Our culture is changing and so should wine. Our response to the shift, Lift Collective (formerly The Wonder Women of Wine) is a multichannel platform innovating the constructs of the wine world through thoughtful discussion, scholarship opportunities, and mentorship. We’re less about behind-the-scenes efforts made by a select few, and more about collaboration, conversation, and transparency between our partners and collaborators. Rooted in advocacy, Lift Collective welcomes all people to the chat. Interested in learning more? Tickets are now on sale for its annual conference, taking place virtually on March 23rd and 24th. Visit www.liftcollective.org to grab your spot.
As the events of the past year have shown, the culture surrounding wine is in desperate need of change. That’s the aim of Lift Collective (formerly Wonder Women of Wine), an organization dedicated to dismantling the status quo and rebuilding a diverse, equitable, and inclusive industry for all identities; a wine community that sees, welcomes, values, and lifts all voices, collectively.
In anticipation of the upcoming Lift Collective Virtual Conference, Adam Teeter and Zach Geballe are joined on this week’s “VinePair Podcast” by co-founder Rania Zayyat to discuss the evolution of the organization, highlights from the upcoming panels, and how it has handled moving the conference online.
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Adam: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter.
Zach: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the “VinePair Podcast.” Zach, I’m super pumped to talk about today’s subject matter, which happens to be connected with our ad for this week. I’m going to go ahead and get into it: Our culture is changing, and so should wine. Our response to the shift, Lift Collective (formerly The Wonder Women of Wine) is a multichannel platform innovating the constructs of the wine world through thoughtful discussion, scholarship opportunities, and mentorship. We’re less about behind-the-scenes efforts made by a select few, and more about collaboration, conversation, and transparency between our partners and collaborators. Rooted in advocacy, Lift Collective welcomes all people to the chat. Interested in learning more? Tickets are now on sale for its annual conference, taking place virtually on March 23rd and 24th. Visit www.liftcollective.org to grab your spot. I’m attending so I think everyone else should.
Z: You’re speaking, are you not?
A: I’m only speaking because our guest today asked me to, and I was super honored. But yeah, I feel not qualified to be one of the speakers. There are too many way more accomplished people than me. But I’m really excited to attend, because I think it’s going to be an awesome conference. I can’t wait to get into it. But before we do — I think some readers who read VP Pro are aware of this: Part of the incentive to get other people to sign up for VP Pro is if you get a certain amount of people to sign up, you get the chance for Zach and I to answer one of your questions on the “VinePair Podcast.” This one comes from Vic from Dublin City Brewing Company. His question to Zach and I is: It seems that nowadays the brewing world is obsessed with hard seltzers and low no-alc beers; what are the new and emerging industry trends you think we’re going to see in 2021? Woah. Vic, that’s a big question.
Z: That’s a whole podcast episode in one question. I’m going to be completely honest: Adam did not give me this question in advance, so I’m going to make him answer first while I think about how I’m going to answer this one.
A: I hate to tell you this, Vic, but the trend is going to continue to be hard seltzer for 2021. I think the pandemic slowed — it still is really strong — but what the pandemic did not allow hard seltzers to take advantage of was on-premise and when on-premise comes back, it’s going to come back really strong with hard seltzer. I think you already are hearing of operators who are trying to figure out how they add hard seltzer draft lines to their bar programs, how they add hard seltzer to their list, to bring on more cans. If you are listening to this podcast, you are probably familiar with the interview we did recently on our other podcast, “End of Day Drinks.” We did an interview with the head of beverage for Buffalo Wild Wings, who is the largest retailer in the country of craft beer. They have basically been extremely bullish, and open also, about the fact that they’re going to be adding massive amounts of hard seltzer to the restaurants post-pandemic when places start to reopen. So, yeah, I wish I could tell you, Vic, that there’ll be other things, but it’s hard seltzer.
