According to Forbes, in 2015 a mere 27% of senior management roles were held by women in the food and beverage industry worldwide. Statistics like this were one of the motivating factors for Kristi Smith, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits Director of High Image Accounts, to pioneer the creation of Women Gone Wine in Las Vegas. Women Gone Wine hosts premier events for prominent women in the food and beverage and hospitality industries. Created for women by women, WGW promotes wine education, leadership and growth to create a positive, female-oriented business environment. Quarterly events feature a female guest speaker who has positively influenced the wine community either through vinicultural practices, winemaking or proprietorship.

Since its creation in 2011, membership has grown from fifteen women to over one hundred, and now includes a sister chapter in Reno, Nevada. With the support of Larry Ruvo and Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, Smith was given the ability to directly impact our local community of women aspiring to grow their careers as anything from Sommeliers to General Managers to Directors and Vice Presidents alike. Members are given an opportunity to network with their peers and to find potential mentorship in their superiors while also connecting with high-profile suppliers. Previous event hosts include, Betty O’Shaughnessy, owner of O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery; Annie Favia, viticuluralist for Favia Erickson Winegrowers; Karen Cakebread, proprietor of ZIATA Wines; and the ever-lovely Diane Keaton, owner of The Keaton Wines.

Chloe Helfand, Lead Sommelier at Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres has had the opportunity to watch WGW grow since its inception, and “cannot give enough thanks to Kristi Smith and the team at SGWS for creating an environment for women to feel invited, nourished and supported…in this ever-changing food and wine climate here in Las Vegas.” Elyse Vandenberg, Lead Sommelier at Estiatorio Milos at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, recently relocated from Reno, Nevada, and is among the group’s newest members. “The women in our wine community have been very kind and supportive to me since my move here about two months ago. I know that Women Gone Wine is an important event that encourages friendship and camaraderie while also developing business relationships, and I am excited to be a part of it.”

The latest WGW gathering was held on February 6th at Lakeside inside Wynn Las Vegas and was hosted by Kathryn Hall, proprietor and vintner of HALL and WALT Wines in Napa Valley. Hall’s family first purchased a vineyard in the 1970’s, and she has been involved in the California wine industry ever since. As if she wasn’t busy enough, Hall has also established herself as a distinguished attorney, community activist and the United States Ambassador to Austria. Attendees were able to meet Hall, hear the story of her career and taste through a gorgeous lineup of wines from her impressive, not to mention delicious, portfolio. In addition, they also received a signed copy of Hall’s book, A Prefect Score, which recounts the past twenty years of her and her husband’s winemaking experience from amateurs to recipients of the coveted perfect score from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

What does the future hold for WGW? Smith is determined to expand the group’s focus to include spirits, sake and beer, and would love to offer its members more educational opportunities nationally and abroad. An even larger goal is to launch additional chapters of WGW in other SGWS markets. Smith said, “As much as we [women] have accomplished in the past few years, we still have a long way to go in terms of representation in this business. In my career, some of my greatest mentors were men. I am extremely grateful to them, and would like to be and help promote that female presence in leadership that was lacking when I first began working in the industry.”

If you would like more information about Women Gone Wine or wish to become a member, please contact Kristi Smith at kristismith@sgws.com.