Wine is about bringing people together.
Just like with a good meal, wine is best savored with people you enjoy spending time with. Wine tasting is just as much about the quality time and conversation with your company as it is the overall experience of smelling, tasting, and enjoying the wine.
There are a multitude of growing regions and many techniques of producing amazing wine. Consider the number of wine grape varietals that exist—from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon to Sauvignon Blanc, etc. In fact, there are over 10,000 unique wine grape varietals that we know of today. Now, think of where they’re grown and the journey they must take to eventually produce the perfect bottle of wine. At its core, wine is humble. We often use wine as a catalyst or lens to create inclusive and memorable experiences with colleagues, friends, family, lovers, and more.
How different are humans? We don’t judge a wine for being white, rosé, or red. Why should we judge people? Wines, just like people, are inherently diverse. While it would be nice to imagine the world of wine as one that embraces differences, shuns elitism, all while encouraging inimitable experiences for newcomers and connoisseurs alike, the truth is it can be a tossup.
Diversity can have many interpretations. So, how do you best bring diversity into the wine industry? Let true advocates of change meet one another, exchange ideas and personal experiences, engage in meaningful discussion, and see how they run.
Philana Bouvier is a businesswoman, entrepreneur, mentor, current VP of Fine Wine, Supplier Business Development at Republic National Distributing Company, and Co-Founder of Be the Change. Be the Change is an equal opportunity initiative and virtual job fair committed to changing the status quo in the wine, spirits, and beer industries through action, policy, and establishing a just beverage industry via job placement with companies dedicated to creating real solutions with diversity, equity, training, and more.
Dr. Hoby Wedler is an American chemist, entrepreneur, visionary and educator who happens to be blind. This has caused him to follow his passions with more tenacity and drive than others. In 2016, he earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from UC Davis. In collaboration with the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, he founded Tasting in the Dark, a one-of-a-kind truly blindfolded wine experience. Today, Tasting in the Dark has expanded across numerous markets and industries around the globe.
As individuals, these two incredibly passionate people have worked tirelessly throughout their careers to enhance opportunities for everyone, specifically in the wine industry. While working to build bridges to success for all, they had the pleasure of meeting each other through the first Be the Change roundtable discussion preceding the inaugural Be the Change job fair in 2020. Bouvier moderated and Wedler spoke at the roundtable.
“We knew from the get-go that we would work together long in the future,” recalls Bouvier. “We quickly realized that our words hold weight, we’re always striving to learn more, and, perhaps most importantly, we always do our absolute best.”
Bouvier and Wedler came together because they care deeply about equal opportunity, diversity and inclusion, hard work, and connecting people who need to know each other. They both believe deeply in mentoring others, raising the bar, and making a lasting change. They are also continuing their own journeys, learning from each other and their own experiences.
It’s important to note that these two professionals, although meeting through their shared passion and commitment to make positive change, didn’t start working together because they are from unique backgrounds. Rather, they came together to solve important problems as mentors, thought leaders, and relentlessly hard workers that just happen to come from very different backgrounds than most.
“We both get it. We have a sense of what needs to be done, where the industry and individuals need to go, and what they should do next,” says Wedler. “Stated more simply, we are both thoughtful mentors who believe in helping everyone around us get what they need to succeed.”
“Meeting Philana was a breath of fresh air; here is someone who shares my passion and work ethic to bring well-rounded thought leadership to the wine industry. Being diverse in the wine industry isn’t enough. It must come along with a willingness to work hard, to produce quality results, and to get along with everyone around you.”
A key tenant of their outlook on diversity? It’s not just about race, orientation, gender… etc. But rather, functionality. This isn’t just a surface level thing. In today’s world of identity politics, functional diversity isn’t something that’s really discussed. But needs to be.