Z: I think the other thing that we’ll see — and we touched on this also in our recent episode — fruit beers are going to be big. Not necessarily like fruit sours, but more broadly appealing — whether that’s citrus or berries, or things like that as we get into summer. I think back to the same conversation that we had a whole year ago, almost when Covid started. We talked about what would be big trends in 2020. I think we were pretty right on, in terms of fruit and berries. Things are looking slightly up, but it’s still going to be a weird, not super-normal fun summer. But I think you’re going to see a lot of people interested in that. Let’s have some fun, fruit-forward fruity beers that are delicious and that are the kind of thing, too — and this comes back to the question about, especially for breweries and on-premise consumption — that don’t travel well and that don’t hold up well. So when you are opening up your outdoor beer gardens and taprooms and things like that, the kinds of beers that are really going to be rooted in that space and aren’t going to go into distribution and into retail, are going to be those fruit beers. I think those will be a big thing, too.
A: Yeah, totally. So I think instead of talking about what we’re drinking, why don’t we ask our guest first what she’s drinking. So, Zach, you want to do the honors?
Z: Yeah, absolutely. Well, we are super thrilled to be joined by Rania Zayyat from Lift Collective, one of the co-founders, and an incredibly talented beverage professional. Thank you so much for your time.
Rania: Hey, thank you guys so much for having me. It’s an honor to be here.
A: Yeah. It’s awesome to have you. So where are you right now?
R: I’m in Austin, Texas.
A: Cool, so you stayed through the whole thing?
R: I survived the whole thing, yes.
A: Obviously, as a beverage professional, you get to encounter tons of awesome liquids. What are you drinking right now that you’re really excited about?
R: So actually, this past weekend, the restaurant that I worked for wrapped up our last day of service at our initial location. We saw a lot of our friends and regulars that came out to support us on our last night. So I actually got to drink quite a bit of delicious things last weekend, which was really special. One of the highlights for me for sure was — one of my favorite winemakers is Hervé Souhaut, who makes some really beautiful Syrah and Gamay out of Ardèche from the Northern Rhône, and we drink this single vineyard, Sainte-Epine Syrah out of magnum.
A: That’s cool.
R: You know, it’s like not a wine that I get to drink every day, but certainly at the moment, it was such a beautiful night to drink that. I drink some Vouette & Sorbee Blanc d’Argile Champagne. Champagne is something I unfortunately don’t drink as much as I would like to, of course. Then, during the snowpocalypse a few weeks ago, I was definitely drinking some more Scotch, just given the sub-freezing temps here.
A: I’ve talked about this already on the podcast with Zach, but I’ve also got a big Scotch kick recently, where I feel like I’ve been enjoying it a lot more than I’m enjoying other whiskeys. For some reason, I can’t really explain why, but I find it to be much more mellow and pleasurable to drink. It just isn’t like, in my face in the way that bourbon is, even though it feels like everyone else around me is only drinking bourbon when they’re drinking whiskey. So what Scotch were you drinking?
Z: Awesome! That is in your face, though.
R: I’m big on Talisker and Ardbeg. I like the really peaty, smoky kinds of Scotch. I’m not as much into bourbon just because it’s a little bit too sweet. I typically don’t like super-oaky things in general. So Scotch somehow seems to just hit all the right notes for me.
A: Awesome. So let’s talk about you, and let’s talk about Lift Collective. So first of all, can you explain to us a little bit what Lift Collective is and how it started?
R: Yeah. So thanks — you did a great job reading our mission statement at the beginning, but thank you. I’ve stumbled over those words quite a few times myself. So Lift Collective is a nonprofit organization that I started in 2019, formally known as Wonder Women of Wine, and it started off as a two-day conference here in Austin, Texas. It was basically a way of bringing together some of the most inspiring women in wine that I knew at the time, to celebrate women, and to find a way to build up our networking, and create safe spaces for us to have conversations about some of the harder experiences that we’ve shared coming up in the wine industry. Now that we’re going into our third year, we really felt compelled, especially this past year, to expand our mission statement, and to be more inclusive of all identities in wine, because we really feel like everyone has to be on board to start advocating for the change that we want to see if we want to make a difference. So we’re really focused on collaborating with other organizations and individuals to support the work that they’re doing, and also finding ways that we can work together to achieve the change that we want to see faster. So we focus on an annual conference, but we also do things like data research and weekly interviews with inspiring people in wine, as well as scholarship opportunities.
