Another element is CURIOSITY. I have an alphabet soup of credentials after my name, and I still feel as if I barely know anything about wine. I think it is a glorious industry where there are always exceptions to every rule, and asking “why” leads you down a rabbit hole of fascination. Wine and spirits are never something that will be set, frozen in time, and it is endlessly intriguing to explore the history, see what’s happening now, and speculate about the future.
The world of wine and spirits is not only about the nuances of taste, aroma, and presentation but also about understanding the intricacies of the business, mastering the craft, and building meaningful relationships. It’s an industry rich in tradition, yet ever-evolving with trends, technologies, and tastes. Navigating this fascinating landscape requires a blend of passion, knowledge, strategy, and a touch of artistry. In this series, we aim to shed light on the key ingredients that brew success in the wine and spirits industry. We’re speaking to industry veterans, master sommeliers, distillers, marketers, and professionals in the wine and spirits industry to discuss the essential elements needed to create a highly successful career in the industry. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Annie Edgerton.
Annie Edgerton has been working in the wine industry since before she was legally able to drink! She is a highly credentialed Wine & Spirit Appraiser, Writer, Educator, and TV Host, additionally working in Retail and Consulting, who is always interested in sharing her love of fermented and distilled beverages and helping consumers become more adventurous drinkers. Annie is also a performer, having appeared on Broadway, regional theatres, film, and TV, and she has sung the National Anthem for 29 of the 30 MLB teams (so far!) www.wineminxannie.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your origin story, and your childhood?
I was born in New York City into what I call a “mixed” marriage; a Southern mother and New Englander father. As their child, I like to say I could build a table out of fallen trees with my bare hands… and then host a beautiful dinner party around it! I was always inspired by my father, who repeatedly turned his hobbies into his businesses, and also, I got the lead in the second-grade play and have been a performer ever since. I feel very grateful that while many people have difficulty finding one thing they would love to do for a job, I have two parallel careers that are incredibly satisfying. And I love the times when they overlap.
Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the wine and spirits industry?
One day in the late 1980s, my father went down into his wine cellar and wondered why there was no compilation of wine auction prices so he could easily look up the wines in his collection and see what they were worth. So, he made one, by collecting all of the auction catalogues and painstakingly typing information into a rudimentary computer database which was then printed into a large soft-bound book (it was the 80s after all.) As comparable sales are what any industry uses to form an opinion of value, he naturally fell into wine appraisals, as he was the only person at the time with the best information and years of experience with wine. As I went through high school and college, he taught me how to interpret the data and arrive at appropriate valuations, so I could assist him with his work for my “day job” while I was pursuing my performing career. I’d been brought up around good wine my whole life, but at that time was still drinking cheap beer and wine coolers! But in my late 20s I really developed an appreciation for wine, and in 2003 I taught my very first wine class for other members of the company of the national tour of “Mamma Mia!” during a rainy day off in Boston. Since everyone knew I was into wine, my friend asked me to teach them about it, and I said, “I could, but there’s so much I don’t know about wine.” And he said, “Well you know more than we do!” And I thought, “I know a lot more than you do!!” I got really into it and planned out the flow and insights I thought were important, though I went a bit overboard (I kept thinking, “Well, they need to try this, oh, and they need to try this…”) so after 13 wines and no one really spitting, we were all a bit of a mess. But the basic framework I use for my wine classes was formed that day and is still integral to my format now.
