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Women in beverage industry gather to inspire and support

Posted by Ellen Bhang  March 30, 2014 05:28 PM

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At a recent gathering of women in the alcoholic beverage industry, the message was clear: To do great work, know yourself, operate with integrity, and encourage your sisters.

On March 26th, two hundred attendees convened for the inaugural Women's Beverage Alcohol Symposium in Newton. Organized by Martignetti Companies, a New England distributor of wines and spirits, the lunch event featured a distinguished panel of women leaders in beverage and food. Panelists spoke about how they overcame challenges of working in a traditionally male industry and rose to the top of their fields.

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Moderated by Mary Masters, vice president of Classic Wine Imports / Martignetti Companies, panelists reflected on early experiences in their careers.

"I remember being the only woman in the room," said J. France Posener, Eastern division manager of Opus One Winery in Oakville, in Northern California, recalling most meetings she attended as a young professional. Today, she is thrilled to see women fill a variety of leadership roles in wineries, distribution, importing, and sales.

"I love strong women," Posener said, commenting about the importance of a firm handshake. "The more I feel them, the more I'm drawn to them."

Jody Adams, chef and founder of Rialto and Trade Restaurants, reflected on the early days of building her business. "It takes courage -- taking risks, and getting outside of your comfort zone," she said. Women should know they don't have to do it all on their own. They can ask for help. "It's alright not being the expert all of the time," she said.

Adams also thinks women should affirm their accomplishments much more than they do. "It's important to say, 'I feel enormously proud. I did this,'" she said, rather than giving all of the credit to others.

At the same time, panelists were quick to give props to their spouses, partners, and family members who help with childcare and provide a sense of perspective and balance. Julie Robillard, co-founder of Cabin Fever Maple Whisky, acknowledged that long hours are part and parcel of her job. But she's clear about her priorities, especially in times of crisis. "It's family first," she said.

Andrea Pendergast, operations manager and a third generation owner of Cape Cod Package Store, believes in self-care. "You need to nourish that part of you that says 'I can do it.'" Cultivating inner strength helps you do what is important, she said, like asking for what you need in a business relationship, and holding others accountable.

Joy Richard, beverage director of the Franklin Restaurant Group, thinks introducing people to one another (and being introduced in return) is a great way to grow professional connections. A sense of fun keeps the mood light. "I don't take myself too seriously," she said, describing her style as "lighthearted" but "with integrity."

A question about setting the stage for other women to rise in the field drew thoughtful responses.

"It's important to have a set of core values," said Carolyn Wente, chief executive officer and fourth generation winegrower at Wente Family Estates in Northern California's Livermore Valley. She uses the acronym RISE -- respect, integrity, sustainability, and excellence -- as her guide. "If you are doing that," she said, referring to operating out of those principles, "you are probably doing that for others."

Audience members asked questions about dealing with chauvinistic comments, coaching employees, weathering negative media reviews, and garnering professional respect as a minority in a field. A theme that panelists returned to again and again was that women should lean on other women for support.

While making her remarks, a panelist forgot her thought and became flustered. The speaker next to her put her arm around her. Fellow panelists encouraged her to continue -- a show of sisterhood indeed.

Ellen Bhang

About By the Glass

Ellen Bhang writes about food and wine and reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe. Wine is the focus of her degree in the Gastronomy master's program at Boston University. She can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com.

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