Image Courtesy of Rebecca Hopkins and Getty Images
Between wine tasting events, dinners and traveling, the wine industry lifestyle may appear glamorous. There’s plenty of fun to be had, but those in the business—whether they work in media, sales, winemaking or the public relations sector—know it can also be intense and take a toll on one’s physical and mental health. So, this week, we’re taking on work-life balance.
Is there such a thing or are they meaningless buzzwords? We sat down with Rebecca Hopkins to find out. Hopkins is a PR and communication specialist who has worked in wine for nearly 30 years. In 2018, she founded and launched A Balanced Glass, an online community providing tools to maintain a healthy lifestyle while working in the beverage industry.
Together, we examine why it may be harder for those who work in wine to find balance.
Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
Speakers: Rebecca Hopkins, Jacy Topps
Jacy Topps 00:09
Hello, and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast podcast. You’re serving of drinks culture, and the people who drive it. I’m Jacy Topps, and this week we’re discussing work life balance in the wine world. Is there such a thing? Or are they marketing buzzwords? If it does exist? What does it look like in wine? Particularly, what does it look like for women in wine, I sat down with Rebecca Hopkins to find out. Rebecca is a PR and communication specialist who has worked in wine for nearly 30 years. And in 2018, she launched A Balanced Glass, an online resource providing tools to maintain a healthy lifestyle while working in the beverage industry. So listen on as we try to define work life balance, and examine what it might look like for those of us in the food and beverage sector. Every glass of wine tells a story.
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Rebecca Hopkins 03:10
Good morning, Jacy. Thank you. Wow, what an introduction, huh? I gotta go. I gotta go study up on my guru ism. Thank you.
Jacy Topps 03:22
So how long have you been in the wine industry? And please, like, tell our listeners how you got into the wine industry?
Rebecca Hopkins 03:28
Yeah, I think it’s longer than I like to admit. So I actually grew up in Australia. And I started studying wine. I grew up in McLaren Vale in South Australia. And I started studying wine in the early 90s. And really started at the ground level studying and then working in tasting room in McLaren Vale. And then slowly moved through roles that were marketing assistant, sales and marketing manager. And finally landing on kind of the communication side of the business in 2000. And have really been there since then, first of all, with hearty wine company or now accolade wines. And then in 2007, I was when I moved to the US with Constellation Brands and have been here ever since. And to your point in 2012, I joined the Michael Mondavi family and was with them for 10 years and just recently left that to to do my own thing. So it’s been a pretty wild ride, always connected back to wine. Really, from the production side. I was a failed geologist. My dad always laughs because that’s what I wanted to be. And wine was kind of my way back to you know, the growing the soil, the topography, the history and so, yeah, Ted and I still laugh about that. So here I am.
Jacy Topps 04:52
I’m so happy that you’re a part of the industry. I love working with you. And I love following your blog a balance glass because it’s I mean, it’s, it’s so informative. Why did you start that community number one,
Rebecca Hopkins 05:08
if I think back on it really, I, when I moved to the US, I came from working in a really, you know, a big role in Australia and had spent half my career in a country honestly, that has really socialized healthcare has very lots of access to nature, and a lot of things where you can find your own sense of well-being. And I came to the US and landed this big corporate role and lost all of my support systems and my mechanisms of keeping myself on the narrow. Plus, I was in a new world of working for a publicly listed company traveling a ton managing a big team, always out and really losing my way to cope. And so I started kind of fumbling around in the dark, I found myself an extraordinary yoga teacher that I still call myself level one after 16 years, still can’t touch my toes, and kind of fumbled my own way through and then I kind of I went to a conference director that, you know, helping women advance in the industry in 2016. And I found that no one was talking about alcohol. We weren’t talking about how to navigate the industry, with our own health and well-being lots of talk about equity, lots of talk about opportunity of career advancement, but really nothing about alcohol. So I did I think probably what, as a writer you would do, I got really mad, and I wrote an article that ended up being published in in mining, which is the European wine business magazine, about the challenges of working in a profession steeped in alcohol. Why didn’t we talk about it? Why are we so shrouded about it? What are the impact that it has on on those of us who work around it every day. And that raise such a response, there was a follow up article, so this is still 2017. So then in 2018, I’m like we you know, Houston, we have a problem, we got something we need to talk about. And so I really launched it, because I figured if I was feeling that way, other people would be feeling like that, too. And we also have to remember that, you know, we’re talking about something, ie alcohol that really is at odds with the concept of health for a lot of people. And I think no more than what we see today about the conversation around whether it’s so be curious, moderation, no out low out a health and alcohol is a really hot topic. And I also found that in our community, as so many of us know, I’ve been someone who’s been privileged to have access to health care here. But a lot of people just don’t have that they don’t have access to the basic tools. We’re not in a community that could talk about the challenges we face. It’s it’s not the easiest industry to understand. Because from the outside, it looks fabulous. But there are some real challenges that that we have that I just wanted to create a space that was accessible for people that we could have these conversations. And so that’s why I got mad, I wrote something down, I got a response and thought, heck, why not?
