Skip to Main Content


  • Women of the Vine & Spirits posted an article
    There can be too much of a good thing, according to the responses we received see more

    The Responses to "The Challenges of Working with Wine" by Rebecca Hopkins

     Friday, 21. April 2017 - 11:30


    There can be too much of a good thing, according to the responses we received to the “Challenges of working with wine” article, which raised the question of how we stay healthy when we work with copious amounts of food, alcohol and socializing. The volume of response has been staggering, with winemakers, C-suite executives, presidents, importers, advocacy groups, distributors, tour leaders and journalists adding welcome voices to the conversation.

    The story clearly hit a nerve when it came to issues of behavior and habits, many long accepted as a mandatory part of the job. Intimate personal experiences were shared in person, or via phone and emails, detailing family struggles, career-affecting behavior and health-affecting habits. Many preferred not to go on record for fear of reprisal or judgment, suggesting we are still a long way from having an open and honest conversation.



    Hospitality has always been an inherent part of the wine business; wines tasted with multi-course dinners and tasting menus are the norm, coupled with travel to wine regions and producers. At every turn there is a plate of excellent food on offer, from dishes prepared by Michelin starred chefs, to very simple regional cuisine. For most people, eating like this is special. For wine professionals, these are everyday meals, whose volume and frequency is not sustainable. Weight can balloon, and the constant travel and eating can make weight loss a problem. While self control obviously plays a role, it’s also true that most people who work in the wine business derive great pleasure from food and wine – few of us are in it for the huge salaries. It’s hard to push away a plate of food prepared by one of the world’s best chefs.

    As one professional said: “For the freshman 15, there’s the distributor 24!” referring to the number of pounds gained in the first year in a distributor sales role. Modelling dining behavior from the most senior sales person at the table was generally not a positive move for health, and simply learning how to read a menu was critical. “I’ve seen young reps misconstrue menu descriptions or choose indulgent options, and devour dishes they are either too embarrassed to send back or feel they are under their superior’s watchful eye to eat.”

    Jenn Friedrichs of Southern Glazers balances her time as a distributor brand manager with her professional body-building career and exercises six days a week and eats small meals every three hours. Mandatory, she believes, to help maintain metabolism and avoid sugar spikes.

    For those for whom vigorous daily exercise is not an option, perhaps Amy Gross’s approach is better. The US wine author and founder of VineSleuth gained 20 pounds in four years after launching her company and now commits to Weight Watchers to help manage her eating plan. She is 15 pounds closer to her goal thanks to vigilant meal planning, carrying pre-portioned healthy snacks, buying healthy snacks for her hotel rooms and consuming water at every opportunity.



    Beginning the “death march” of an 18-hour-a-day hosted itinerary can send shivers down the spine of even seasoned wine industry travelers. Days and weeks of eating, drinking and road miles not only takes its toll on personal health, but also on relationships. “Returning from my last three-week sales trip, I sat in my car and sobbed solidly for an hour to release the build-up of stress and anxiety that I knew I couldn’t take home to my wife and kids. I was completely and utterly exhausted,” said one professional who travels 250,000 miles a year for his role.

    For another, the yearning for a salad and protein shake after weeks of travel causes ongoing tension with her wife. Staying at home with their child, her spouse wants a night out in a restaurant – but nothing raises more dread than another meal in a high end dining location.

    The problem is acute for wine media. “Organizers of press trips need to rethink how they structure our days and the events. They treat us like we are a buffet on a cruise ship,” said New York writer Lauren Mowery. “Early starts, late days, no time for work, health, rest, reflection, and dietary requests are often utterly ignored.”

    Although journalists are often traveling at a region or producer’s expense, the reality is that a distracted, soporific, exhausted, and cranky guest affected by alcohol will be less able to absorb the information.

    As someone who organizes and manages media travel, I understand the desire to showcase as much regional cuisine and wine as possible, but we also need to respect the personal boundaries of guests. This requires clear communication before the trip, to ensure expectations are managed on both sides.


