When you first step foot in Washington D.C.’s premiere natural wine shop Domestique, bottles of Fuchs Und Hase Pet Nat and biodynamic sparkling wines like Bianco Frizzante and Kmetija Stekar’s “IZI” Sparkling Rebula will likely catch your eye. The enchanting decor almost seems to whisper, “Look around, and stay for a while,” and when you do (surely, you’ll be inclined to), it’s the staff that stands out the most — employees are an ensemble of natural-wine aficionados from a range of backgrounds. That’s largely thanks to Domestique’s manager, Rebekah Pineda.
As Domestique’s manager, Pineda oversees the store’s daily operations, staffing, and social initiatives. Along with co-manager Eric Moorer, she ensures that every person who walks through the doors feels welcome and wanted, starting with the very people who work there.
In an industry that’s given far too small a space to people of color, Domestique prides itself on being a frontrunner for diversity and inclusion. Domestique is the retail love child of Jeff Segal, who launched the shop in partnership with New York’s Selection Massale in 2018. This year, Pineda has played a pivotal role in the shop’s commitment to taking even bigger steps to make the wine industry more accessible and equitable; most recently, by spearheading The Major Taylor Fellowship. The fully funded apprenticeship aims to help industry hopefuls, specifically people of color, break into the wine industry by teaching them the tricks of the retail trade. In August, Pineda named Kayla Mensah, a Bronx-born child of Jamaican and Ghanaian immigrants, the program’s inaugural fellow.
VinePair chatted with Pineda about her and Domestique’s shared mission, and how the shop is leaving an imprint for change in the wine industry.
1. How did your career in wine start?
Like most people, I was working in restaurants when I became interested in wine. I couldn’t really afford to buy wine, so I asked a friend at a wine store if I could help break down boxes, stock shelves, and things like that so I could buy wine. Getting into retail early helped my knowledge and growth exponentially. Retail is a good way to access really great wine. You get to try lots of wine and meet distributors and importers.
2. How did you end up managing at Domestique?
I emailed Jeff [Segal, owner] that I wanted to work at the store part-time. When I started, I loved the spirit of the store, and I felt really connected to it. Over time, my role grew.
3. What’s the mission of the wine shop?
It’s a natural wine store. Everything we sell is organically farmed, and everything we do is in support of the producers — there’s a strong connection to who makes the wine, and we try to communicate that to customers who come in. Before Covid-19, we had a lot of producer visits in our store and partnerships with importers. It’s not just about knowing how the winemakers make the wine — customers also got to learn who these people are, about their kids and families, the whole story. That really impacts how you communicate wine to customers, and how it informs their buying decisions.
4. What makes Domestique different compared to traditional wine shops?
When the store opened — and this is really all Jeff — it was designed a bit differently. In D.C. and a lot of places, wine retail can be really unattractive. The setup can sometimes be not-so pretty or customer-friendly, just kind of like a grocery store. We have a seating area in the front, beautiful windows. Most bottles are at eye level, so you don’t have to hunt through shelves. We have a tasting bar. It’s really meant to be a place you can spend some time browsing. Also, the people who work there look different: There [are] so few people of color in wine, especially in retail. In D.C., it’s definitely a white-male-dominated industry, but we have a very diverse staff at our store.
4. What do you love the most about your experience working at Domestique?
We have such an amazing staff. We’re really diverse, and I mean that in a very broad sense: Women, all different types of people with different backgrounds, people of color. Taking my experience from restaurants and other wine stores that maybe haven’t been that inclusive and being able to be a part of a place like this has helped me grow. And to be able to be in a position to give an experience opposite of mine to my employees and other people interested in wine is a blessing. That’s what I love the most — even if it’s just someone who’s worked for us for three months — having a workplace that is really geared to support people from all walks of life in wine.
5. How did the Major Taylor Fellowship get started?
The store has always been very conscious about the inequity in our world, and also the wine world. As a primarily POC staff, it’s something all of us, on some level, experience in our daily lives all the time. It’s really hard to break into retail, and it’s one part of the industry that isn’t really diverse. So we wanted to do a fellowship that gave someone the tactical skills to start their own thing, or get into wine with the hope that it launches them into a role of management or ownership. The goal of it is to provide a platform like the one I was given at Domestique, to make decisions and create impact in our field. And really, it can’t happen if it doesn’t start with someone in a position of leadership.
The fellowship utilizes Domestique as a tool to provide really practical information about running a retail store, and we’ve partnered with a couple of different organizations that will teach the fellows what it means to work in wine. There isn’t a lot of diversity in wine [making], but there also isn’t a lot of diversity in people who own wine stores. We want to share that knowledge that sometimes is just not accessible.
6. How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted the store?
Very early on, we closed the shop, I think because Selection Massale is in New York, and the fact that we’re on a corner where there’s a lot of foot traffic all the time — we just wanted to be very cautious. Since we can do delivery, and we have an online store, it seemed crazy not to close the shop. The first month and a half was extremely challenging. Almost every wine store in the country was really, really busy, and because we are a young shop, I don’t think we were prepared for how busy we were. But it also helped us realize all the things we needed to put in place to do delivery and shipping at a much larger level. It was a lot of work the first few months, on top of everyone just being stressed about the virus and our friends and family being laid off. It was a really challenging time, but we also felt lucky to be working.
7. Since working at Domestique, do you find yourself drinking mostly natural wine now?
I want to try everything that we have, so if a customer asks me what something tastes like, I’m not like, “Oh, I don’t know.” I buy a lot of wine from the store, but I’ve always liked natural wine. At the store we buy wine from different regions and I tend to buy a lot of the natural wines from the Loire Valley. That’s my favorite region.
8. Are there any misconceptions about natural wine that you’d like to see cleared up?
There are a ton of them, but I don’t really care that much about the misconceptions of natural wine. I think the industry is so insular, and I just want people to start drinking really good wine. There’s a million things to nit-pick and complain about, but natural wine is such a small, niche thing. We should really just be focused on how to reach consumers outside of this tiny, insular, elitist group. If you come in and say something crazy about natural wine, I’ll just send you home with a bottle that’s really good and organically farmed.
9. What are your hopes for Domestique going forward?
As we become bigger and busier, I hope we continue to figure out ways to implement everything we’ve learned in these last two years. I think we’ll look at more education, things that will enable people to pick great wine, and better tastings, where we provide everyone with information to learn more about wine; figuring out things to implement that will allow us to provide a nurturing learning environment as the business grows. Through Covid-19, we’ve found a lot of opportunities for that, and ways we can still be connected with an internal goal of reaching a diverse audience.