Enter Be the Change. Created last year in 2020, Be the Change is an initiative that is focused on job placement and education. Bouvier, along with co-founders, Lia Jones, Rania Zayyat and Cara Bertone aim to create an inclusive beverage industry that will set new standards for employers to empower inclusive hiring practices. This virtual job fair offers multiple job opportunities to hundreds of diverse candidates. The mission of Be the Change is to empower employers committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion to connect with diverse job candidates in the beverage industry.
Be the Change is a game changer as it utilizes the technology of Brazen, a leading virtual hiring event and online career platform, to connect candidates in real time with employers. Virtual recruiting allows candidates to engage with companies on a more personal level from anywhere. Exhibitors receive a virtual booth where participants enter and request meetings with the employer’s team of representatives.
Be the Change is an equal opportunity digital job fair open to all. It is also an incredible networking experience. As a result of the success of their inaugural event in December, Be the Change will host its second job fair on April 22nd, 2021. This second job fair will also include the beer and spirits industries.
“I have a deep-rooted zeal for learning, and am incredibly grateful to have met Lia, Rania and Cara. We opened each other’s worlds. You begin to have this understanding that to work together, we don’t have to come from the same place,” states Bouvier. “It has given me a solid foundation to educate and challenge myself on what true diversity is. When you are working with different leaders it is wonderful to see how much that can positively change your life, both personally and professionally.”
“What we are doing together as a team is extremely impactful and rewarding. When we hear from candidates who have received a job opportunity through Be the Change, it is an incredible feeling, and the result is we are opening doors for others,” she continues. “We are listening, and we are here to help.”
Those who don’t possess certain disabilities will often overlook the ways brands or companies fail to be accessible across all brand touchpoints, or, how society as a whole marginalizes other differences that aren’t as obvious as Black vs. White or male vs. female. That said, spend time with Dr. Hoby Wedler and you will quickly notice how much we miss out on because we are distracted by our eyesight.
A major part of inclusion is about creating impactful, unique, and memorable experiences for your audience, demographic, or industry. In advancing true inclusivity by introducing new experiences, Bouvier and Wedler are setting an example as visionaries in the wine industry.
Building relationships, finding the right people for the right positions, and allowing them to shine through hard work and humility is what building a culture of change necessitates.
“Diversity means bringing unique perspectives to the table in a meaningful way to solve problems,” says Wedler. “And we often forget that it is also about solving problems with innovative and creative viewpoints developed by multiple perspectives from multiple life experiences.”
“Inclusion is all about creating an inviting environment both for employees at a company and for customers that the company serves. This environment happens when stakeholders are more aware of their surroundings.”
As someone who was born blind, Wedler views the world differently than most people and therefore brings a type of functional diversity the wine industry lacks. Tasting in the Dark transforms blindness, what some might think of as a disadvantage, into an advantage.
A Tasting in the Dark event at Frank Family Vineyards
“This blind tasting added another level of focus, instead of being content to hit the dart board, you were able to laser in on the bullseye,” says Todd Graff, Winemaker and General Manager, Frank Family Vineyards. “As winemakers, we create concentrated wines; this tasting concentrates our attention and energy.”
“Tasting while blindfolded allowed me to focus on the wines without the distraction of my surroundings and forced me to sharpen my senses of smell and taste,” continues Leslie Frank, Proprietor, Frank Family Vineyards after experiencing Tasting in the Dark with Wedler. “The exercise made me realize just how much our sense of sight can influence our perception of what we smell and taste in the glass.”
According to Wedler, tasting wine is akin to looking at art. He developed Tasting in the Dark to offer people a special view of wine in the glass without the distraction of eyesight. “Eyesight” being a term he deliberately uses here as he frequently will make the astute observation, “We all have vision; some of us just lack eyesight.”
“If we solve a problem for one group, you will be surprised how many others that solution helps. Think of wheelchair ramps. These were installed around the country for people in wheelchairs,” explains Wedler. “But people in wheelchairs make up a fraction of those who use wheelchair ramps today. Think strollers, bicycles, shopping carts, etc. The same analogy applies to the wine industry. We need to adopt the abundance mindset around diversity and inclusion and realize that a more varied approach helps everyone.”
