Calgary and area women share their stories and advice on working in the beverage industry

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With International Women’s Day less than a week away, on March 8, I am featuring three Calgary and area women who have made careers in the beverage industry. They share insights on their journey and highlight challenges they have faced while offering advice for those considering a similar career.

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Nathalie Gosselin is the owner of Vine Styles, a wine store located in Calgary’s Kensington area. cal

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Nathalie Gosselin, owner, Vine Styles

Originally from Montreal, Nathalie Gosselin earned a bachelor of business degree from the Université du Québec à Montréal. After graduation, she spent a year in Australia, developing a taste for wine.

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Following her adventure Down Under, she moved to Alberta to work at the Banff Centre from 2004 to 2013, becoming manager of conference services. Her interest in wine continued to develop, leading her to enrol in courses through the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET). A connection with fellow student Darren Stewart eventually led to them opening a wine store, Vine Styles, in Calgary.

Gosselin bought out her business partner’s share in 2019 and now operates the Kensington store on her own. She says being a woman entrepreneur has been trying at times.

“Our culture doesn’t quite associate women with success in the business world, and the extra steps and efforts needed to get to an equal footing with a man as a business owner have been very trying and emotionally draining. 

“Most men will say something along the lines of, ‘Yes, it is tough for us as well.’ But the reality is they have no idea how much harder it is for women to get the same respect and trust. And it is not something that you can quantify or explain without being judged or being worried that people think you feel victimized. It is very conflicting, not wanting to be victimized, but also wanting to speak out so the situation can change for younger women coming in.”

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What advice would you give to a young woman looking to enter the trade?

“Surround yourself with all the best women you know, and don’t hesitate to speak up, ask for help and believe in yourself. Always keep in mind that what you are struggling with, or going through, is probably being felt by a lot of other women.”

Favourite wine for around $30: Illimis, Grenache Noir, Wellington, South Africa, $35.

Favourite wine splurge: Jean Vesselle, Oeil de Perdrix, Champagne, France, $90.

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Dhira Roy Chowdhury is a Canmore-based sommelier who previously managed the food operations at the Banff Gondola. For Darren Oleksyn wine column to publish on Saturday, March 2, 2024. cal

Dhira Roy Chowdhury, sommelier, former director of food and beverage at Banff Gondola

Dhira Roy Chowdhury grew up in New Delhi, India, with dreams of becoming a chef. She earned a degree in culinary arts followed by post-graduate studies in kitchen and hospitality management. While taking the second course she recognized that she enjoyed being in the front of the house, meeting with guests, more than in the kitchen.

She became intrigued by wine while managing the bar at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Bangalore (now Bangalaru), India. Then she moved to Toronto to work at the St. Regis Hotel. After the St. Regis, she managed the opening of the Toronto Pearson Airport location of Vino Volo, a wine and coffee bar that operates in North American airports.

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In 2023, she became the director of food and beverage at the Banff Gondola, where she oversaw four different dining operations at the top of Sulphur Mountain. She left that job in January to focus on her own business, Somm Cellar, a wine and spirit consultancy. She also plans to continue working as a sommelier.

Starting out, she felt women, particularly women of colour, weren’t receiving the same opportunities.

“I felt like the sommelier positions would more so go towards men. I think people still consider that a white person or a man would be more favourable,” she says, adding, “People are a lot more open-minded now, I think every company is now looking for diversity.”

Chowdhury credits her regional manager at Vino Volo, Sally Campa, who was her first female boss, with inspiring and empowering her in her career. 

What advice would you give to a young woman looking to enter the trade? 

“I would say follow your passion. There is a lot of hard work that comes along with this industry, there’s a lot of hard work which also goes into getting wine, certifications, education, so much of a time commitment as well as financial commitments.” 

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Favourite wine for around $30: Schwaderer Wines 2020 Syrah/Viognier, Curico Valley, Chile, $30. 

Favourite wine splurge: Olivier Laflaive 2018 Meursault, Cote de Beaune, Bourgogne, France, $180.

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Peggy Perry, former president of Willow Park Wines & Spirits, has started VINfluence consulting business. cal

Peggy Perry, owner, VINfluence

Peggy Perry is probably best known for her 28 years at Willow Park Wines & Spirits as marketing and purchasing director and then president. She stepped down as president in June 2022 and started VINfluence, a liquor consulting and wine tourism business, in October of that year. She is also the chair of this year’s inaugural Calgary Stampede Cellar Showdown International Wine Competition. 

While growing up in Prince Edward Island, she earned marketing and education degrees at the University of Prince Edward Island, but food, wine and travel were always her passions. 

After marrying a Calgarian and moving to the city, Perry entered the liquor industry in 1985 with J. Webb Wine Merchant, which was just being opened by Janet Webb. She also studied and worked in France early in her career, including in Bordeaux with Maison Sichel. 

She has seen a positive transformation in the industry, which she described as an old boys’ club at the start. 

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“But you know, most industries are male-dominated, right, in the business world. But things have changed drastically in the 40 years I’ve been in the business.” 

What advice would you give a young woman looking to enter the trade? 

“Get some education about wine. Go sign up for the wonderful courses that are offered to you in Alberta. Start by getting a job connected to wine that isn’t a huge commitment, just get a job stocking shelves at a liquor store or building merchandise displays through the Christmas season.  

“You’re going to have to love the public. And so, it’s so important to make sure that that’s in your wheelhouse. You have to realize that there are going to be challenges, but more and more, the opportunities are given out equitably and, hopefully, that will continue. 

“There’s always room for somebody who’s enthusiastic and knows how to work hard.” 

Favourite wine for around $30: Pieropan Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy, $28. 

Favourite wine splurge: Tolaini 2019 Picconero, Tuscany, Italy, $120.

Contact Darren Oleksyn at [email protected] or follow him on Instagram or X. Looking for a specific wine? Because wine inventories are always in flux, it’s a good idea to call a store to confirm they have it. A search on Liquorconnect.com can give you an idea of stores that have carried the wines. 

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