Day 25: Portrait of a Natural Wine Seller as a Young Woman

Amy Awood distributes wines from Savio Soares Selections, La Clarine Farm, Donkey and Goat wines on the west coast through her company CleanSkins.

When I was out selling wine last week and I was waiting on a wine buyer, a young woman behind the bar asked me how I got into the wine business.
I said, “Well, it all started with lots of house music and late nights”.

1995
Melbourne, Australia

I had escaped the NY winter blues to visit friends in Oz. Money was running low after a few months of being a beach bum and I somehow scammed myself a bartending job at one of the hottest nightclubs in the city. My first night they threw me behind the bar, we had over a thousand thirsty clubbers. I did not understand a word they said between the pounding house music and their thick Aussie accents. We closed the bar down at 8 am. I had a blast. But I also knew I could make something more interesting than a rum and coke.
Over time I became a beverage manager for a hospitality group that owned a restaurant, a bar bistro and a huge nightclub. I began incorporating elixirs like Aperol and Averna, I started muddling fresh fruit, herbs and ginger into my cocktails. I called myself a mixologist because bartender did not seem to cover it anymore. Although I was not entirely certain what that term meant or where it came from. This was 1997.

At the same time, I started working on the wine lists for the restaurant and bistro. I was what the big wine distributors gleefully refer to as fresh meat. I did not even realize that I was supposed to spit or take notes during a tasting.
So I started tasting (and spitting) as many wines as possible, visiting wineries and reading every wine book I could get my hands on. And I fell in love, head over heels. Wine was about travel, history, romance and food. Sign me up.

2002
Texas

I was tired of working nights and knew that I wanted to focus on wine exclusively, rather than continue on the path of restaurant or beverage management. So with a quick continent jump and a huge drop in pay, I became a wine distributor sales rep. A sure path towards cultivating compassion for others if there ever was one.
I was back in North America and knew close to nothing about North American wines, having spent the previous seven years tasting and learning about primarily Aussie and European wines. I missed the crisp semillons, verdelhos and rieslings I had grown to love in Oz.
I went to work for a small distributor that primarily sold imports (Charles Neal Selections) and a few domestics like Edmunds St John. The owner was a man of passion and was a mentor for me in many ways. He picked wines by his palate, and not always his business sense.
When that company folded due to lack of capital, I went to work in the fine wine division of one of the big distributors. I learned how the big boys work and it was an invaluable experience but corporate life is not for me.
Then I spent a few years as a national accounts manager for a couple of importers. Traveling the country, a new city almost every week. I remember sitting on a rental car shuttle and the guy next to me asked where I was headed, I had to pause for several seconds before I could remember where I was going to next. It was time for a change.

2009
California

Okay, so by now I knew a thing or two about selling wine. But over the past few years my personal wine palate had changed. I could no longer stomach the big, oaky wines that so many new world producers were making. I read Alice Feiring’s ‘The Battle For Wine and Love’, which has been an eye-opener for many wine lovers seeking more authentic wines. I started seeking out these wines that had been less chemically manipulated, both for the flavors and aromas but also because of a philosophical synergy.

At the same time, I was shopping at farmers markets in Los Angeles. I went out of my way to buy only organic fruit and vegetables.
I found that my passion for both drinking and selling wine was re-awakened.
So it made sense to take the plunge and sell only the wines I loved. I sunk my tiny little nest egg into purchasing wines from importers like Savio Soares as well as domestic producers like La Clarine Farm and Donkey & Goat, and representing them in the California market. Virtually all of the wines I sell are ‘hand-sell’ wines from small producers, and yes many of them farm organically and use very minimal intervention in the cellar. I literally put my money where my mouth is.
Scary? Hell yes. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Follow day by day here: http://saignee.wordpress.com/32-days-of-natural-wine-links/

Up Next: A Sergio Leone Directed Guitar Duel in Tuscany, or; The New Old Italian

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~ by Cory Cartwright on July 13, 2010.

8 Responses to “Day 25: Portrait of a Natural Wine Seller as a Young Woman”

  1. Thanks, Amy, for scaring yourself. Much appreciated!

  2. Amy, love that you’re putting your money where your mouth is. You’re great to do business with and the LA wine scene (and the online wine scene) is better for having you in the mix.

  3. I loved reading your story even thought I knew most of it. Like us, another roll up your sleeves and make it happen without starting with a large fortune story. A toast to everyone out there following their dreams! Look forward to seeing you Friday!

  4. Dear Amy,
    Good for you. Keep up the good work. Full disclosure is not the same as self promotion.
    Cheers

  5. Editor’s note: I’ve gone ahead and nuked the comments here. Guilhaume’s comment arose out of a complaint that he had with me and this project that we had been discussing over e-mails and i asked him to air it on the blog since I believe it was a valid complaint, but having it attached to a particular post when it was directed at me and it was in the language we use on personal email was in bad form on my part and I apologize. It was bullshit potstirring and I should have kept it in a post that I wrote myself. It was also bullshit because he shares some of the same concerns I have had and I hadn’t aired out publicly. Pretty shitty behavior on my part.

    - Cory Cartwright

  6. I enjoyed hearing about your journey and as someone who has purchased both Donkey and Goat wines and La Clarine Farm wine from domaineLA I am especially grateful to have the opportunity to get those bottles nearby from a vendor I trust.

  7. [...] Read the full post. Latest stories in FeaturesMorgan Harris: Long Live Natural WineWhat went wrong with the EU organic wine certification?Why I Created A Biodynamic Wine ListBen Woods on Selling Natural WineThe Stuff Of Dreams [...]

  8. @Amy you had me at the title. I LOVE IT! and yes, Dolly Parton and natural wine! Yes!

    @Cory sorry for the mishegas. It was bound to happen with all the folks involved. You deserve a medal for putting this together, my friend.

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