Along the way, I started communicating in other ways with people interested in wine, like blogging and writing freelance articles. And now, of course, making YouTube videos and social media reels. I just finished writing my first book, a very different and refreshing “intro-to-wine” book, and I continually look for ways to help people understand wine and spirits and become more adventurous drinkers.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
People seem to find the counterfeit investigations fascinating, especially because — unlike other commodities — the only way to tell for certain that a wine is fake is by opening it and tasting the contents… so, by destroying it. Therefore, we have to use lots of other information to make an appropriate determination, making it a real detective story. People may have heard about the infamous suspected forger Hardy Rodenstock and the convicted counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan, but there are almost certainly tens of thousands of wines (if not more) in wine cellars and in the marketplace that are not real, having come from a wide range of sources. The lesson I have learned doing this work is how to navigate the emotional side of counterfeit investigation — very wealthy collectors typically do not like to know their wine is fake! So, even if I’m expressly hired to find counterfeits, my client can become unhappy when I do. It might seem like an embarrassment or black mark to them, even though there are many very good copies out there that are nearly impossible to detect without serious scrutiny. At the end of the day, no matter who is paying my fee, I have a responsibility to the wine, but I have learned how to handle those situations firmly, but with compassion and understanding.
It has been said that sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was at an industry tasting right when I was starting out, still learning, and just beginning to get more confident about sharing my perspectives to other industry folks. The speaker asked about the first wine, and I raised my hand and contributed pretty strong opinions and comments about the wine, and the speaker went, “Okayyyyyy, thank you for that… how about someone else?” A few more people chimed in with vastly different thoughts, and I couldn’t figure out why I seemed to be so far off from what everyone else was saying. It made me feel like a total impostor, and worried me that maybe I didn’t know anything after all. Maybe about five minutes later, we moved on to the next wine and I looked at the people next to me reaching for their glasses… and discovered that I had started tasting from the front row of the mat, but the wines numbered 1–2–3 were on the back row of the mat. I had tasted wine number four, and given a full and thorough description of a bold, okay Syrah for what was supposed to be a light, unoaked Pinot Noir. No wonder they all thought I was crazy! That taught me a healthy dose of humility… and to always look for how the wines are numbered on a tasting mat.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many in this business — it truly is an industry where encouragement and support from those around you help you find your place. One person who stands out to me is Roger Bohmrich, Master of Wine. I met him at an industry walk-around tasting many years ago, not knowing who he was. As we tasted next to each other, sharing opinions and comments, I never once felt that this person was “above me,” he was just so humble and quietly knowledgeable. He seemed just as interested in my opinions as he was with sharing his. Much later, I realized that that nice gentleman was one of the smartest wine experts in the world — there are only a few hundred people to have ever earned the MW credential. In subsequent interactions, he has remained a grounded, genuine, incredibly smart person and astute taster, who has never shown even a whiff of superiority or self-importance (which he frankly would have been entitled to!) I see him not only as a mentor but as an example of how to share knowledge with others in a way that is never snooty or conceited. When I applied for the MW program, I asked him for advice, and he has been attentively beside me throughout the ups and downs of my journey. There are so many wonderful, smart, savvy wine folks I’ve been inspired by, but Roger is in a class by himself.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I think having a healthy lack of fear has helped me continue to brainstorm and evolve. A lot of people want security: dependable income and schedules. For me, not being afraid about unpredictability has led me to discover why I think I was put on this planet. A few years ago, I daydreamed about having a TV show, kind of the “Anthony Bourdain of wine,” traveling the globe and illuminating the places and people that create my favorite beverages. I didn’t know the first thing about how to navigate TV production and making that dream happen, so asked a friend from my boot camp workout class to lunch to pick her brain — I believed she did some work in TV and film, though we had spent more time groaning and sweating versus chatting. I was just curios what steps might somehow get me from where I was, to that TV show daydream, if it eve was possible. Well, that ambiguous info-gathering lunch turned into her directing and producing my sizzle reel (kind of a teaser for a TV show that hasn’t been made yet.) I contributed a significant financial investment to the project without any guarantee it would go anywhere, but collaborating with her on every aspect was exciting and fulfilling. And during the shoot, even though I’d never hosted before, I took to it like a duck to water. (The director of photography assumed I did this for my job, he had no clue I was a total newbie!) Working on that project, I had a true “a-ha” moment and realized this was the perfect combination of my performing background and wine expertise. Not having fear of failure helped me discover my unique abilities and lead me to the next level.
