We had the good fortune of connecting with Amy Bess Cook and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Amy Bess, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
I have a high tolerance for—and perhaps even weird enthusiasm for—uncertainty.

Admittedly, this may be both a strength and a weakness. Either way, it’s shaped Woman-Owned Wineries from day one. It’s invited me to work beyond my comfort zone. It’s helped me take risks that might seem scary to other entrepreneurs. It’s allowed me to surf out difficult periods of simply not knowing what the hell is going on—which is especially true this past couple years, since the pandemic hit.

Comfort with uncertainty also helps me field feedback, which is important since the topic of women’s issues does elicit plenty of conversation—from lively dialogue to fair, warranted criticism to nasty attacks. (Alas, misogyny exists.) In order to have hard discussions around where power lies in our society, it helps to be okay with being uncertain and even just plain wrong. I can’t explain why, but that awkward zone is my happy place.

Winemaking itself involves that thrill of the unknown—which is partly why I fell in love with it. Every growing season brings weather that affects the vineyards in new ways. This can either work in a vintner’s favor, or not, so that every growing season kind of sings with a tension that’s at once exciting and scary. In recent years, climate change and wildfires have dramatically heightened this tension so that it unfortunately can flip from exhilarating to daunting. So I don’t want to glamorize that aspect.

I’m proud of ushering Woman-Owned Wineries through a time of immense uncertainty. Looking forward, though, I aim bring it stability and shore it up with more “known” elements. Balance is the thing!

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
A decade ago, I was working in wine country, leading a a double life.

I was surrounded by luxury, elbow-to-elbow with wealthy neighbors, but living in a RV trailer. I’d wake up every morning, put on a secondhand dress, powder my nose, and go serve wine that I could not afford to buy. So I didn’t just witness stark class division; I lived it. At the time, I was also in an abusive relationship with someone in the industry who wielded considerably more power than me. For all the beauty the wine world showed me, it revealed a sordid underbelly, too.

I felt alone, but I wasn’t. Gradually, I learned that many women and other workers felt an undue burden in the wine business, and that we were all part of a broken labor system and discriminatory workforce. By 2017, on the brink of the #MeToo movement, I saw a need to support, amplify, and build community among women in wine.

To begin, I built a nationwide directory of female vintners, which was the first and most comprehensive of our kind. Its purpose was to rally attention for my female colleagues and invite socially conscious consumers to buy from women winery owners. Later, I launched a wine club to deliver bottles from these female vintners to folks at home. We now feature a different vintner every month, and have now delivered from more than 30 wineries to 40 states.

My work to help create equity in the wine business has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, Martha Stewart Living, Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished–but I can’t say I’m satisfied. There is just so much work to do!

Melinda Gates said, “When money flows into the hands of women, the whole world changes.” Someone else said, “Finance is the final frontier of feminism.” When we spend in a way that empowers women, people of color, the disabled community, and others who are challenged by the system, we can begin to make real change.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I can’t give you an insider’s tour of Los Angeles–but if it’s a getaway to Sonoma you want, I’m your girl!

Start with coffee and an egg sandwich from Taub Family Outpost. Take a hike on Sonoma Mountain Overlook Trail where you can see views of the whole town. Head to Abbot’s Passage and Blue Farm for wine from a couple of local female vintners, then finish at the Sonoma Plaza in time for dinner. If it’s a Tuesday night, you’re in luck–hit the farmer’s market! Otherwise, try dinner at Valley Bar and Bottle.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’m grateful to my advisory board members, which is comprised of women winery owners; and to the biz coaches at the women’s entrepreneurial hub iFundwomen. Also, I couldn’t make it without my friend Catharine Keurbis, co-founder of the Oregon-based hot sauce brand Hoss Soss. These folks all help me think through tough logistics and manifest my vision.

Website: http://womanowned.wine

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/wowsonoma

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/wowsonoma

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/wowsonoma

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