Becky Sandoval, Owner of Small Lots Big Wines & Vino Latino
Tell us a bit about yourself (where were you born, where you live, what degrees you have…)
I was born in San Diego, the daughter of a career naval officer. When I was 3 my dad got stationed at Mare Island in Vallejo, CA. We bought a house in Napa where I still live today. I don’t actually have any degrees. I went to school but never finished due to having kids. But I’ve worked in the wine industry for the past 15 years.
You have three wine-related businesses. Tell us about them.
I have two wine clubs. One is Small Lots Big Wines and the other is Vino Latino. SLBW features wines from small producers. Vino Latino features wines that are owned or made by Latinos within the USA. Both clubs are set up the same; we ship twice per year and allow the member to choose how much they want to spend per bottle and how many bottles they want per shipment. But we also do in-home wine tastings and we sell wine via our newsletter year round.
The other business I have is Small Lot Wine Tours. For this business I drive your car or rental for you (fully licensed and insured to do so). We take you to small family owned wineries in Napa and Sonoma based on your palate, price point and desired experience.
For 2013 we are adding Vino Latino Tours where we will take you to meet Latinos in the wine industry, including vineyard managers, cellar masters, etc.
Where does your interest in wine come from?
The truth is that at the age or 27, living in Napa, I just needed a job. My sister was the secretary for Franciscan Estates, before it was sold to Constellation. She got me a job in the tasting room. I didn’t know a thing about wine, but I knew and liked people. It was a great learning experience and that’s where I first discovered I had a very good palate. I would often win at blind tasting contests against sommeliers and other wine professionals with whom I worked.
Are there a lot of women in your industry? Where are they concentrated and where do you see a gap?
There are a lot of women in my industry. Most often wineries are owned by a married couple. Usually, owning a winery is the dream of one or the other. So there are many women vintners.
Women are all over in hospitality, especially with organizing events. Where I see the biggest gap is that there are not many female winemakers, although one of the most famous winemakers in the world is a woman, Heidi Barrett. But on average you just don’t see a lot of female wine makers, though you are seeing it more and more.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in this industry and in your job?
Any business that sells a product or service shares the same challenge, getting customers. This is especially true of the wine industry. There are tons of great wine clubs, tons of small wine shops where to buy wine, and most of all, it’s hard to get people to try the brands I represent because they are not well known like the big boys such as Mondavi, Cakebread, or Silver Oak.
Just as there are a lot of people who sell wine, there are many tour companies as well. We have the challenge of convincing people to choose our tours over others as well as making sure we are easy to find via a search.
What do you find the most satisfying part of your work?
I love wine education. There is nothing better than helping someone discover wine. Many times people do not like wine because they have only had mass produced wine which is often harsh and not very tasty. Getting people to try a true handcrafted wine and seeing their eyes widen is awesome. I do a lot of wine education on my tours and in the in-home wine tastings. One guy, after spending the day with me and buying wine all over the place said, “The thing I learned today is that for my entire life I’ve been drinking crap.”
What advice do you have for other women who have unusual (or challenging) career goals?
The one thing that has always helped me is to think outside of the box. More than likely someone is doing what you are doing, so what can you do differently? Looking at something from a different view, and promoting that view, will get you noticed.
Give us an example of how you’re currently helping other women advance professionally or fulfill their career goals?
This is what I love about my industry. The wine industry is all about helping each other. We are always referring people to other businesses, some of them are even competitors. The other way is by not being afraid of the fact that I’m a woman. I don’t feel that I have to prove myself more or less just because I’m a woman and I think I am in an industry that agrees. The key to success, whether you are a woman or not, is being confident in who you are and what it is you want to accomplish.
Could you mention one or more women who have helped you get to where you are now?
My sister helped me a lot when I first got started. She too is in the industry and she is always telling everyone about my businesses. My former business partner for Small Lot Wine Tours, Rebecca Johnson, really put that company on the map. She’s great with sales and marketing and if it weren’t for her efforts than we would probably have no customers. I also found a lot of inspiration in Tracey Reichow. She’s the vintner, farmer, and winemaker for Black Cat Vineyard. She planted her vineyard, harvests her own grapes, and does all her own winemaking. She can drive all sorts of machines and tractors. She wears work boots and jeans. And yet, she’s beautiful and 100% woman. She’s never ever complained about being a woman in her industry. Rather she has proven herself by producing a quality product. I met her when I first started and I’m so grateful I did.
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