The idea is a simple one: “Our culture is changing, and so should wine.” But for Cara Bertone and Rania Zayyat, co-founders of Lift Collective, a nonprofit advocating for a more inclusive and equitable wine industry, it holds much greater meaning.

It was 2019, and after experiencing a number of injustices in the wine industry, Bertone and Zayyat, both trained and certified sommeliers with a combined 30-plus years of experience, decided to do something about it. “We began as a small group, initially named Wonder Women in Wine,” Zayyat says. Their mission aimed to create tangible actions to better the industry specifically for women.

However, the monumental events of 2020, including the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, caused their focus to pivot, and ultimately reshaped their objective. “We realized that advocating just for women wasn’t enough as there were so many people whose voices were left out in our original message,” Zayyat says. In 2021, the pair decided to rebrand, officially changing its name from Wonder Women in Wine to Lift Collective, a gesture meant to ensure that the organization represented the vast diversity within the industry.

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Their new purpose calls for inclusive adjustments necessary to make wine accessible to all types of people. Throughout their careers in wine, Bertone and Zayyat witnessed the damaging effects on underrepresented communities whose voices aren’t heard. “You see privilege at work very easily in the wine industry,” Bertone says of a long-established issue that has been discussed but not necessarily acted upon in the wine space for quite some time.

“Enough was enough, and something had to be done,” Zayyat says. Once Lift Collective was fully up and running, they partnered with another nonprofit organization to launch a job fair specifically designed to help minority hospitality professionals who had been laid off due to the pandemic.

The success of their first conference as Wonder Women in Wine (they had over 400 attendees) and job fair as Lift Collective provided a new perspective, and the pair knew they needed to continue doing the work.

Focused on fighting for underrepresented groups, including the LGBTQ+, BIPOC, Latinx, and disabled communities, Zayyat and Bertone launched their second conference. Panelists included an array of people from community organizations and educational groups, plus journalists and hospitality professionals. Although it was virtual, it has been one of their most impactful events to date, facilitating open and honest conversation about making lasting changes.

Following the conference, the organization this year launched its first entrepreneurship program, which provides funds and resources to support five budding entrepreneurs and new business owners working in the wine industry. And there are plenty more initiatives on the horizon with the same goals in mind.

“We’ve witnessed the struggle first hand, difficulty building high-level relationships, seeing others easily move up while being constantly overlooked [ourselves],” Bertone says. “Lift Collective is about creating meaningful change that uplifts, and it’s been really great seeing this community come together.”

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