. Introducing diversity and balance to committees I charge.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
Fearless, humble, inclusive and supportive of all. Speaking up and calling out bias or patriarchal behavior when it is observed.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
There are so many strong female mentors within the MW community.
Vanya Cullen of Cullen wines for bringing environmental awareness and biodynamic farming to the attention of the Australian wine industry.
Jancis Robinson for forging a path in a male-dominated industry. I love that her work continues to be true to herself while also identifying and supporting up and coming female wine communicators.
Alice Feiring for her commitment to bringing real wine and real environmental concerns and transparency of product to the attention of the wine industry and consumers.