Q: How did you become involved in the wine business?
A: Early in my professional life in New York I was bored with my job as translator/interpreter, so I took inventory of my passions and talents. Wouldn't it be great, I thought, to work in the food, wine or travel business--things about which I knew I had a passion for or at least the right genes in my DNA. Growing up in France I knew something about food and wine, having been raised in a wine area (near Champagne, Alsace and Burgundy) and with chefs and good home cooks in my family. Luckily I landed a series of jobs promoting the French wines (and by extension foods and travel).
Q: What were some of the hurdles, if any?
A: Being a woman certainly was a hurdle in a wine and spirits world dominated by men at all levels save secretarial at the supplier, distributor and retail levels and in a business sector closely aligned with the spirits business. There are many more women in the business today who were not simply the owner's daughter or wife, which only makes sense as women purchase more than half of the wine consumed in America. Being a woman (and a French woman) was a big plus, though, at the press and consumer levels.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: Minimizing the intimidation factor and maximizing the pleasure factor about wine for people. My chapter "Wine is Food" in "French Women For All Seasons" is basically a 101 on wine, food, and wine and food pairing, but has been received with glowing comments from press and readers alike who felt that's really all one needs to know to enjoy both. Most people have no time and/or inclination to read volumes on wine but still want to enjoy a glass with a meal, and my short chapter does just that. So, put another way, I enjoy helping people and opening up doors to pleasure.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to do what you do?
A: Make sure this is what you want to do and that you have a passion for wine. The business has changed a lot, and it certainly isn't all drinking Champagne at top restaurants and hotels. It is a business, and in many companies the passion, pleasure and play have been suppressed by spread sheets, double digit growth and excessive marketing...liking the product helps a lot.
Q: How are women changing the wine industry?
A: By reaching a critical mass in the marketplace and in the industry. They vote with their wallets and are an important constituency that commands attention and service...perhaps the most important consumer group as they buy the most wine. People think about the hot-shot alpha male collectors and wine hobbyists, but it is women who are buying table wine at Costco and in supermarkets and ordering Champagne or Chardonnay in restaurants. They increasingly enjoy wine, join tasting groups and clubs, and are informed about wine, which has led to more women seeking positions in the industry--not just in sales or PR but as sommeliers, wine writers, wine educators and once in a while a CEO.
Q: What are the misconceptions about women and wine?
A: Perhaps that the role of women in wine is no different than in other industries, especially male-dominated industries. There those who are passionate and knowledgeable and rise on meritocracy, but there are those who get hired or promoted beyond their competency because they are women. And at big companies, there's a need for token women in senior management.
Q: Which of your own wines is your favorite and which wines do you generally prefer?
A: Champagne still is my favorite wine, although I generally prefer red wines, particularly pinot noir from Burgundy. Since I've been spending more time in our home in the south of France, I'm getting to appreciate red Rhone wines more and more.
Mireille Guiliano, mireilleguiliano.com.