The Wine Hustle Series | Rania Zayyat of Wonder Women of Wine
We all have passions and aspirations, but not all of us feed off of our passion for the greater good or to promote change. Needless to say, there is a lot of VOICE that can be heard in the business of wine ranging from sustainability, transparency and the reason why the Wine Hustle Series exists, to highlight women in wine that are challenging the status quo through their platforms to drive change in a male dominated industry. My next Wine Hustle Series feature is with the ever-inspiring Rania Zayyat, who is doing just that. Founder of Wonder Women of Wine, a non-profit organization advocating for gender equality in the wine community is putting what I want this “Wine Hustle Series” to be into ACTION! Her passion and drive for change speaks through her voice + practice. I hope that reading her story will help give you a boost to create for change + good through your platforms or will jumpstart your drive to create the change you would like to see! Grab Pét Nat + start reading (and doing)!
How did you get your start in wine and what was your initial inspiration?
I got started in wine while working in restaurants in college. I started working for a steakhouse in Houston that is world-renowned for its 4,000 bottle wine list. It wasn't an easy job to land as the concept and clientele are very high end, but I found myself serving there at the age of 23. Product knowledge was an integral part of the job, and I felt like I was missing that with wine. I'm not ashamed to say that I started studying wine so that I could speak more confidently with my guests, but also, because I knew it could help me make more money. I was studying cultural anthropology at the University of Houston at the same time and knew I wanted a job working with people that would allow me to travel, and voila(!), wine was that job.
I fell in LOVE with your Wonder Women of` Wine concept - what is the story behind the name and can you elaborate on the platform (readers, you can thank me later!)?
I don't even remember having the epiphany moment of coming up with the name. It was just natural. After sharing my experience with MeToo and hearing so many other women share their stories, I was in awe of women everywhere for being so brave and using their voices collectively to create change. It was so powerful. It is still so powerful. I knew I wanted to contribute positively to this movement and wanted to start by highlighting the women in my life that inspire me. I literally think of each of them as wonder women. It's the best term to describe how I view them.
Wonder Women of Wine is a non-profit organization (501c3 pending) advocating gender equality in the wine community. Our first event took place at the beginning of this month, a national two-day conference that brought together some of the most influential and successful names in the wine industry to discuss a range of topics including self-advocacy, the male-dominated testing culture, motherhood, entrepreneurship, and powerful narratives. The second day included a walk-around tasting featuring 80 wineries with female ownership or female winemakers. We had scholarships as well from local and international organizations. It was an incredible weekend and the energy was and still is so positive.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Right now running Wonder Women of Wine isn't a paid or full-time operation, so I also work at my favorite restaurant in Austin, Bufalina which has an amazing wine program. There I feel like we are such a part of the Austin community, that there's never a day without a familiar friendly face or five. My favorite part of putting together WWOW was meeting so many new people that are all passionate about the same issue and are finding ways to make a difference in their respective corner of the industry or market. I feel like my network increased tenfold in the past six months. It's great to know you have support and that you can support others.
What is the best advice anyone’s ever given you? Do you have a “mantra” you stick to?
Listen to your gut. It's such an easy phrase, but one that I find is always true. And when you don't follow it, you'll know right away. We just have to trust ourselves and our instincts.
At WINEFARER, we love hearing about the unexpected journeys that stem from wine. Can you share your favorite wine journey with us?
I met my life partner, Chris Kelly, in wine. We actually met at a wine tasting hosted by some collectors in Austin, and at the end of the tasting, we both found ourselves standing over and admiring a stunning bottle of 1983 Château Beaucastel. We went out for a drink, he asked for my number, and we fell in love. It's my favorite journey that has happened through wine thus far.
It seems like you love wine as much as I do, in there words, describe your love affair with wine?
Curiosity. Deliciousness. Camaraderie.
Finally, what advice would you give women entrepreneurial spirits who want to start their “wine hustle” but are hesitant to take the leap?
Listen to your gut! Make sure that what you're doing in wine is for you. Don't do it for anyone else. And represent it genuinely. Be humble and forever curious. Never pass up an opportunity to learn something new, because you can never truly master wine. It's a living and ever evolving thing which is why it's so beautiful.