Back in 1998 I had just relocated to Sacramento for my job in technical recruiting. I was opening up a new office and territory for my employer, and the world was my oyster. The Sacramento office’s territory included the Central Valley, Sierra Foothills and California’s North Coast. This meant that the wine industry was a major employer, and potential client for me to do business with. I’d better learn everything I could about wine, but I really knew very little.
Being a young manager, one way to “sharpen the saw” was to read various sources. To get to know the wine industry, I first read Wine for Dummies, then subscribed to Wine Spectator and read all the best books about wine. I also regularly read the Wall Street Journal. Lucky for me, the Wall Street Journal was working on ways to entice young female professionals to read the paper. The paper did a new Weekend Journal section, and two of the paper’s experienced journalists volunteered to do a wine column. This column, “Tastings”, ran every Saturday starting in March 1998. Little did I know how much I would learn from this column.
Dorothy Gaiter and her husband John Brecher were the writers of this column. It covered a lot of territory, especially for a novice wine lover. It covered how to order wine in a restaurant, how to best work with a wine merchant, and it also profiled wines regularly. Dorothy and John also seasoned their column with their personal experiences, often around being an interracial couple and Dorothy’s experience as the only Black person at various wine events the two went to. They gave wine tasting a very personal perspective while making wine accessible to anyone.
They went on to write three books on wine and were the creators of “Open that Bottle Night (OTBN)”. OTBN is celebrated on the last Saturday in February worldwide and it is definitely celebrated under my roof. This is a night to open that bottle you’ve been saving for a special occasion. Making an event for that wine, while also opening it and sharing it with others, is something that really expresses Dorothy and John’s belief that great wine is to be consumed and enjoyed with others. And their belief is you can have OTBN anytime it strikes your fancy—the purpose is to enjoy special wines, and to enjoy wines when the mood strikes.
Having celebrated Open that Bottle Night yearly for 20 or more years now, I often realize how much I gleaned from the Tastings column and the three books they wrote. Frequently I walk into my local wine shop, Corti Bros, and use Dorothy and John’s wisdom on how to talk to your wine merchant. As Dorothy and John told me, tell them what types of wine you enjoy, what price point you’d like to stay in, and if there is a special dish you are trying to pair a wine with. Walking up to the wine section, I look for my favorite merchant, tell them that I’m an adventurous wine drinker and I’d like to stay under $20 a bottle. Oh, what a joy when you find a like-minded, and creative wine ambassador! I also keep an eye out when in winery tasting rooms—do they have a spot where kids could be content while their parents are tasting wine? Reading about Dorothy and John’s wine tasting travels with their young daughters made me realize that a good wine tasting can include happy and engaged kids.
When designing the AAAV program, we were working up our Phenomenal Women in Wine panel. I asked the board if they had interacted with Dorothy Gaiter. Yes, they had, and thought she could be an excellent member on the Phenomenal Women in Wine panel. After some scheduling, Dorothy and John were confirmed to attend the AAAV symposium and Dorothy would be on the women’s panel. Wow, I was so excited to get to meet Dorothy and John in person and sent out a quick message to Dorothy welcoming her to the panel. Through our planning, Dorothy also was our presenter at the Celebration event, introducing our awardees for Education, Legacy and Unity.
The Phenomenal Women in Wine luncheon and panel was fantastic. We had a diverse collection of women who have made a mark on the wine industry. Our moderator was J’Nai Gaither, the first black female editor of Wine Enthusiast. Along with Dorothy, the panel consisted of Theodora Lee of Theopolis Vineyard, Christine Wachira of Wachira Wines, Dr. Monique Bell — Associate Professor at CSU Fresno, Brenae Royal — Vineyard Manager at E & J Gallo and Tahiirah Habibi — Founder of Hue Society. Hearing from these women about the challenges they have faced, the successes they have had and their views for the future of the wine industry was enlightening, and a lot of fun. Diversity includes people’s individual experiences, talents and viewpoints, all of which these women brought to the discussion. I learned a lot, and really enjoyed the luncheon.
After Dorothy and John’s time with WSJ they started their own publication, The Grape Collective. Check out their reporting on the AAAV event here: https://grapecollective.com/articles/african-american-vintners-and-a-powerful-word-for-the-future.
Over the years I have learned a lot from Dorothy and John and continue to learn from mavens in the wine world. As you are moving through your wine career, find people you enjoy learning from and absorb everything you can! Learning from those who know more than us lifts us up and sets us on a path to success. Look up these phenomenal women of wine—I gave you their links! See what you can learn from them and find other voices that resonate with you to keep learning.