Jacy Topps 08:17
That’s great. I mean, I, I came up with this idea, because I am experiencing the same thing. Is there a such thing as work life balance? I’ve kind of been overdoing it lately, you know, just trying to be 115%. But you know, like, why do I need to be 115% all of the time? So let me ask you, is there a such thing as work life balance? Or is this like a marketing term?
Rebecca Hopkins 08:47
Oh, it’s a marketing term, period. But I think you know what you’re saying? I think you just said it, right, you’re going at 115%. And which means at some point, you’re going to hit 85, and probably much lower. And as humans, right, we’re in a constant state of change. So any form of balance is fleeting. It’s totally fleeting. And so I had a teacher who used to say, we’re all dying, so we need to learn how to live go. You know, right, and you go high, it’s actually true. But I do, I think, right? When we, when we think about the concept of balance, it really is. So it was two things. One, it’s fleeting, it’s never constant, no one can ever run at 150%. Because at some point, something’s gonna give. And also, I think work life balance as a concept is really only realistic when basic needs are being met. And I think we can look to other countries where we may see more of it, for example, in Australia or, or Europe where there’s socialized medicine support, there’s access to nature, there’s outdoors, but really When we think about it, right, it’s financial safety, I think just the stress of living in that as an enormous stress of finding balance, access to healthy food, clean drinking water, things like that are just such hindrances, right, they’re very real limitations to even finding a concept of balance. So then on top of that you throw in our industry, and, you know, you and I have been at the same parties. And even if you are the best, you know, moderated meditating, you’re the person that has everything together, the stuff around you, that’s always going to impact your environment. And I think, sure, we can have self moderation or as I think, you know, like, looking after our physical mental well being, but there’s always going to be environments that we’re in, that are going to knock us off of our center point. And also, we’re in an industry that doesn’t necessarily want to encourage work life balance. And this is a controversial kind of aspect, right? Because we’re in the business of selling and marketing and making and growing and promoting wine. And that is, by nature, a hospitable industry, where we will be around and have access to, again, late nights long travel, working in the fields, or being you know, on the production side, where your hours are incredibly long and incredibly physical. So yes, it’s jargon. And it’s actually why I called a balance glass, a balanced glass, because I do believe it’s a it’s at every moment of every time you’re trying to find your way. And that was very intentional. When I when I kind of came up with the name.
Jacy Topps 11:48
Okay, great. So what is trying to have a balanced life, basically, within our industry? Does that mean backing off? And sometimes saying no, because I’ve had to learn how to do that and say, I really want to attend this event, but I’m going to say no. What does that look like for
Rebecca Hopkins 12:05
you? Yeah, I would say that the hardest thing I’ve had to learn is managing my own health. And I think that, on this subject, we’re talking about something that is really deeply personal, which is our own health. Every person has very different parameters of what it means to have health to have vitality, and to be well. And I am always shy about well, you should do this or take that or, because it’s such a, you have no idea what someone else is dealing with, you have no idea where people’s priorities are. And it’s really not your business. And so for me, you know, I’ll tell you personally, going around at the long way, is making things a priority, that I don’t always love, but I have to do them. And because for me, surviving and thriving in the wine business, for the long haul, is about self awareness and discipline for ourselves, which for me, is, you know, this morning, before I even got out of bed, it’s, you know, sit up and do 15 minutes of meditation, because you just got to click for me, I have to clear my head before I can stop. It’s prioritizing your own health and your own rest. And I think rest and sleep are two of the most critical discussions that are always the hardest thing to make time for. And so yes, sure, there’s the hacks of regular bedtimes and sleep hygiene. But for me, it comes down to setting good boundaries of what I will and won’t do. And sometimes I don’t like my own boundaries, because I miss out. Yeah, you know, I miss out on stuff. And it’s hard to because when you love the business and live the business, you know, as we do, you want to be everywhere, because let’s face it, a lot of this, a lot of your friends are there, and a lot of your community is there. And I think a big part of well being is community, I fundamentally believe that and it’s critical that we find and stay in safe community that we can have. And you know, yes, days off drinking, for me are important. And really finding time for that rest. Yeah, but again, I do part of the reason right way, I really try to focus on resources on a balance glasses. I don’t know where you’re at in your journey. I’m happy to you know, give you some ideas and thoughts, but it’s your journey, and you’re on it. So
Jacy Topps 14:34
I like what you said about just kind of like setting boundaries and taking a break sometimes. And, you know, I feel like that makes sense to me. But for me in theory, I feel like do you like it’s already hard for women in this world, especially in wine as well. Wine is definitely an industry where it’s been male dominated. In most departments have wine like, right in every area. And so I’ve been kind of go, go, go, go go, I want to go to this event, I want to go that training and because I want to, like, have my face being shown everywhere. So I find it really hard, because I feel that setting boundaries would hurt my career as a woman, do you find that?