Another trait that is important is my tenacity and persistence. To wit, that sizzle was amazing, and I immediately got some interest in it (and in me, as a host,) but I discovered that it’s a huge uphill climb to get wine programming on TV/streaming platforms. The gatekeepers basically believe it will be niche and boring, or “too educational,” and who wants to get “taught” when they’re putting their feet up at the end of a long day. So I have had to sustain my belief in myself and my enthusiasm month after month, year after year (and during a pandemic, to boot.) It’s difficult, but I have great support systems and tools to persevere. I have also been pursuing a unique quest — to do the baseball fan “bucket list goal” of seeing a game in every MLB stadium one better, and to try and sing in every stadium. This started out somewhat as a lark, but 16 years later, I only have one team left. And the main reason I have reached this point is 100% tenacity and persistence. You have to be tenacious and go after your goals, no one else is going to do it for you.
The third is kindness. In a world (and industry, sadly) with lots of egos and misinformation, keeping kindness at the forefront has been very important to me. I have fallen into mentorship positions with many people pursuing wine and spirits credentials, and I love to be a cheerleader for anyone looking to get a foothold in this industry. Kindness can co-exist with firmness, drive, and high-level operations. Even if you’re at the top, you don’t always have to be nice, but be kind.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am currently in pre-production for a new video series, “Hitting the Spots,” which features chefs and beverage managers from restaurants around the country. On the series, we’ll talk about how they created their drinks programs, the inspiration behind specialty cocktails, what’s the hardest hand-sell on the list (and why,) and where they’ve priced certain wines as a steal (and why.) Then we will bring out a few dishes and discuss food-and-wine pairings (or mead, sake, beer… you name it, we’ll pair it.) The idea is to shine a spotlight on drinks programs and how they elevate the dining experience for food-lovers in a deep, meaningful way. Plus, food-and-wine pairing is a big topic of interest with passionate consumers, so to showcase examples will hopefully be illuminating to viewers. I’m also working on a drinks and travel podcast, where guests and I discuss global travel destinations and their local sips, answering 12 questions that range from spiritual experiences to historic beverages to funny moments to travel tips and tricks. Drinks culture is so deeply rooted in many places around the world and is still inexorably tied to the lifestyle and traditions of many regions today, so it should definitely be a part of travel conversations.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the wine and spirits industry today?
I love that our industry is not static. There is constant evolution, be it from a younger generation wanting to break from tradition, a response to the effects and imagined future with climate change, or simply a producer asking, “what if?” New blends, new vineyard locations, new winemaking techniques, new styles, but also a renewed interest in historical categories, like Sherry (though that may be due in part to the rise of cocktail culture, so it’s also evolving.) I never tire of asking producers what they are working on for the future, every answer fascinates me. There is always something new to experience.
I am also excited that our industry is becoming more diverse. When I got started, I was often belittled or dismissed as a woman, and experienced that bias with frustration. Now, there are many more women somms, producers, distillers, and in roles at high levels of other business models in our industry, and there is so much more support of Black-owned wineries, distilleries and other drinks businesses. It is gratifying to see people formerly on the fringes get their time front and center, and I look forward to seeing even more diversity and representation.
I also think our industry is leading the charge of global responsibility toward climate change. Viticulturalists were some of the first folks to kind of wave the flag that climate change was happening, and nearly every producer I speak with talks about lowering their carbon footprint, embracing sustainability, and investing in operations and technology that are more environmentally friendly. Climate change is a very worrisome threat to our industry, and many 50-year forecasts rewrite the landscape of viticulture as we know it into something unrecognizable. So, I applaud and support every “green”-minded action.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
I think we are not doing a good enough service to the consumer. For example, “natural” wines have become a huge buzzword of interest to many wine drinkers, but the majority don’t have a clue that a) it’s not a regulated term, b) it can refer to an exceedingly wide array of styles, and c) some “natural” wines have notable — if sometimes acceptable — faults like brett (brettanomyces, a spoilage yeast,) or “mousiness” (spoilage from lactic acid bacteria and other compounds.) We need to work much harder on transparency and clarity with the consumer, at all levels, from production to distribution, by writers and educators, and from forward-facing somms and retailers. And this may be shouting into the wind, but I think the big brands have the biggest burden of responsibility. I understand that large-volume producers by nature can’t make wine with the same attention to detail of smaller producers, but consumers have a right to know just how much residual sugar is in some of those popular red blends, for example, and about other elements that went into making their Tuesday tipple.
