How I Bought My Job: Making a Sustainable Canned Wine Firm as a Sommelier


This story mentions sexual assault.

As the primary particular person in her household to go to varsity, Kristin Olszewski had a one-track thoughts in her early maturity: She was going to be a health care provider. However whereas learning at Harvard Medical Faculty, she realized she was dreading her hospital internship and having fun with the service jobs she labored to afford this schooling. “I used to be so laser-focused on being profitable and being perceived as sensible that I wasn’t listening to myself and what I wished to do,” she remembers.

A very supportive mentor pushed Olszewski to depart medical faculty and pursue a profession in wine, which led to sommelier and wine director jobs across the nation, together with at Straight Wharf in Nantucket, Husk in Nashville, and Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles. In these roles, she made a key statement that might as soon as once more change her profession trajectory: Younger folks have been flocking to cocktails as a result of the wine {industry} was out of contact together with her millennial technology.

Olszewski based Nomadica, a group of canned wines, as a response to this difficulty and to supply an alternative choice to the unsustainable packaging of conventional wine. “Solely 30 p.c of glass bottles are recycled within the U.S., they’re extremely energy-intensive to provide, and the transport emissions are loopy,” she explains. “And if it’s not a wine that must be aged, it doesn’t should be in a glass bottle.”

The corporate at the moment affords 5 sustainably farmed, low-intervention wines that Olszewski has chosen to be broadly pleasing. She retains her palate sharp by consulting on restaurant wine lists, however funnels most of her time and power into Nomadica, which is increasing its choice and dealing on innovating past the can. Right here, Olszewski shares her journey from medication to eating places to entrepreneurship and the way her enterprise is altering the world of wine.

Eater: What was your first job? What did it contain?

Kristin Olszewski: I used to be a cashier at a grocery retailer in highschool. I’ve all the time been bossy and someway ended up as a supervisor earlier than I even turned 18. I beloved it.

Did you go to culinary faculty or school?

I grew up working-class and was the primary particular person in my household to go to varsity. I acquired a full-ride scholarship to UMass Amherst, the place I majored in sustainable agriculture and gender research and minored in English literature. Then I did a premed post-baccalaureate program and commenced medical faculty at Harvard College. I lived in a shed and waitressed on Nantucket within the summers to pay for Harvard out of pocket.

I used to be actually solely capable of pay for that as a result of I labored service-industry jobs all through the college 12 months, too. I used to be one of many solely folks in my program who had a job. I’ve been tremendous fortunate to not have any debt and there’s no method I might have my very own firm if I did. I rent folks based mostly on their work expertise and character and I don’t care the place they went to varsity.

How did you get into the meals and wine {industry}?

My first entrance into the {industry} was by way of farming. UMass has an unbelievable sustainable agriculture program and a tremendous neighborhood backyard that feeds right into a co-op vegan restaurant. I used to be very lively in Meals Not Bombs, an activist group that sources and prepares meals that might in any other case be thrown away and affords it to the neighborhood totally free. It was an unbelievable expertise to be part of and formed a lot of how I function my very own enterprise.

Straight out of school, I moved to San Francisco and cooked. I labored again of home at Boulettes Larder and Michael Mina, then went to entrance of home at Saison. Throughout my tenure there, we acquired our second Michelin star, and that was the place I first actually began to study wine. I might additionally generally work on the ground at Sons & Daughters, so then I turned the GM of their fast-casual spot, which is how I met Carlin Karr, who’s now the wine director for the Frasca group, who actually is a giant motive why I work in wine.

Then, I moved again to the East Coast to do my post-bacc and med faculty at Harvard. Throughout the faculty 12 months, I labored at Spoke Wine Bar. The proprietor, Felisha Foster, was essentially the most wonderful lady. She was the primary particular person to essentially present me what pure wine was. She actually mentored me loads. After which she acquired identified with ALS. It was so stunning to see somebody so younger and stuffed with joie de vivre discover out that she had a really brief period of time to reside. She actually pushed me to drop out of medical faculty and pursue a profession in wine.

What was the largest problem you confronted while you have been beginning out within the {industry}?

I used to be my very own greatest enemy. There may be a lot to know in wine and, for years, I felt like an imposter. I want I spotted that everybody seems like that and one of the crucial lovely issues about wine is that there’s a lot to study and uncover, so you’ll be able to spend a lifetime learning it.

Did you’ve gotten any setbacks? What have been they?

I used to be sexually assaulted by a managing associate early on in my wine profession. He had harassed me for months and it led to a really dangerous scenario. On the time, I used to be so scared to talk up about it and I believed if I mentioned something, it could wreck my profession. I felt ashamed and I blamed myself. I might deal with this example one hundred pc in another way as we speak and I want I might return in time and provides youthful Kristin higher recommendation.

