Sommelier Rae Wilson shares her thoughts on winemaking and how to make it truly accessible for everybody.
By Tori Klein, Photos by Manda Levy of A Fine Grain
When reflecting on her career in winemaking, Rae Wilson says, “Life can surprise you in a lot of ways.”
The sommelier, photographer and former musician shares, “I definitely had some surprising turns that I just embraced. You can end up where you never thought you might be, but that’s some of the beauty in life.”
Wilson started her company Wine for the People in 2014, originally functioning as a consulting business and now solely focusing on producing wine.
What inspired you to start Wine For The People?
At that point, I had a lot of experience studying wine and winemaking. Seeing restaurants that needed professionals to consult with them and train their staff was a driving force. Also, on the consumer level, there is a lot of formality around wine, which is very different from the most traditional regions associated with winemaking. It’s not an elitist beverage in Europe or associated with an upper class in other parts of the world. Because of that association in the U.S., people here often feel overwhelmed or intimidated by wine. I wanted to find ways for people to be able to approach it more openly.
Making wine more accessible, whether in a restaurant or in a consumer fashion, was really important to me. I wanted to show people that yes, winemaking is a fascinating process and can be endlessly interesting, but enjoying wine can also be as simple as “Do you like it? Great.” If you enjoy it, we don’t have to talk about its origin or its history or its climate. But if you want to turn it into a lifetime obsession as I do, then you can.
What has it been like to be a woman in wine?
It’s been a challenge, especially on the production side. The wine industry is incredibly vast, but generally where you see women is in marketing and sales. While that’s great, it would be ideal to have women in every part of the industry. We have been greatly underrepresented and haven’t been given the same opportunities.
In the first couple places I worked, I was met with a lot of resistance. I had to fight for my spot—I couldn’t just show up and do my job but had to spend a lot of time proving that I deserved to be there. Now, with being my own boss, I get to define how I work and how I do things. I’ve actually found a really great supportive and open community here in Texas and feel like I can see the contributions we make to this fresh, young market.
What are your thoughts on sustainability in wine?
First of all, no broad stroke can be applied to a region as large as Texas. However, water usage is a huge concern. When looking at crops, we see that wine grapes are far more sustainable than other commodity crops such as peanuts and cotton. Therefore, people exploring with plots of grapevines are hopeful. Long term, we are still learning how to farm each area and find balance in vineyard sites. That is something that takes time, familiarity and generations. I think many places in this state will continue to be planted and different vines will prove to be at home there, revealing varieties and farming techniques that will give us long-term sustainability.
What community have you found in wine?
As a business, we are connected to the ground beneath our feet and the farmers who grow our grapes. Wine is inherently communal. I’m making something that connects people, something that is used in celebrations, the most simple meal, in friends getting together. It connects us to people but also to the environment.
As an industry, we need to build more pathways and open more doors for people. Right now, the industry is mainly represented by men with a lot of financial resources, meaning that there need to be direct invitations to women to join this business. There is a place for you, and we need you. When we start to open these doors, we will start to see the potential of what kinds of wine we can make here in Texas, not to mention in the rest of the world. My excitement comes from examining how we can get more people involved to discover what the true expression of this place is.
Any advice for those looking to build careers in the wine industry?
Do some studying and research on your own to find an area of the industry that really interests you. Try an internship in that corner to learn some more about the industry and see where that takes you. Seek out mentors that can teach you about different aspects of the industry and direct you in your study of wine. This industry needs a lot more women, a lot more people from all different walks of life, so I encourage you to seek out contacts that can help open doors. I am happy to be one of them.