I also am not the biggest fans of “influencers” on social media. Sure, some may call me that, but I’m talking about the people with massive amounts of followers and perhaps not the greatest understanding of their role in spreading misinformation. I know of one account that keeps showcasing sabrage (sabering open Champange bottles,) and they do it wrong! (Not chilling the neck appropriately, not removing the foil to expose the seam, hacking at the neck, etc.) By sharing this activity without the correct knowledge, imitators could possibly get seriously injured — there is a lot of pressure in those bottles, and they can and do explode. You don’t have to be outrageously credentialed to share wine and spirit related material on social media, but you should absolutely know what you’re talking about. Otherwise, it’s just that much more work for the rest of us to clean up after you. This goes along with the above; that industry members have a responsibility to the consumer… influencers absolutely should too.
And this might not be a “serious” concern, but it is a constant thought for me — how do we share the vast bounty of wine types and styles with consumers who easily get overwhelmed? It’s a double-edged sword. There are so many different wines in competition with each other for shelf space, so the consumer either just learns about one Austrian Grüner Veltliner, or one orange (skin contact) wine because that’s all the shop can feature… or the consumer just stares at a wall of unfamiliar labels and designations and reaches for the same, boring wine every time (because at least they know they won’t hate it.) This conundrum is why our industry needs intermediaries, to help “translate” and showcase wines, but then suddenly the influence of critics or top somms gets overblown. And business steps in: trade bodies with more money have better results than small regions without a powerful consortium. Bigger conglomerates continue to eat up market share by economies of scale, and smaller producers get pushed out. An adventurous consumer could drink a completely different wine every single day for a year and never come close to exploring all the wine world has to offer. But it’s almost impossible to grant enough access to consumers so they could even try. And I have no idea how to reform this issue.
You are a “Wine and Spirits Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non-intuitive things one should know to succeed in the wine and spirits industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
1 . I think a lot of people would list passion at the top, but in my opinion, that goes without saying! You don’t get into the wine and spirits industry for fame or fortune, so you have to have passion. Instead, to me, a key trait is PATIENCE. There is so much to learn, and so many people who are misinformed, that it takes incredible patience to sort out the information for yourself, and then learn how to communicate things properly to others. Patience is also key to sidestepping snobbery that permeates too many aspects of this business. And you need to be patient because you will hear “I hate Chardonnay… but I love Chablis” a lot.
2 . Another element is CURIOSITY. I have an alphabet soup of credentials after my name, and I still feel as if I barely know anything about wine. I think it is a glorious industry where there are always exceptions to every rule, and asking “why” leads you down a rabbit hole of fascination. Wine and spirits are never something that will be set, frozen in time, and it is endlessly intriguing to explore the history, see what’s happening now, and speculate about the future.
3 . CREATIVITY is also very important, especially with spirits. Wine can evolve and change, but spirits are set, so you need to have creative ways of presenting them to consumers. I love cocktails and get excited every time I learn a new technique, like fat-washing. When I come across a less-common spirit, I love experimenting with ways to balance it in a cocktail. But having a creative mindset will also help you find your niche in the industry. Do you have a head for numbers? You can use it in a creative way managing stock for a shop or distillery. Do you support rescue organizations for animals? You can create a company lending out sheep or goats to vineyards for sustainable weed management and natural fertilizing. There are many ways to be successful in this industry with a creative approach.