Z: I’m really curious, actually, about that specific last thing you mentioned. I think one thing that has come across to me as a challenge for some who are in positions of power and privilege in the industry, is understanding how (if they want to do good) to reach out to those who have traditionally been marginalized, both in the wine world and just broadly in society. Understanding how to make scholarships meaningful has been a question that I’ve received. I’m wondering if that’s something you could talk a little bit about, about how what you do really provides genuine opportunities, because sometimes I think scholarships end up being “Here’s $500 to ‘study,'” which is fine, but isn’t necessarily going to get someone who’s already marginalized on equal footing.
R: Totally. That’s such a solid point. I think something that we’ve tried to pay a lot more attention to in the past year is giving someone money, while it’s helpful, certainly doesn’t solve the problem of how they feel when they actually get into the spaces they want to get into, if they can get there. So we’ve tried to establish our scholarships in a way where we’re being able to use our ever-growing network to make the right connections for people, to mentor them through the different opportunities that exist. So if somebody is doing an educational development scholarship, are we going over all the opportunities on how to use those funds? Which organizations are better to study with? Also, we’re developing an entrepreneurial scholarship right now, and we want to make sure that we are doing regular follow-up meetings, mentoring them through starting their own business or their own organization after they’ve received those funds. We don’t just feel like we’re throwing money at somebody. Money is empowering, but I think making those connections seems to certainly be one of the biggest components of being able to advance in this industry, and having those relationships.
A: Do you think, in the industry, relationships are the thing that stands out as the catalyst for most people to push forward in their career? I know it seems that way covering it, but I’m curious from your perspective as someone working in the industry.
R: Yeah. I mean, that’s actually a great question. We did our first state of gender equity in the wine industry last year. 73 percent of the respondents that we surveyed said that they believe that career advancement is definitely mostly relationship-based. That’s something that both women and men equally agree on. But we found that women were more likely to have fewer (or zero) mentors when compared to men. So we know mentorship is such a big component of being able to utilize those relationships and understand your opportunities for advancement.
A: So I think when someone who’s not in the wine industry hears about mentorship in wine, I think the thing we ultimately think about (and I’m speaking for myself because I’ve never worked on the floor) is a wine knowledge mentorship. But I feel like it’s more than that, right? Are you also talking about mentorship in terms of just “here’s how you should pursue your career, and moves that you could make, and here are opportunities for you?” What should mentorship in the wine industry look like?
R: I really feel that mentorship doesn’t always have to be a super-formal type of relationship, and that mentorship really is a two-way relationship, so both parties involved should be getting something out of the relationship. I think that it should be about presenting as many opportunities as possible, rather than kind of forcing somebody down one path. For me personally, I felt early in my career that I was sort of pushed down. “You have to study with the Court of Master Sommeliers to be able to advance in this industry.” I wish that I had known about all the different ways that I could pursue certification or education in this industry earlier so that I wouldn’t have wasted so much money. I think it’s definitely about presenting different opportunities. It’s also about just expanding people’s networks so that they can see all the different perspectives and experiences, and also being able to get mentorship from somebody that can share what you have experienced, and then also people that maybe don’t necessarily have the same background as you, but they can equally get something out of your experience and your perspective.
Z: That makes a lot of sense. I just want to focus a little more on the upcoming conference, because for many of our listeners, that’s an opportunity to get involved that is immediate and coming up. There’s a lot of really interesting panels and conversations that you have planned. I’m not going to ask you to pick a favorite because I know that’s an impossible thing. But I’m wondering if you could highlight just a couple that for one reason or another are particularly relevant to you.
R: Yeah, you are definitely asking me to pick a favorite.
A: Tell us some of the sessions that people should know about, that would make them excited to attend. Thank you.
R: So one that I’m really excited about is actually one of our first-day events, and that’s “Reimagining Wellness and Wine,” and I think that this topic is super interesting and important, especially from a 2022 perspective, because there’s so much conversation out there culturally, just about wellness in general. But we often forget to talk about the commodification of wellness, and how so many different organizations or companies out there push wellness as something that you have to pay for. One way that we can and should be addressing that today is talking about educating professionals on consumption and safe drinking practices. I feel like we spend so much time teaching our staff, maybe at a restaurant, about how to know when we’re over-serving somebody and the precautions that come with over-drinking and the danger that comes from that, but we don’t give ourselves that same courtesy. Because we’re in this industry that is constantly surrounded by drinking, we don’t realize sometimes when we’re crossing that line of “I’m drinking for my profession” and “I’m drinking now just because I like to drink and it is happening more frequently and in larger quantities.” So I’m just excited to explore that path and talk about what organizations exist out there today to support wine professionals in that journey, and understanding, as well, that the more that we take care of ourselves, the better that we can advocate for others, and also practice self-advocacy in our careers.