Rebecca Hopkins 15:25
I do. I do. And unfortunate, it’s everything you’ve just talked about. Right? It’s we know that the top leadership is still disproportionately represented by, by men by white men, and this still exists exclusionary behavior that for many, many of us in the community requires us to kind of keep showing up and keep shoving the door open and slowing down can can absolutely be a hindrance to that. And it’s making the hard choices. And it’s, it’s also having really honest conversations about what it is that we really need to do. And where it is important from a from a career career priority that we can absolutely attend, you know, say an event, for example, for you or for me, but then it’s making the boundary within that experience to sit and say, Okay, I need I need to go to this event, or I need to attend this experience, because here is my objective, and this is what I want to get out of that. And then managing the time to kind of have that experience in as mindful way as possible. So, there’s seven events this week, okay, I’m gonna do 45 minutes. These are the people I need to see, these are the hands I need to shake. These are the conversations I need to have, you know, I know my entry plan, I know my exit plan. And I go and do that. And I stick to my boundaries around that. Because to your point, absolutely, that, you know, they I’m not going because I’m not feeling well, or I’m not going because I don’t feel included. I don’t know anyone. I mean, we, I think coming out of COVID, the social anxiety levels in our industry, and I guess I don’t know, but I just say across the world are off the charts. We’re all having to really learn ways of being together. And it’s hard. And it’s hard if you know, if you have family, at home, you’re the primary caregiver for family or relatives or your partner. Unfortunately, we don’t even start at the starting gate as women, people of color, LGBTQ, we just don’t have the same access. So it’s a long winded way of saying yes. And it’s also another long-winded way of saying that’s where we have to find our, our allies and our people who will support us in the decisions that we make. Right. And the decision and the boundaries that we set, you know. Yeah,
Jacy Topps 17:58
I agree. I think another important thing, too, is, you know, when our country talks about self care, we talk about massages or spending money. But I think a lot of times for me, it’s just sitting at home and just watching TV. And you know, having just saying no to an event, while I sit home, I don’t have to always go get a pedicure, or things like that. I think that’s important to talk about as well.
Rebecca Hopkins 18:27
100% 100% and we have to remember the wellness industry is an industry. It’s a capitalistic structure in a lot of ways. Unfortunately, you know, if you peel if you peel back to the foundations of kind of self care, that they don’t cost money, they take time to learn and or they can be low cost entry if you’re thinking about a breathwork technique, or you’re thinking about stretching your body or or to your point, just sitting, sitting and doing something mindful in that in that setting. And even if that is just staring at a screen that doesn’t you know, doesn’t talk back. I struggle a lot with this concept of wellness in America because I guess I’ve seen this since 2016 to today that just the exponential explosion of the fact that you need the demonstration kit, a rose quartz facial massager you need 45 minutes some sound bath I mean, geez, stop, please stop. But what we don’t do is we don’t teach people methods for self health and self wellness. So again, whether that is five simple stretches you can do after a long shift on the floor for our industry. Or okay JC you’re sitting on the you’re sitting on the couch, awesome. You’ve got your favorite blanket. Fantastic. Let’s just do some deep belly breathing for two minutes. Right or let’s just check in and do a body scan where you at. ease your mind a mess. Okay, let’s think about you know, let’s Due to minute mind clearing, oh, you’re all hyped up. Okay, let’s do some box breathing, to release that stress. And I do think that’s important, but it’s hard to learn. And again, that’s, you know, I’ve learned them, not very well, but I’ve learned them. And I’m always happy to share. You know, and so that’s why there’s a lot of free stuff on on YouTube, you gotta know where to find it. So part of what we try to do is bring those resources and an easier place to find them.
