It was a comfortable fall evening in east Austin, where I first met Rae Wilson; or observed I should say. I walked into my first Wine For The People tasting party and immediately noticed a stylish woman in a white trimmed, black suit jacket, glasses, and short sleek blonde haircut. She had this unique, casual, but very cool vibe that was both welcoming and intriguing. She stood out.
The room was open, warm, with lots of natural light; a perfect, polished raw and industrial setting to mingle and explore wine. The conversation was light, and you could tell the crowd in attendance was very familiar with Rae and highly regarded her vino expertise. She spoke to the group and briefly described the wines of the evening, but her one-on-one interactions were what stole the show.
She approached my group of wine drinkers with a friendly smile. Small talk led us into the conversation, but Rae’s passion for her work and wine soon had us all staring in wonder. She passionately described her new adventure with The Grower Project, and went into unfathomable detail about growing grapes, elevation, techniques, climate, and a million other things I couldn’t possibly retain without going to the places myself and staining my hands with juice from the grapes.
Watching Rae talk about her passion, was like getting an electric shock of inspiration – if not for wine, for something!
You’d think Rae grew up in wine country, daughter to two sommeliers. But quite the contrary – her journey began in St. Louis, Missouri with a childhood void of alcohol all together, aside from the occasional cooking wine used by her German grandmother. She spent years in restaurants while exploring her talents for playing music and photography, but neither paid the bills.
"Along the way, I developed a love for food and wine that led me to certify in a formal wine training in 2007 with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. I took the program's final exam in Napa, and it was then I decided to return to learn winemaking while working in a cellar…the next harvest season I got my first cellar position working at Artesa Winery in Napa Valley."
It sounds romantic doesn’t it? It sounds like a dream, making wine, working in a cellar…(cue soft violin music). But let’s get back to reality where nothing is easy. Only those with a passion to succeed make it.
"The wine industry is heavily male-dominated, especially on the production side. Even in modern wine regions like California, only around 8% of winemakers are female. Women's space in the industry is clearly marked in the areas of sales, winery tasting rooms, and administrative positions. Pushing into other areas can be very challenging, and I experienced plenty of resistance. It was really challenging work, both physically and socially being female in an all-male cellar. But the bug had gotten me, and I went to Portugal the following vintage and worked harvest at two wineries in the south, then the north."
After her experiences abroad, Rae landed in the perfect place for her passion to meet purpose. Wine became her business.
"When I returned to Austin in 2010, the economy was still hurting, so I started my business Wine For the People to create some work for myself, at first teaching classes and doing private tastings, later transitioning the work to a wine business consulting. I learned of the emerging industry in Texas, and was really intrigued, so I took a position at a winery in the hill country in 2011 to learn more about what was happening here. That eventually led to establishing a vineyard and starting a production of Dandy Rosé in 2014."
It was one of her proudest moments, releasing her first wine…and the support from the Austin wine industry was an unexpected surprise. Now Rae’s business is thriving, evolving and welcoming new wine enthusiast daily. You can attend her tastings, join her wine club, or just become a fan of her fantastic wine.
Texas may not be the first state you visit for quality wine, but there are plenty of Texans like Rae who are changing that. Texas has been making a name for itself, establishing its own wine country status with almost 500 wineries and counting.
This woman was starting her own business and using her jill-of-all-trades attitude to make things happen. I get all jazzed up when I hear about women like Rae, and it’s their journey from start to finish (though people like Rae rarely settle by just merely finishing something) that’s fascinating. YOU GO GIRL!
So what’s next for this resilient go-getter? Her wine, a rose called Dandy Rose, has its fourth vintage in the tank and in 2018 she aims to open her own wine bar/event space then a winery soon after.
"Become a studier of everything in and around what you want to do. Through years of consulting businesses, it still surprises me how many people get into businesses they know little about. Also, don't take 'no' for an answer. When the world gives a 'no', learn how to build it yourself. As for women getting into wine making, I would recommend contacting a woman winemaker and take a harvest internship. I'm happy to be that first contact for anyone who would needs one. I can be contacted through wineforthepeople.com."