Victoria James is the Corporate Beverage Director and Partner at Cote Korean Steakhouse in NYC. She has worked her way up in restaurants, starting at age thirteen in a greasy spoon diner. She fell in love with wine and when she was twenty-one became certified as a sommelier. She has worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants in New York City including Marea and Aureole. Victoria’s name has appeared on many notable lists: Forbes "30 Under 30," Food & Wine's "2018 Sommelier of the Year," Zagat’s “30 Under 30,” Wine Enthusiast’s “40 Under 40,” Wine & Spirits’ “Best New Sommeliers,” and The Back Label declared her “New York’s Youngest Sommelier.” She is also the author of DRINK PINK, A Celebration of Rosé (May 2nd, 2017, HarperCollins) and has contributed to Bon Appétit, Cosmopolitan, and Munchies. She currently is working on her second book and expanding the Cote brand.
Rae Wilson, Wine for the People and Dandy Rosé
Rachel ‘Rae’ Wilson has over 20 years in the food/wine industry including 5 years at Schlafly Brewery in her hometown of Saint Louis, Missouri. Later, working in more wine-focused environs, she learned winemaking while working in cellars in Napa Valley, Europe and the Texas Hill Country. She now bases herself in Austin, Texas and continues to consult for local and international business.
She holds an advanced certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and is a certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. She's contributing to the burgeoning Texas wine industry, and is regularly featured in industry publications. She currently has two production projects- Dandy Rosé & The Grower Project, and established a vineyard in the Texas Hill Country in 2015. Through a wide range of experience, she grew a passion for bridging gaps, and created Wine For the People in 2010 offering both industry & consumer-focused services.
Cathy Corison, Corison Wine
Cathy Corison, the first woman Winemaker-Proprietor in the Napa Valley, produces three Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, hand-crafted without compromise. Her wines are powerful and elegant at the same time, have a sense of place, and are structured to grace the table and enjoy a long, distinguished life. She sources some of the finest vineyards in the Napa Valley, all located on classic benchland between Rutherford and St. Helena, where deep, stony alluvial soils provide the ideal growing conditions for the Cabernet vine. These vines regularly produce some of the most concentrated and superbly ripened fruit anywhere. Kronos Vineyard, one of the estate vineyards, surrounds the winery on all four sides. Cathy harvested her 30th vintage of Corison in 2016!
Adrienne Ballou, Lightsome Wine and Calais Winery
Adrienne Ballou grew up in Austin, Texas and eventually left her pursuit of a Chemistry degree at the University of Texas to do her first harvest in Walla Walla, Washington. After falling in love with wine in Washington, Adrienne completed her B.S in Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis and headed to Burgundy to stage at Domaine Antonin Guyon under a fellowship from the Chevaliers du Tastevin. Once she returned from France, Adrienne found a new home in beer at Jester King Brewery where she brewed and ran the barrel and fruit re-fermentation program for three years. After her time at Jester King, she made the decision to return to her true passion and headed to Australia for another wine harvest in Orange, NSW. Upon returning to Texas, Adrienne immediately began work with Lewis Wines where she was the assistant winemaker for two years. Adrienne transitioned to Calais winery in the Spring of 2018 where she is currently the assistant winemaker.
Mandi Nelson, European Cellars
Mandi’s journey into the world of wine and cuisine began when she was 16, working for various restaurants and country clubs in her native Dallas.
After graduating from the University of North Texas, Mandi moved to Austin and held various Wine Manager positions from Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse to General Manager of TRIO at the Four Seasons. After leaving Four Seasons she sought out a full-time role to be immersed in wine and joined the fine wine team at Republic National Distribution. After 8 years at Republic National she joined the New Waterloo group as the Beverage Director. At New Waterloo she curated the beverage programs, lead staff education at Le Politique, Il Brutto, La Matta, Sway, Otoko, Central Standard, La Condesa, Hotel Ella and South Congress Hotel. In 2018 she took the Southern Regional Sales Manager position with European Cellars to be closer connected to wineries. Some of her accomplishments over the years have included Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, Advanced with Wine & Spirit Education Trust and Champagne and Port location specialist from the Center from Wine Origins.
In her free time, Mandi enjoys running (through vineyards, if possible) and sipping champagne. Her spirit food is uni, or sea urchin.
Melissa Sutherland, Drinking Italian Whites
Melissa started her wine journey in the 1990s in Washington, D.C., lugging around a battered and stained hand-me-down 3rd edition of Hugh Johnson’s The World Atlas of Wine (pre-Jancis Robinson). Melissa would spend weekend and late night hours reading and drinking all the old Bordeaux she could afford on her pittance of a legislative aide’s salary. She quickly learned to make friends with smart bottle shop clerks (mostly men) who were ever so happy to invite her to tastings.