A: Before we talk about other sessions, I think this is an incredible session that you’re doing. I’m curious, because I’ve always wondered this about wine, but maybe beer is guilty of it, too. I feel like spirits had this reckoning a few years ago where half of the sessions at Tales now deal with overconsumption and stuff like that. I’ve always wondered with wine. You know, I come from wine as my first passion, too. Are we too scared to talk about it? It’s this thing we think of like, “Oh, well, we’re nosing the glass. People collect this stuff, it’s art. And we eat it with food.” No one wants to actually talk about the fact that there’s alcohol in it and that people get drunk. So I guess my question is: Have you had that sense, too? Was that part of the reason you wanted to push this forward? I think it’s really commendable that you’re having this conversation, because I’ve not seen a lot of other people in the wine industry be willing to talk about this kind of subject matter.
R: I’m pretty unfamiliar with the spirits world, but I have no doubt that that conversation probably started certainly several years before wine. We were going to cover this topic last year, but I’m really excited that we got to hold off on it and actually tackle it this year because I think a lot of the conversations that I’ve been privy to discuss how we’ve seen so many stories come out about power abuse in the industry, and a lot of the times and when people have brought up these stories in the past about how they’ve experienced harm at the hands of others in more powerful positions, so many people brush those things off as like, “Oh, well, they were just drunk, and they didn’t mean it” or “They’re harmless.” There’s always something about alcohol being involved. I definitely don’t think that alcohol is to blame for certain people’s character flaws or issues, but I think that it’s definitely an important conversation that we’re having about how much more harm is happening because we don’t set these boundaries for ourselves? People are just drinking too much. It’s becoming unhealthy. There are so many people that have stories about losing friends to over-drinking or to DUIs — it’s a very prevalent issue. We’re just barely scratching the surface with this topic.
Z: Yeah, for sure. In addition to the permanence of it, given what you discussed: This last year, it’s been incredibly difficult on everyone in the world in some sense, but for people in the beverage alcohol trade (for many at least), it’s been a very challenging year professionally. Those of us who work in restaurants and things like that have certainly faced unprecedented challenges. For a lot of people, even outside of this industry, of course, alcohol has been both a relief, but also maybe a crutch, or even worse. That is not unique to this last year, obviously. As long as alcohol has been around, that’s how people have been using it in some way. But one thing that seems true to me is with many people not really going out and living life publicly (because most people are at home all the time) you don’t have that same potential for someone else to notice what you are doing and say something to you. So it feels especially pertinent right now.
R: It’s obviously always been somewhat of a coping mechanism for a lot of people. But I definitely think it is happening behind closed doors. We’ve seen retail sales spike exponentially in the past year since the pandemic. A lot of restaurants are still operating in some capacity today, and as a hospitality professional, we tend to use alcohol as a form of currency. Whenever our peers come in to visit us, after they get off their shift, we always want to drink. It’s a form of care, but we’re still like, “Let me pour you a glass of wine. Let me top off your drink.” Obviously, those are great intentions, but it’s also just furthering the issue.
A: Totally. So what are some other sessions that we should be aware of?
R: Ashtin Berry is one of our keynote speakers, and she’s going to be talking about that very topic — addressing abuse within the hospitality industry. Restaurants have taken such a hit in this past year, but I think it’s important to really identify violence and power-abuse issues such as relationships between guests and employees, and how we can start really implementing more zero-tolerance policies instead of “the-guest-is-always-right, the-customer-is-always-right” mentality, and how we should be better protecting our employees, but then also the relationships between employers and employees. She’s such a powerful speaker, and such a source of inspiration for me and a lot that I’ve learned in the past year. I’m really excited to be working with her.
