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Telling Our Stories: Wine Writers Symposium Seeking Representation

Curating an experience that’s inclusive and committed to long-term change.

Written by Sedale McCall


Early in August, writers, editors, marketers, and more came together for the 2022 Wine Writers Symposium (WWS). Founded by Meadowood Napa Valley and the Napa Valley Vintners, the three-day event explores several themes related to contemporary wine writing and attracts wine book authors, editors, wine magazine writers, and critics. 

One theme that shined throughout the symposium was the importance of representation in wine and the stories we tell. New this year is the addition of three new board members, Dorothy J. Gaiter, Ray Isle, and Elaine Chukan Brown, who all joined the Wine Writers Symposium Board of Directors in January 2022. 

The Challenge

Representation in wine has been a hot topic over the past couple of years, as organizations around the world grappled with the issue after the murder of George Floyd. Increasing representation in events and organizations has been prioritized importance across the country. And WWS leadership was ready to meet the challenge. 

“In 2020, we brought our long-term, established writers who had been leading lectures to figure out what we were trying to achieve in the future. How are we broadening the pool and setting more places at the table?” says Sarah Bray, Executive Director of the event. As part of their new goals, the group added Maryam Ahmed, as a program advisor. Maryam Ahmed is the founder of Maryam + Company, an organization dedicated to wine brands committed to diversity and inclusion in the industry. She’s also the co-founder of the Diversity in Wine Leadership Forum to help connect inclusive initiatives in the wine industry.

“My role as the program advisor is to design the panel discussions, select the speakers and curate the experiences that people will have during the symposium,” she said. “Working with companies committed to long-term changes is a core value of Maryam and Co and I see Napa Valley Vintners and Meadowood Napa Valley as two organizations that are really committed and creating this symposium and continuing to run this symposium for as many years as they have is impressive, and for being open to innovation and iteration is amazing.”

Henceforth, that commitment led to an amazing event with more than 30 speakers, with different levels of experience, roles, and even time zones.  

Being Intentional about Diversity

One of those speakers was Jacy Topps, the print assistant editor at Wine Enthusiast. Jacy takes her position very seriously, even more as an opportunity to diversify stories in the industry. 

“The industry is certainly guilty of gatekeeping. But wine is extremely diverse. The voices and stories should reflect that,” she said.  “I take my “seat at the table” very seriously. And as an editor, I look at how stories are told and if they’re told through an inclusive lens. I strive for all stories in wine told through an inclusive lens.”

The symposium also takes its role seriously and developed event themes in 2021 and 2022, with the goal of pushing more wine writers to the forefront of their event. 

“Last year we focused on the ‘new language of wine’ which allowed us to bring a lot of new speakers with different backgrounds,” says Bray.  “This year we focused on ‘the changing landscape of wine media’ understanding that so many people enter the wine writer world through different areas. By giving ourselves these themes we were able to create some interesting talks and figure out who could speak to those topics.”

With these individuals using their platform to increase representation in wine, these stories have a greater chance of making it into the mainstream. 

How to Elevate Our Stories

The journey toward representation in wine doesn’t end with the symposium. There’s more work to be done and we all understand that. The best way for wine writers to reach these goals? Just start writing. 

“My advice is to just write the story. Do your research and come up with a compelling pitch,” Topps said. “Find a publication that’s open to diverse stories. Sometimes that means going outside of wine publications.”

“Practice and practice and practice, it’s honing your craft,” says Ahmed. “Especially for people who are newer to wine writing, there’s hopefully opportunities for creative writing classes, writing outside of wine to continue honing that skill.” (If you want to hone your craft with us, Uncorked & Cultured is looking for contributors! Apply here.)

Find a Unique Angle to Elevate Representation

“Stop talking about things the same as others”, says Bray. “I would encourage people to think that if we’ve got to think about different ways to talk about it in different avenues to different things.”

Furthermore, WWS also doesn’t end with the symposium. Maryam and Sarah highlighted the resources WWS hopes to provide to continue the conversation, connection, and skill building for the wine writing community. 

“We are building out the resources pages and I think that will be a key piece for people to come back to and utilize,” says Ahmed. “We wanted to add value by not only listing what the Symposium is aware of but also what has been suggested by attendees and speakers. I think that resources page will be very useful.”

With this intention, Bray echoes the same sentiment: “We want (our site) to be a resource of things that people can come back to, we are putting energy into the resources channel, and taking feedback from the chat during WWS.” You can learn more about these resources and the WWS at https://winewriterssymposium.org/

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