    The allure of the product

    There is a social cachet that comes with working in the wine business, and it’s being amplified by social media. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds are filled with scenes of exotic dishes, close-ups of vertical tastings of rare wine, “waterfalled” magnums, and famous faces. Of course, these social media pictures are heavily edited, curated and filtered to portray an otherwise unattainable reality.

    But underneath the glamour, there can be a harsh reality. As one observer said, the dinners and receptions exist for one purpose only: to sell wine. All the indulgence is masking the pressure that sales people are under to deliver results.

    Abstinence and sobriety are not popular dinner topics for wine pros, but as a very respected journalist who no longer writes about wine said:  “It's been hard but I don't want to die of something I held in such esteem, even loved, all apart from the alcohol in it. I’ve gotten angry at myself for not being stronger, and letting down my readers because I just couldn't handle what it was that we were learning about and loving together. But I have to let go of all of that, including the remorse.”

    Even professionals without an alcohol problem find themselves opening that precious saved bottle, or buying a rare (and often unaffordable) vintage, or mindlessly chilling a great bottle in the wee hours, simply because the wine guests have stayed too long. Which brings up the problem of peer pressure: Early in her career, Monique Soltani, founder and producer of WineOhTv remembers coming under intense pressure from her New York bartending work mates when she chose not to drink with them after work until 4:00 am.

    Writer Cathrine Todd, who blogs at DameWine, believes we need to discuss ways to stand up against the pressure to constantly have a glass in hand. “I have no issues with others wanting to drink but it is definitely not cool to pressure those of us who do not want to consume when we are working.”


    What are people doing about it?

    As a younger generation enters the industry, it seems the call for increased awareness of employee health is on the rise, with the long lunch now being replaced by time on a running track or yoga mat.

    Wendy Narby of Gironde tour company, Insider Tasting, encourages her guests to eat breakfast before tasting. “You might not feel like it after a big wine dinner the night before but a full stomach will slow down the absorption of alcohol into the blood stream, especially fats and protein - eggs and yoghurt.”

    Napa Valley vintner (and my employer) Michael Mondavi limits himself to eight ounces of wine per day (236 ml), and consumes double the volume of water to wine. If pushed for an after dinner drink, he orders a glass of dry white wine. Starting in the 1990s Mondavi also issued personal breathlysers to sales and marketing staff to encourage responsible drinking, a moderation tool he still insists on 20 years later.

    Texas Master Sommelier candidate Cara Bertone CSW recalled conducting on-premise account calls early in her sales career, when her then-boss insisted they purchased and consumed a bottle at each of the four restaurants visited. She now trains her own staff to exercise restraint, take personal responsibility for their own health, and make smart decisions in the selling process. No sale is worth jeopardizing health for.

    In his blog response to our piece(link is external), Richard Hemming MW described developing the “soft round” with wine loving friends in Sydney: throughout the evening, everybody would take a break from alcohol and order a soft drink. He notes that there is no incentive to do this in British pubs, as soft drinks cost the same as alcoholic ones.

    Another initiative came from wine writer Lauren Mowery, who in early 2017 established Ataraxia, a FaceBook group focused on yoga, meditation and wellness for women working in wine. The group will host its first retreat in September in Lake County, California.

    New York based Columbus Wine & Spirits President Larry Reiter, recognizes the emotional component of wellness is overlooked, with some gaining all their self-esteem from their job. He encourages employees to pursue philanthropic activities, and make time for local charities each month. “The act of giving time to others in need can provide a foundation for a stable sense of self.”

    Finally, Deborah Brenner, President of Women of the Vine & Spirits, contacted me to confirm that they will build in a session on wellness for the 2018 conference.

    In the end, it is companies that must set standards for staff and make the health and wellbeing of their staff a priority. I just hope we all stay well long enough to reap the benefits of a more balanced industry.

    Rebecca Hopkins

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


    Photo and content sourced from Meininger's Wine Business International:

  • Women of the Vine & Spirits posted an article
    Rebecca Hopkins discusses the challenges of working with wine see more

    The Challenges of Working with Wine by Rebecca Hopkins

     Thursday, 30. March 2017


    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. 

    Photo and content sourced from Meininger's Wine Business International:


     March 30, 2017