4 . I think DISCIPLINE is important to mention. Ethanol is toxic, and drinking alcohol can become addictive, we all know that, but when you work in the industry, it can be easy to forget. When I’m breaking down from a wine class, I frequently gulp the remains in my glass before it goes in the dishwasher because it’s delicious and I don’t want to waste it. I meet up with industry people for wine and spirit lunches and dinners all the time, and it’s incredibly easy to get carried away with enthusiasm for the product and consume more than I should. I know somms who have fallen victim to the late-night restaurant culture of stress and drinking and have had their health and career affected. So, you have to go into this industry with some kind of discipline, whatever that means to you, so that drinking doesn’t become too much of a thoughtless habit and you wind up in a position unable to continue enjoying what you so deeply loved in the first place.
5 . And I’d say JOY. Not just in our industry — in whatever you do. If something doesn’t bring you joy, why are you wasting your life doing it? I’m not saying you have to be pollyanna-gleeful every moment of every day, but working in this industry should get you excited. You should be enthusiastic to connect the dots about things, you should love trying new beverages, it should give you pleasure to help lightbulbs go off for other people. Joy is infectious, and it can often overcome many of the challenges or issues I’ve mentioned.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have a couple. I love “Barn’s burnt down. Now I can see the moon.” — Masahide (Japanese samurai.) To me, this illustrates perspective. Bad things are going to happen in life, but if you don’t let yourself go down the rabbit hole of despair, if you can recognize that something good might come out of a negative, you will be able to live life in a much happier way.
I also love the John Burroughs quote, “Leap, and the net will appear.” It goes with my feeling that most risks people are fearful of are not as bad as they think. You need to take a risk to realize the reward. Have the belief that if you try, you will succeed. I have that one on a sticky on my computer so I can see it every day.
And, from the baseball movie “Bull Durham,” the classic line, “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” This reminds me that life is often much simpler than we make it. We can succeed or fail because of, or in spite of, our best efforts, but there’s no judgement really, because that’s just how it goes sometimes. And sometimes, an outside influence makes decisions for us, and that’s okay too.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Oh boy, no pressure! I think the twin pillars of appreciating the responsibility one has, and cheerleading for others would be a lovely inspiration. Sure, we all want to be successful, but to somehow share your successes from the very beginning by being a thoughtful, supportive member of your community would be amazing. My acting coach once advised that if you were in a scene with someone who wasn’t a very strong actor, that you should put all your effort into making them better. I love that, because many actors might think, “How do I make myself better, working with this person?” But if you put the focus outward, they will be better, the scene will be better, and you will also be better. In the wine biz, I have learned so much from my MW study-buddies — we’re not in competition with each other to pass these exams and earn the credential, in fact we share strengths and build up each other’s’ weaknesses. We work to make each other better… and therefore we also become much, much better. I would love it if many more people had that experience.
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!
About the Interviewer: Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA was born nearly blind, crippled with club feet, partially deaf, and left-handed. He overcame all of these obstacles to become a successful civil trial lawyer. In 2000, he abandoned his law practice to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts. Doug teaches his innovative de-escalation skill that calms any angry person in 90 seconds or less. With Laurel Kaufer, Doug founded Prison of Peace in 2009. The Prison of Peace project trains life and long terms incarcerated people to be powerful peacemakers and mediators. He has been deeply moved by inmates who have learned and applied deep, empathic listening skills, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills to reduce violence in their prison communities. Their dedication to learning, improving, and serving their communities motivates him to expand the principles of Prison of Peace so that every human wanting to learn the skills of peace may do so. Doug’s awards include California Lawyer Magazine Lawyer of the Year, Best Lawyers in America Lawyer of the Year, Purpose Prize Fellow, International Academy of Mediators Syd Leezak Award of Excellence, National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals Neutral of the Year. His four books have won a number of awards and commendations. Doug’s podcast, Listen With Leaders, is now accepting guests. Click on this link to learn more and apply.