We had the good fortune of connecting with Sandra Gomes and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sandra, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I am the daughter of twice immigrants and am an immigrant myself. My parents left Portugal in the late 70s seeking better opportunities and migrated to Venezuela, where I was born. In 1989 my father’s business was destroyed after civil unrest decimated parts of Caracas. With few options at rebuilding, my brother, parents and I made the move to New Jersey to connect with extended family as well as one of the largest Portuguese communities outside of Portugal. After a few short years living in the US my father set up his second business, a wine and liquor retail shop in the Bronx. I’ve seen my parents rise up from the ashes twice and build a life that is emblematic of the American Dream. Being an immigrant child growing up with the NYC skyline in my backyard gave me a sense of urgency. The urgency to build upon what my parents had, and continue to not only keep that American Dream alive, but to derive my own dreams from it and keep the hustle going. Wine was a constant presence in our household. It felt like it was another family member that would break bread with us at every meal. It had a seat at every table. Throughout the generations grape vines were grown, wine was made, sold, and shared by my family. Give our passion for our culture and our collective love of wine, I decided to build on my parents’ success here in the USA and start my own company importing Portuguese wine.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I launched Diniz Cellars, a Portuguese wine import company in 2018 and have been working it side by side with my husband, Rick. I had limited experience in the field, but a business degree which I hoped would help me be better prepared to launch my own venture. The notion that I could start my own international company from the ground up felt very big, very intimidating, and very risky. I was putting my life’s savings on the line in order to import wine from a little known winemaking country and into one of the world’s most renowned wine regions – California. Essentially, I was trying to swim up river. But, I learned a few years ago that I thrive in environments that are unknown to me, where I have to figure my way out of a situation and learn by doing. I bet on myself. I bet on my instincts that the California market was starting to age out and the younger wine drinking generation was looking for something more authentic, different from what everyone else was doing, and they were willing to go beyond what was in their back yards to explore the world. California is an incredible wine region. The wines emerging from Napa and Sonoma are legendary. These wines, however, are also starting to become more unattainable to the emerging and more casual wine drinker. Portuguese wines offer great value for the quality and are incredibly gastronomic. The Portuguese live for food, and we build wines to be enjoyed with a wide variety of cuisines, from Mediterranean to Asian. Our wines are handcrafted by a new generation of winemakers and producers whose love for grape and vine is transforming Portugal into one of the world’s most exciting wine regions today. Their passion is driven by love for their land, sustainability, its distinctive varietals, and expressive terroir.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
As a wine business woman I of course love all things food. I would make my tours more food driven than the average Angelino who might present a more Hollywood focused itinerary. I love the beach so I would take people to Malibu Seafood on PCH. Can’t go wrong with fried oysters and an incredible beach view. I would also take them to one of my favorite restaurants, Santuary in Toluca Lake. Their incredible Mediterranean atmosphere and California inspired cuisine are delectable. Lastly, cannot ignore the cultural influence that LA provides: Korea Town for the local BBQ, and East LA for the best tortillas and authentic Mexican food in the area. To keep things a little healthy and work up an appetite for all of this delicious local food, I would be sure to take them on hikes to the Observatory, or my favorite, Will Rogers State Park.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Besides my parents who have worked tirelessly to give me the tools and support necessary for me to achieve my life’s passions, I also have friends, a husband, and a strong support group who continue to help guide me along this uncertain path of entrepreneurship. However, this shoutout goes to The Women of the Vine & Spirits. This is a female led wine and spirits industry organization who connect women to others in the industry, and help foster opportunity and growth. It was their generous scholarship that helped me pay for my Executive Wine MBA at Sonoma State University. Without their assistance, it would have been incredibly more difficult to complete my post-graduate studies.