Jacy Topps 20:27
I do. I mean, I think that’s definitely one of the reasons why I like your online platform, because it’s, it’s community within the industry, right? Because it’s like, you know, our industry is definitely glamorized. And so to the outside world, it’s like people like, oh, Crimea River, you’re so tired. Your trips to Europe? So other people in the industry? Know that it’s actually it’s still work? Yes, we are very privileged to have, you know, great perks like that. But, but it’s still work. And it takes a lot takes a toll. And I think I really appreciate your, your take, and I really appreciate your platform.
Rebecca Hopkins 21:15
Well, and can I add Thank you. Can I add to that? I also see that when you are out in those environments, women are judged differently for drinking. Yes. And there are weather, you know, there are many of us in the industry that are judged differently for being in our behavior is always being judged, I’ll say that we’re always being observed. And it’s another layer of stress that certain other parts of the industry don’t have to worry about. Right. So and again, when you’re eating, drinking, traveling, sleeping, leaving the party early, staying at the party late talking to this person holding that glass, I mean constantly being observed. And that is why it is work. Yes, but there is also a layer that not everyone has to deal with.
Jacy Topps 22:12
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Rebecca Hopkins 23:28
Yeah, I mean, I would love first of all, I think knowing more about alcohol, I think is the greatest power you can have for your own to really understand what you’re working with. And I’m just gonna give a shout out to there’s a gentleman called Professor David Nutt, who’s written I think, the best book on alcohol and science, and it’s called drink. And it really breaks. He’s actually as an English. He’s a professor in the UK who owns a wine bar, by the way, and he is kind of an authority on alcohol abuse, and just alcohol usage and what your body does and how it behaves and the real fundamental knowledge on how your body interacts with the drink. And I love it. I’m a big reader of nonfiction on this subject. And this is the best one I’ve found. For me. Yes, days off, I have to, because I think it’s also about just checking myself on what I’m doing. And being honest with myself, I have a friend in the industry who marks their drinks on their wrist when they go to an event with the eyeliner, just a tiny little mark. Because, you know, we like to lie to ourselves. Like Right. Right. And I think you know, unfortunately, we really have to keep ourselves accountable to ourselves. And that is really, that’s a big one is isn’t literally really looking in the mirror and being like Okay, where am I really? Where am I at what’s my relationship really to, to alcohol and how healthy is it sometimes mine’s been great other times I’m just being hellacious ly bad. For those reasons you talk about right? Never Ending opportunity or volume at our kind of disposal. For me, I always eat before I leave home or the office, I always keep snacks on hand, I’m like a little squirrel. I’ve just got food stashed everywhere. Because just helps, you know, absorb whatever it is you’re going to drink. I do check my drinks, I’ve had to learn. And now I do I plan. I call them my arrival and exit strategies. When I’m out in public, and I tell people, If I’m with friends, and I feel safe enough, and this is not always the case. But I can be like, Hey, I’m trying to actually drink a little less tonight. So can you just kind of keep me honest on this. So that accountability, and you need really honest friends who aren’t just gonna keep pouring drinks. And then, you know, for for business, for business, I very much tried to find opportunity to meet with people without drinks. And you know, in your line of work, you have no shortage of people who want to meet with you. And I’d rather do, you know, I’d love to hang out with you for hours. But you know, let’s do a 30 minute coffee meeting, let’s do a 30 minute, oh, you’re gonna be at this event, too. Can we just step aside for a second, have a quick conversation, and then we can both get on with our day. Because to your point, it’s work. Socializing is a little different. And I think what part of the challenge is, is that we socialize with other people in the business. And so our boundaries become very blurred. Because we want to be in community, we want to be with people we like and, and if we’re in circumstances that are not strong boundaries for ourselves or others, it can get really slippery. And then, you know, from a food point of view, I think dinners are hard. I used to call it the steak house tour of the US, you know, because you’re out every night. You’re like, oh, great, more ribeye. Oh, amazing. Of course, you can say no, right? In theory, in theory, right? You know, you’ve just been, you know, JC, you’ve just been thrown flown to Georgia, and you’re sitting in front of a Georgia and winemaker who is thrilled that you’re here. And we’re dying to show you the regional culinary foods and the wines that they’ve been making. And yeah, there’s seven courses sitting in front of you. How do you say no, right. Exactly. And that’s, that’s hard, because you politely declining, food is difficult, particularly and, you know, try saying that to an Italian. And, you know, you got to eat half your portions and move food around your plate or, or on the big one for always having a spittoon on the table, you know, at dinner and having my glasses removed, between you know, if I’ve tasted the wine, I have to ask people to take my glasses away, otherwise, I will drink them. Can I love wine? I love it. You know.