A: For people who aren’t familiar with who Ashtin is, can you tell us quickly a little bit about her background?
R: She is a transformative justice advocate who’s based in Louisiana, and she founded a conference as well called Resistance Served. Unfortunately, she had to postpone her conference this year, but she was going to be talking about underground economies within the hospitality industry. She does a lot of really great IGTV videos about supporting survivors, marginalized groups, and dissecting these really big cultural movements in a way that I think can seem somewhat shocking to people at first. The more that you listen to her, and actually start to process the information internally, she just has a really amazing way of looking at things. She has a way of talking the real talk that a lot of people, I think, skirt around. She’s just fascinating to listen to.
Z: For people who are interested, let’s give a little bit of the details regarding how they actually can attend the conference.
R: So it is fully virtual this year, which I’m very excited about. I think it creates a lot more opportunities for people to be able to attend, rather than having to take off a week from work and fly in and get a hotel. It’s much more cost-effective. The event itself is taking place on March 23 and 24 from 1 to 5 EST. For the main part of the conference, for those windows, we’ll have four panel discussions and two keynote presentations. Anyone that purchases a general admission ticket will have access to all six of those conversations. Then we have some special events that we’re doing as part of our all-access tickets before and after the event. For instance, the one that Adam is speaking on will be at the beginning of the first day, and that is a conversation with fearless changemakers and leaders who have opened doors. So that will be moderated by Philana Bouvier. Some of the other panelists will be Julia Coney, founder of Black Wine Professionals, Annette Alvarez Peters, who was the global buyer for Costco for many years, Becky Wasserman-Hone, who is such an amazing inspiration and Burgundy broker, and then Stephanie Honig from Honig Cellars, and Adam. We also have a tasting, the only tasting component. You can’t have a wine conference, apparently, without having some wine involved. We’re doing a conversation with some of the people who lead industry sessions. That’ll be moderated by Jirka Jireh, Jahde Marley, and Etinosa Emokpae talking about de-colonizing wine. We’ll be tasting a few different wines and sort of dissecting the history of those regions and de-colonization. Then our last special event will be about the future of diversity and inclusion. That will be moderated by Lia Jones, who is one of my Be the Change co-founders and the executive director for Diversity in Food and Beverage. Some of her panelists will be Tahiirah Habibi, from Hue Society, Icy Liu, Martin Reyes, and Anjali Rimi.
Z: So people can go to the website, which is liftcollective.org, to find out more about how to register.
R: Yeah. Tickets are still on sale. We’ll be closing off our all-access tickets in the next week or so, so we’re really trying to encourage people to get those while they can. I’m geeking out so much over the group of people that are speaking at this event. It’s really such an incredible and inspiring group of panelists and speakers.
Z: Has having the conference virtually made it easier to get speakers?
R: I think in a way it certainly has. I thought initially (kind of naively) going into this like, “Well, we planned out this full conference last year. It was postponed because that was the start of the pandemic. We’ll just put everything online and it’ll be so easy.” But it’s completely different, and it certainly presented its own set of challenges. But it is such a better way for people to get involved and to speak when you can just sort of tune in from your living room, and we don’t have to coordinate flights, and schedules, and people taking time off of work. We know everyone’s so busy, so we’re glad we can do it in this way.
A: It’s interesting how digital has been a huge amount of work, but then also has given us this ability to reach so many more people. In terms of registrations now, I would assume you probably have people who registered who probably aren’t even in the U.S.
R: I haven’t looked at the breakdown, but I imagine that we probably will have quite a few. Since the content in the videos will be downloadable afterward, we’re really hoping that’ll help expand the international attendance.
A: That’s awesome. It has been really cool to learn more about the collective and the conference. I’m obviously, as I said, I’m super honored to be joining. Thank you for having me, and thank you for coming on the podcast and telling us more about it. What you are doing is really important, and you are just an absolute force in this industry. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on and talk to us.
R: Thank you so much. I’m very excited to be talking to you guys, and I’m so looking forward to this conference in less than three weeks.
A: Thanks so much for listening to the podcast. If you love this show as much as we love making it, please give us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or whatever it is you get. It really helps everyone else discover the show. Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City, and in Seattle, Wash., by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit.
Also, I would love to give a special shout out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.