In This Issue:
- A Sisterhood of Stories
- Q&A With Robin Pohlman
- Tech Equity Hub Announcement
- From Our Partner Community
A Sisterhood of Stories Through the Lens of a 17th Century Diarist
Tech entrepreneur Kyra Peralte was inspired to process the isolation of the pandemic by creating a vessel to capture the hopes, dreams and ideas shared by women around the world during this time of extreme dislocation, and the Traveling Diary was born. Project W contributor and PhD candidate in British History, Julia Burke tells us the story of Kyra and the Traveling Diary through the lens of a 17th century diarist.
No one appreciates a diary quite like a historian. Our knowledge of 17th century England, for example, is greatly enriched by Samuel Pepys – a naval administrator and prolific writer whose decade-long diary offers a candid account of his life in 1660s London, from his morning shave to the buttered salmon he ate for lunch. The value of his diary comes in part from just how much of it there is: at well over a million words, the unabridged collection runs to eleven volumes (and is available in audiobook form on Audible, for anyone with five full days to spare). The limit of its value, however, lies in its insularity: Pepys's entries speak only to the thoughts and experiences of one white, comparatively wealthy, man. In contrast, it is easy to imagine the gratitude of future historians for the foresight of Kyra Peralte and her Traveling Diary, a "Sisterhood of Stories" written collaboratively by women around the world.
A tech entrepreneur, a children's mobile game creator, and a mother of two, Peralte had no shortage of demands on her time and energy when she began the journal in April of last year. Though undertaken initially as an exercise in processing the isolation she felt during the lockdown period, the diary quickly revealed itself to be even more effective at thwarting that isolation. Peralte saw potential in the classic black and white composition notebook, understanding it as "a vessel – a vessel to capture people's thoughts, hopes, dreams, ideas, information that they wish to share during this time in isolation with other women, with the world."
From her home in Montclair, New Jersey, Peralte sent the notebook to North Carolina, where a woman she had recently met on a Zoom call was waiting to match Peralte's vulnerability and generosity by contributing her own experience to the journal, and then sending it on again. Twenty notebooks and one year later, the Traveling Diary has made its way to over 16 countries and into the homes of more than 200 women who identified with and helped to realize Peralte's vision of an international "space that feels safe, welcoming, and warm." The diary has a waitlist of over 1200 women.
That warmth and welcome is not to say, however, that all the entries in the Traveling Diary are celebrations, though some certainly are. Many women used the opportunity to share challenges, process grief, vent anger. The entries are political and personal, prose and poetry, handwritten and illustrated. In short, they are as multifaceted as their authors, as unifying and conflicting as the moment in which they were created.
The list of participants continues to grow as steady media interest spreads word of the Traveling Diary to new platforms and wider audiences. And while the diary has garnered well-deserved praise for the good it is doing for women around the world today, it is also worth acknowledging the service it represents to future generations. Nothing is quite so useful in understanding a moment in history as the stories of those who lived through it. Thanks to Peralte and the other authors of the Traveling Diary, the story of this turbulent and profound moment in history will be more nuanced, more truthful, and more inclusive.
Samuel Pepys had the privilege of sharing his (rather verbose) thoughts with posterity. Experiments like Peralte's do the critical work of distributing that privilege across cultures and identities, helping more women do "something that is very, very important to every human — and I think that is to be heard." One can only hope that, if the audiobook of the Traveling Diary is ever released, it is twelve volumes or more.
To learn more about how to participate in the Traveling Diary project, visit thetravelingdiarytour.com
Q&A With Robin Pohlman
Robin Pohlman, Founder, Wine Workshop
As a wine broker, Robin Pohlman has carved out a niche for herself in a traditionally male-dominated industry and with a specialty in wines from Austria. Robin shares her entrepreneurial journey and how she learned the trade, along with some tips on how to get acquainted with Austrian wines.
Q: For starters, tell us what a wine broker is and how, as a broker, you fit into the wine industry ecosystem.
A: Generally speaking, a wine broker develops relationships with winemakers in a certain region or set of regions and then connects those winemakers with importer/distributors, who will sell the wine to bottle shops and restaurants in various markets. In the U.S., almost every state is its own market with its own set of importer/distributors (and regulations!), so a broker can find herself managing lots and lots of relationships. Beyond being the initial matchmaker and marriage counselor between winemaker and importer, I also get to put my hands on the more nitty-gritty parts of the process like stylistic changes to packaging, logistics and creating buzz around new wines in a market. But the best part of my job by far is getting to know the palates of the importers I work with and understanding the wine scene specific to their markets. We're a big country with so many amazing regional food cultures, so what works in one place won't necessarily be a smash hit in another. When I can dial in on an importer and their market really precisely, I'm able to taste the new vintage with my winemaker partners and flag which wines each of my import partners will do well with. Getting that right is so rewarding.
Q: What inspired you to start your own wine brokerage business, and why choose Austrian wines as a niche?
A: The whole thing just grew up organically as I worked my way around the different sides and stages of the wine business. I started out in a consumer-facing role, as a beverage director at a restaurant in New York, Cafe Katja. We had an all-Austrian wine list. As a result, I became very close with the importer/distributors who sold Austrian wine and met lots of Austrian winemakers. About a year into my job at Cafe Katja, I took a six-week leave to work a harvest in Austria with a few of my favorite winemakers, which taught me things about the process that I just couldn't learn or appreciate outside the cellar. Later, I spent a couple of years working as a salesperson for a few importer/distributors and retailers in New York, which further expanded my understanding of how the whole chain flows. Then, I spent a couple of years back in the cellar making wine with winemakers in California and Austria. At that point I had developed a really unique knowledge base from having worked on so many sides of the business and had incredible access to the Austrian winemaking community. It was only natural to pull these things together into something that feels really creative and personal to me, selecting and brokering my own portfolio. And it turned out to be a perfect fit. I get to spend most of my time on the parts of the process I really love - spending time with the winemakers themselves, learning with them as they experiment with new techniques and growing methods, and sharing the wines I love with other people.