Jacy Topps 27:51
I love wine, too. I love what we do. I just I think most people in the industry, love wine and love, every aspect of wine is just kind of a matter of finding to make sure that we stay healthy and just thinking about our wellness or well being.
Rebecca Hopkins 28:10
Yeah, and I think too, I’ll come back to the comment you made about healthy, quote, wine or lower? No, I actually think it’s been an incredibly powerful consumer movement. That is really, and I say, forcing the industry to look at our own well being, because we can no longer deny that that health is important. You know, well, this is the job you signed up to do it? Well, actually, no, because now we’re talking to a demographic a generation that is drinking differently, if at all. They’re experimenting more, no, alcohol is now part of conversation. And we talk about the lack of new drinkers, well, are we maybe not having the right conversations with them? Right. And are we maybe not having accurate conversations and we need these conversations to to help the industry stay? You know, financially healthy, and we’ll say that, yeah. And so I do, I do think that, you know, the low than know, the sober curious conversations, although I bristle at a lot of it, particularly when it comes to the concept that alcohol can be healthy. But I think it’s forcing a lot of conversations in boardrooms and back rooms and you know, that we wouldn’t lead certainly weren’t having 10 years ago, unless you were a progressive, you know, company that took it upon themselves from a from a cultural point of view to make it important, you know, right. Exactly. Sure didn’t exist in my corporate life.
Jacy Topps 29:47
So I just have one final question for you. Yes. When you are enjoying a glass of wine or, or a spirit, what’s in your glass? What are you drinking?
Rebecca Hopkins 29:57
I drink broadly wine. I don’t Drink. Really don’t drink beer I probably have to a year. I think that’s just, I don’t love it. I don’t love the flavor. Spirits for me if I’m drinking, it’s three things. It’s either a very small grape martini, or a Negroni. I’ve been I’ve been enjoying boulevardier TAs. Oh, yeah. But I I try not to have alcohol after dinner like spirits after dinner. Hot alcohol. Because it’s just my sleep is a mess. What’s in my glass? Normally what’s in my fridge right now there’s always a bottle of something sparkling or, or a salty, moderate white wine. I love you know Riesling. I love Southern Italian white wine, Portuguese white wine, my jam. And I love when I come back from Australia every time I smuggle in going to customs but smuggling and a handful of really weird, unusual Australian wines. And I just like to blind people with them. That sounds because I’m a bit of a brat when it comes to wine. You know, we spend a lot of time with a lot of wine people and I always just like surprising people. So on a Tuesday night I’ll have I love Corbin. I’m in love with Corbin. Yeah, you know, my Tuesday night drink is a glass of generally something. Italian and white. You know, I love the wines I love filled is Greco. I love donnafugata Is Antilia I love green clothes variety. And then high acid reds. I love it number also, I’m a big fan of, you know, Victorian Shiraz from Australia from the cooler climates. And you know, you and I bonded over champagne. So what can I say? Just can’t afford it. I like to drink it.
Jacy Topps 31:50
Definitely champagne in the mix. Yes. Rebecca, thank you so much for joining us. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you today. And I can’t wait to hang out with you again.
Rebecca Hopkins 32:01
Jacy it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for the opportunity. I really appreciate it.
Jacy Topps 32:04
Okay, so maybe work life balance has become a buzzword to bolster self care consumerism. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need help balancing hustle culture, aka toxic productivity. While it may seem like we’re all living the glamorous life to those who are not in the wine community, we know that we work hard the tastings, the conventions, the traveling, the dinner parties, always having to be on. We need time off. Time to regroup dry months outside of January. And sometimes the space to say no thanks. Even when we love what we do, or especially when we love what we do. What are your thoughts? If you liked today’s episode, we’d love to read your reviews and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out to remember, you can subscribe to this podcast on Apple, Google, Spotify and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. You can also go to wine mag.com backslash podcasts. For more episodes and transcripts. I’m Jacy Topps. Thanks again for listening.