Fast forward a decade. Melissa changed careers in 2005, and has been working in the business of wine in NYC for 13 years, 10 of which she has devoted to the selling, promotion, and study of Italian wine. She has held many positions in wine that give her unique insight into the business from many perspectives: from opening NYC’s first dual wine bar/wine shop, to rebranding NYC’s legendary Italian Wine Merchants; and then onto buying and marketing at one of NYC’s oldest retailers, and then being recruited by The Winebow Group as National Import Brand Manager focusing on premier Italian wines of Leonardo LoCascio Selections. Most recently, she concluded two years of strategic advising for winery clients in Italy. In the fall of 2018, she returned to NYC full-time, signing on with Panebianco Wines Import as Senior Sales Advisor, representing some of the most classical and territorial-focused small wineries of Italy.
Melissa joined the Advisory Board of the Women in Wine Leadership Symposium in 2011. She has been profiled and her work lauded in many national publications and sites, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Civiltà del Bere, and Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews. Melissa is the author of the forthcoming book, Drinking Italian Whites: The Time Has Come for Appreciating Italy’s White Wines.
Soncy Chin, Favorite Brands
Soncy Chin is currently the On-Premise Sales Manager for the Central Texas Region for all things Wine, Craft Beer and Spirits with Favorite Brands Distribution since 2017. It was during Soncy's time in the restaurants and working for Spec's where her knowledge and interest in Wine and Spirits began to develop.
Soncy began her distribution career in Domaines and Estates Houston upon graduation from the Hilton College at the University of Houston with a Bachelor's of Applied Science in Hospitality and Restaurant Management.
Eventually, her career moved from Houston to Austin, from Glazer's Domaines and Estates to RNDC and now Favorite Brands. She has held positions as a Sales Representative, Key Account Manager, Regional Accounts Manager, and now On-Premise Sales Manager.
No matter the company, the portfolio, or the location, Soncy's passion for the service and wine industries has continued to be consistent. Outside of work, you can find Soncy spending time with her 9-year-old twins and husband in Austin, Texas. And on any Sunday morning you can find her discussing politics, civil and women's rights, organic farming, and the likes while drinking coffee at her kitchen table with her husband and friends.
Peggy Hanley, Wine & Food Foundation of Texas
Peggy Hanley has been the Executive Director of The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas for more than four years. Peggy is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Foundation, geared toward fulfilling the organization’s mission of supporting charitable works in the community through educational programs and social events, which highlight the WFFT members’ passion for wine and food.
Prior to her time with WFFT, she attended the University of Texas, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism. With more than 15 years of experience in the nonprofit industry, Peggy has also served as director of development for St. Michael’s Catholic Academy, St. Francis School, United Way Capital Area, and Cathedral School of St. Mary. Peggy earned her Master of Art degree in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in 2011.
Krista Scruggs, Zafa Wines
Krista started in the wine industry in working for Constellation Brands as the Bulk Shipping Coordinator and then ventured to work for an array of growers in Washington, Italy, Southern France, and Texas.
She is the founder and vigneronne of ZAFA wines. She was just named to the Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 Tastemakers of 2018 List. She uses biodynamically farmed hybrid grapes and sometimes co-ferments them with foraged apples. Her wild-fermented, unfined and unfiltered bottlings debuted at Brumaire March 2018 and drew raves.
Her motto is “Just fucking fermented juice from responsibly farmed living fruit."
Amy Bess Cook, WOW Sonoma
Amy Bess Cook is the founder of Woman-Owned Wineries, a startup endeavor elevating female wine entrepreneurs through storytelling, advocacy, and commerce. In her previous role as brand and operations director for a Sonoma winery (2009 to 2017) Amy Bess participated in every aspect of winery life, getting her hands plenty dirty and closely studying the inner workings of the biz. Along the way, she launched a startup wine brand that has raised $5,000 for social justice organizations. Her broad and varied experience exposed her not only to inequity in the industry, but hope for a better future. Woman-Owned Wineries has been featured in Forbes.com, Sprudge Wine, and beyond. Amy Bess was named “2018 Wine Person of the Year” by Imbibe Magazine.
Meghan Caiazzo, Victory Wine Group
Meghan Caiazzo is the founder of Victory Wine Group; a wine and spirits distributor in Texas that opened in March, 2015. Meghan began her career in distribution in Arizona after college where she worked for one of the largest distributors followed by a start-up called Quench Fine Wines. She didn’t know it at that time but that experience would end up being the motivating force to start her own business. Meghan was leading their sales team at age 25 and helped grow the business exponentially in 6 years until it was sold. Meghan moved up to San Francisco to work on the supplier side working for Huneeus Vintners. Still she had the bug to back to distribution and left to open Victory Wine Group. Since that opening, Meghan co-founded Palomar Beverage Company with the intent of growing a network of wholesalers nationally which includes opening Progress Wine Group in Florida and purchasing back Quench Fine Wines. Meghan’s focus now is on leading her teams, helping them to dream big and create the meaningful action to achieve their goals. In the three years since Victory Wine Group has been in business, she also has had two children: Hudson (3) and Cora (1). Meghan does not believe in balance between entrepreneurship and motherhood, instead she embraces the chaos and hopes to inspire others to realize that it’s possible to be successful in both with enough enthusiasm, determination and juggling.