Q: What challenges did you face in building your business and how did you overcome them?
A: I think the biggest challenge has been that I talk about wine "like a woman" but sell wine within a still male-dominated industry. There are plenty of men who talk about wine the way I do, and plenty of women who don't, so the feminine/masculine paradigm isn't literal or perfect. I really shy away from using superlatives about wines or winemakers. I much prefer to tell the story of a winemaker and their region, what inspired this particular wine and how it fits with food. In the past, that might have been described as a "feminine" way to talk about wine, and sometimes it just doesn't click with the way our historically male-dominated industry has developed. The importers I work with face lots of competition in the market and have limited facetime with restaurant and retail buyers to make a pitch. So, it's much easier for them to use the shorthand of superlatives. Fortunately, this is all changing as the industry becomes more diverse and consumers become more interested in nuance than status. But for now, my way around it has been to be the most knowledgeable and trusted source in my niche of Austrian wine, and that gives me the space to talk about wines the way I want to.
Q: Your business is driven by a set of core values. Tell us about those values and how they inform the business decisions you make and the strategies for growing your business.
A: It boils down to three main things for me. First, it's important to me that the winemakers and importers I work with are really good people. Wine is such a personal relationship business, with lots of intimate interactions like long-shared meals and trips together. I need to enjoy spending time with these people. It's also much more rewarding to sell wine made by people you love and admire and to have genuinely good people representing those wines to consumers on the other end. Second, the wine needs to be really delicious and not just on trend or checking the right boxes for the market in a particular moment. So much of the joy I get from doing this job is in discovering and sharing wines that people will really enjoy drinking, vintage after vintage. Last, and most important, I'll only work with wineries that care deeply about their environmental impact and who are constantly working to improve their growing and winemaking practices. The goal is regenerative agriculture - building the health of the soil and ecosystem, rather than extracting. All the wineries I work with are moving closer and closer to that goal with each vintage.
Q: What trends are you seeing in consumer tastes in wine?
A: Orange and skin contact white wines! These are really fun. Orange wines and skin contact wines are technically two different things, but close relatives. A skin contact white wine has been fermented in contact with the skins (like red wines usually are) rather than being pressed immediately after harvest to separate skin from juice. Because they ferment in contact with the skins, they have tannins like red wines, and this gives a really interesting structure and mouthfeel. Orange wines are skin contact wines that have also been exposed to a little bit of air during maturation and develop an amber color from this exposure to oxygen. They can have a really charming nutty aroma in addition to the extra structure from the tannins. I see these two styles everywhere right now, and there are some really gorgeous ones floating around, especially from Austria.
Q: For the novices among us, what would you recommend as a good introduction to the wines of Austria?
A: Initially, Austria built a presence in the U.S. market through inexpensive, entry-level wines with Grüner Veltliner wines. These can be great, but there is so much more complexity on offer from Austrian wines. I would recommend trying a single vineyard wine - Riesling or Grüner for white wine lovers or Blaufränkisch for red drinkers. You can identify the single vineyard wines by the German word "Ried" which will often (but not always) appear on the front label before the name of the vineyard. These will be a little more expensive but a fantastic deal when compared to wines of the same quality from more well-known wine producing countries like France, Italy, and Spain. What I find really exciting about these wines is the way they express the unique qualities of a particular place. You can taste two different single vineyard Rieslings side by side and have a wildly different experience with each because of the different soil type, aspect, and microclimate of each vineyard. And yes, even a self-described "novice" can detect the differences. If you have a good retail shop nearby, the staff should be able to point you in the right direction. But you can also reach out through my website for recommendations. It's one of the great joys of my job!
To take Robin up on her offer of recommendations, visit Wine Workshop – Robin Pohlman Selections
Tech Equity Hub Welcomes 10 Tech Startups and Founders
Project W launched the Tech Equity Hub this week with an impressive cohort of 10 Black and Latinx female entrepreneurs from across the U.S. These talented women are building tech solutions for diverse industries, including education, healthcare, retail and construction. "I feel fortunate to be surrounded by so much Black and Brown excellence," said Tanea Foglia, Director of the Tech Equity Hub in her opening remarks. "Over the course of the accelerator, not only will our cohort learn from our accomplished faculty and mentors, they will also have the opportunity to learn from one another."
Entrepreneur, investor, and author Mona Bijoor gave an inspiring keynote address to open the program. Drawing from her own experience, Mona shared the importance of a positive mindset to overcome the mental challenges entrepreneurs face. Free From Market founder Emily Brown noted, "Today's session added so much value and allowed me to think differently about some of our current challenges." We are looking forward to what promises to be an enlightening 12 weeks.
From Our Partner Community
43North, an accelerator in Buffalo, NY, has officially launched its annual startup competition and is in search of its next cohort. The competition, geared toward seed-stage startups, offers a chance to secure up to $1M in funding. If you’re a founder with domain expertise, traction with customers, and a strong team, apply here. Applications close July 19 at 12:00pm ET.