The challenges of working with wine

Thursday, 30. March 2017 - 9:45

Two weeks ago I attended the third annual symposium of Women of the Vine & Spirits in Napa, California. An alliance that “empowers and equips women worldwide to advance their careers in the alcohol beverage industry”, it’s the vision of founder Deborah Brenner, an author and 20 year veteran of television and film production. Membership has grown exponentially in the past three years, and in 2016 the group expanded to include spirits.

A forum for career-minded women working in beverage alcohol is well overdue, if the time it took the recent event to reach capacity was any indication. Indeed the two and a half days were filled with inspirational stories of entrepreneurship, tenacity, challenge, failures, setbacks, triumphs, tools and tricks, and the forum gave career professionals an opportunity to listen to accomplished speakers and presenters.

Krug CEO Maggie Henriquez spoke of breaking the mould, being resourceful, tenacious, and managing time and conflict for success. Consultant Jeffery Tobias Halter presented the business case proving the value women bring to the workplace, and Dr Makaziwe (Maki) Mandela shared the difficulties of developing a wine business despite the assumed ‘head start’ that the legacy of a famous father and world leader might bring.

However, with the chapter about to launch in Europe, and Dr Mandela’s call to start a chapter for the Africas, it struck me that one important topic was not being broached – the demands that working with alcohol has on your health.

The health challenge

To stay well and healthy in this industry, particularly when travelling to markets where tasting and drinking is part of the job, is not easy, as it requires restraint, mindfulness of environment, body awareness, and knowledge of self. The conference made admirable efforts to provide much better quality food than I have experienced at other industry gatherings:  it was not uncommon to see salad and fruit bowls emptied before the sandwiches or bread/pastry baskets, and water was never short on offer.

Hats off to Frederick Wildman who sponsored a morning of “Yoga in the Cave”, where 70 people could gather and practice their breath, asana, and meditation practice, washed down with an optional glass of Cavicchioli U & Figli sparkling Italian wine mimosa. I joined the pre-dawn class and did not imbibe, but sincerely appreciated the mat and prop provisions, and opportunity afforded to start the day well. It sure beat meeting a colleague, or the CEO, on a sweaty grinding treadmill in a windowless room in a nameless hotel gym.

However, for all the great work and developments, we are still failing to discuss how we stay fit and healthy while working in this hedonistic and pleasure-filled industry, particularly for those who work in sales, marketing or promotional roles. This means more than just going for a run to stave off a morning after “wine flu”, getting solid sleep while on the road, taking a restorative vitamin concoction, or balancing family demands, but truly addressing and advancing the needs for mindfulness, health, nutrition and balance in what is an indulgent, competitive, alpha-male-biased commercial industry.

As someone who has studied and built a career in wine marketing since my late teens, I’ve had incredible mentors who have advanced and supported my development, yet I was never taught how to run the gamut of career development, self care, discipline, restraint and awareness. Now as I face my early forties, changing priorities and a desire for better long term health has me looking at my lifestyle very differently, and raises the question: How do I continue my career while staying healthy?

As I started to raise the subject with close professional friends in sales and marketing, themes began to emerge:

“I’m out four nights a week working eating the same meals people may only eat once a month, or once a year and my weight is constantly an issue.”

“If I don’t stay out and keep drinking with my colleagues then I’m not working hard”

 “My 20+ years of travel and wining and dining is catching up with me, and the health issues only now coming to the fore”

“I can’t NOT drink, even at home when my work day is done and a bottle is a quiet night.”

How do we teach up-and-coming professionals to know that the daily glass recommendation does not equal “two industry glasses” and that you can have a successful career in wine and spirits without excess, when some of those in the industry who are considered “successful” also demonstrate existing or developing issues, or unhealthy habits that may cause problems in the future? This is a problem for everybody, not just women in the business.

The spirits business is taking small steps in this direction with community networks dedicated to raising the importance of wellness. This includes “Barma”, a closed Facebook group of American bartenders and liquor industry professionals who courageously discuss and raise the challenges of industry demands, the expectations, and the toll the lifestyle can take. While the lifestyle may be considered by some wine insiders to be more extreme, this needs to be done for wine.

What can we do?

For the 2018 WOTV Symposium, heck even at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America event, I want to see a panel speaker series on wellness – a discussion around the topic so we can start to see and learn we are not alone. A perspective on the challenge that traveling for 100+ days can take on the body and how you can manage it; the medical information on metabolism and what actually happens to our bodies as we consume and we age; how to deal politely with the excess fine food we’re continually offered; the signs to look if we feel we are hitting a place of excess; and the tools and mechanisms we can use to bring mindfulness to our careers.

So let’s start this discussion. We need the courage to step forward and share stories, challenges, ideas, and tools, so we can ask for change that we need and deserve. Not only will we make better bosses, leaders, employees and contributors in the workplace, but also more balanced partners, friends and community members to help support an industry we all love so dearly, and plan to stay in for the long haul, in a manner that is healthy for mind, body and spirit.

Rebecca Hopkins

Rebecca Hopkins is vice president, communications and partner, of Folio Fine Wine Partners. 

Got any thoughts on this issue? If so, drop a line to carter@meininger.de