What was the turning level that led to the place you are actually?

As a sommelier, I observed that girls and other people my age nearly by no means wished to have interaction with me — they might drink cocktails all evening. However the second that I’d go over and begin speaking to any individual about wine in a method that was approachable and sort and nonjudgmental, folks have been all the time so excited. My favourite factor to do as a sommelier is get folks right into a bottle of wine that’s cheaper than they anticipate, and simply present them that they don’t must spend one million {dollars} to drink nice wine.

Younger folks have this notion that sommeliers are going to evaluate them or upsell them. And the wine {industry} is simply not speaking to youthful customers they usually’re not participating with folks in an inclusive method. A lot of the wine {industry} has traditionally been geared towards a really choose group of individuals. So we have to change the wine {industry} and the way we’re speaking to folks. That’s why I began Nomadica.

How are you making change in your {industry}?

Nomadica is altering the dialogue about different sustainable packaging within the wine {industry}. I used to be actually shocked after I discovered how dangerous glass bottles are for the atmosphere — however glass bottles are pointless for many kinds of wine. Wanting on the canned wine house, most of what was round was utility wine, not essentially one thing you’d wish to pour right into a glass and truly take pleasure in. We have been the primary model to place premium wine in cans.

Nice wine is made within the winery. My favourite producers are leaving the land higher than after they discovered it. We work with winemakers who observe sustainable farming, so no artificial pesticides, no artificial fertilizers, no chemical manipulation, no Mega Purple.

However we nonetheless have to beat the patron notion that canned wine is inherently dangerous, so I gave our artistic director the duty, how can we make the can as lovely because the bottle? How can we put the sommelier on the retail shelf? Artwork and wine are two extensions of the identical factor — all in pursuit of enjoyment — so it simply felt so clear that we must always associate with artists in order that the artwork is a tasting notice for the wine that’s inside. It tells our story visually.

I additionally firmly consider that constructive change will come when extra girls, BIPOC, and queer of us are within the C-suite and in management positions. Nomadica is a sponsor of LIFT Collective, a gaggle advocating for fairness and inclusion within the wine {industry}, and I’m one in every of their entrepreneurs. Our VP of gross sales, Cara Bertone, is their vice chairman and she or he evokes me to place my cash the place my mouth is each day.

Elevating cash and beginning an organization are issues which have too lengthy been relegated to a small elite group. I mentor individuals who come from nontraditional backgrounds (aka not wealthy) on the fundraising course of. Many individuals don’t have a community that they will use to lift a friends-and-family spherical; we have to work 5 instances as laborious and look beneath rocks.

What does your job contain? What’s your favourite half about it?

Being the founding father of a startup entails doing all of the little jobs nobody else is doing and likewise ensuring everybody on the workforce has the instruments and help to do their jobs effectively. My favourite a part of my job is my workforce. I’m so fortunate to work with a tremendous group of people who find themselves simply actually good at what they do. I’m additionally creating the wine listing at the Georgian Resort in LA. I wish to say “use it or lose it,” so I feel I’ll all the time have a foot in eating places as a result of it’s so necessary to me to ensure my palate is razor-sharp.

Do you’ve gotten, or did you ever have, a mentor in your area?

I’ve had so many — mentorship is all the things! Sarah Clarke, my former boss and the present wine director at Manzke Eating places, has taught me a lot about wine and operating a worthwhile program. She additionally took me on my first massive wine journey and was simply an all-around great chief.

Kern Schireson, the CEO at Identified, has been guiding me on my journey as CEO since 2018. There was a giant studying curve when it got here to operating an organization, managing folks effectively, fundraising, and addressing the million issues we’ve confronted alongside the best way. With out his steering, we wouldn’t be the place we’re as we speak. When he’s requested about how he constructed such a big and profitable firm, he all the time says, “simply barely.” It’s an amazing reminder throughout scary instances.

What would you’ve gotten achieved in another way in your profession?

I might have trusted my very own instinct much more. Imposter syndrome is such an actual factor, particularly for founders who aren’t white males. I might have achieved the non-public work loads sooner to push by way of that.

What’s the very best piece of profession recommendation you’ve been given?

Don’t take recommendation from folks whose lives you don’t need. Everybody has a fucking opinion; make sure that to filter those you take heed to.

What recommendation would you give somebody who desires your job?

Don’t be afraid to take a nontraditional profession path. Pursue the issues that curiosity you with vigor. Attain out to folks you admire and work for them.

This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

Morgan Goldberg is a contract author based mostly in Los Angeles.


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