Along similar lines, creating this culture involves creating well-rounded brands that are fully inclusive of their audience. Wedler also represents Tucker Creative, a renowned Australian and US based brand creative and marketing studio focusing on wine and spirits.
Working with the studio to build engaging branding and packaging with unique textures, weights, and more, Wedler adds to the appeal of products beyond visuals. Tucker Creative has worked with Wedler to create braille labels on products, soft touch printed labels, embossed labels, and more to create highly tactile, emotive, and engaging branding that appeals to everyone.
“Diversity to me is about depth of experience, bringing different voices together and opening doors for each other. It is also about vulnerability as it’s a strength, not a weakness,” says Bouvier. “We are all on our own journey, and, whether you are at the beginning or further along, we have to be patient and kind to each other.”
It’s clear from both visionaries that being a certain way alone doesn’t make you extraordinary. What makes you extraordinary is your ability to work hard and be unwavering about it. Bouvier and Wedler understand that it’s important to bring your A-game to the table, sure, but then once you step up to the plate you need to stay there. To do that, you need to add value.
To Wedler, being successful is all about turning what might be considered disadvantages into huge advantages.
“If you’re deaf, you probably are very good visually and can read a room better than most. If you’re blind; bring what other people can’t bring to the table with their other senses and bring it well,” continues Wedler. “Always be your best and hold extraordinarily high expectations of yourself. Never lower the bar. Take responsibility for yourself and your actions. You are not always the victim. Step up, bring your absolute best, and don’t blame others if you don’t always get your way.”
“What’s rewarding when you bring people of different backgrounds and expertise together, is it becomes about opening doors for each other,” explains Bouvier. “You have to open the door; the rest is up to the other person. Inspiring and educating the next generation, with the door open. That said, the person needs to walk through.”
“Our hope and desire is to build confidence with our communities that will motivate, build inclusive environments, and lead by example to do the hard work. I’m very proud of the impactful work my co-founders are leading through their own organizations, Lift Collective and Diversity in Food and Beverage. There are several groups inspiring change and the positive here is the entire industry is committed. “
“We think about exploring new opportunities and discovering new roles for people, providing that light that you can do anything you want if you believe in yourself and the community around you,” Bouvier continues. “Traditionally, people are waiting to be asked to sit at the table. But for me, why not generate the opportunity and create the table yourself? This is more powerful because you aren’t having to ask for permission or approval; it’s more about building the confidence that you belong.”
So, what does the future of the wine industry look like? According to Wedler, the future of the wine industry will have more perspectives at high levels, more thoughtful and unique perspectives making change and solving problems, and a more eclectic group of people who think about the world differently than one another.
“People should feel completely welcome no matter what they look like and whatever their abilities. Include everyone in the wine industry, from employees to consumers,” Wedler says. “Consumers who feel less intimidated by the industry will buy more wine and become more loyal customers. The future of the wine industry will be more profitable when it further embraces diversity and inclusion. Customers and employees alike will feel more welcome.”
“The future of the wine business will involve marketing wines of all value to a wider community. Recruitment is vital, as our industry has to think outside of the box when it comes to attracting the best candidates to the job market,” continues Bouvier.
“The wine industry has to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion across all levels of the business, to include marketing to consumers. Being genuine in your mission and vision is vital. Human resources departments also internally need to improve recruiting and be open to different ways to recruit and ensure retainment. Positive change will happen when we all work toward these goals.”
The wine industry is changing. New perspectives and practices are shaping the industry. Most importantly, Hoby and Philana believe, motivate, and mentor each other on their journeys of helping others be their absolute best selves.
Visionaries are truly special, and can be tough to come by, but once they take hold of something they often manifest exceptional results. They are able to effectively assess a situation and subsequently take the necessary steps to make impactful present-day change, for a brighter future for all. And that is what this industry needs.