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Women Take Over The Beverage Industry

Kendyl Kearly | September 23, 2019 | Food & Drink People

The distillery is a laboratory that allows for creativity and craftsmanship in spirits.

As we’ve reported on wine and spirits, the biggest trend hasn’t been CBD infusions or raw wines—it’s been a surge of women shaking up the beverage industry with fresh ideas.

Leslie Merinoff

Leslie Merinoff doesn’t hold back when she sees what she wants. She imagined creating custom spirits for her wedding and a personalized whiskey as a gift for her father, but the distillery for that didn’t exist, so she built her own. The first time she ever visited Greenport, she loved it so much that she put down an offer on a commercial property that day. And when New York law said that her clients wouldn’t be able to make their own liquors from her business, she fought to get the law changed.

To step inside Merinoff’s brainchild, Matchbook Distilling, is to enter what must be the world’s coolest laboratory, which is equal parts chemistry and magic. Gargantuan copper distillers fill the warehouse, and bottles lining the walls look as if filled with supernatural elixirs. Here, Merinoff and her business partner and husband, Brian Kwasnieski, can make small batches of pretty much anything you want to drink, including botanical liquors that don’t fit into the traditional spirit categories we know.

“It’s so exciting to see people come into this magical kitchen space that we’re creating in the apothecary, and letting them explore and create something of their own,” she says.

Matchbook has now launched Saturday sessions where guests can experiment with a gallery collection of single botanicals. New York’s 101st Design Awards charged her with producing a custom liquor, and the result was full of ingredients that foster creativity: jasmine, pala santo, rose, lemon grass and juniper. Merinoff even jokes that she can pull off a love potion. “I want people to understand that when they come to these sessions, they get to be hands-on, and I will help guide them and give them the tools they need to be able to create something of their own,” she says.

One of Matchbook Distilling’s gin blends

Merinoff’s upbringing seems perfectly tailored to her current career: Her family founded Breakthru Beverage Group, a huge distributor of wine, spirits and beer; she grew up working on the South Fork’s Quail Hill and visiting purveyors; and she spent much of her childhood in East Hampton, though that didn’t prepare her for her first trip to the North Fork. “I was pulling in on the North ferry and was just totally swept away coming into Greenport Village on the boat,” she says. “It just completely captivated my heart and mind and imagination.” 230 Corwin St., Greenport

Kristin Tice Studeman at one of her dinners

Growing up in California with Napa and Sonoma close by, Kristin Tice Studeman was immediately drawn to wine and the impact it could have on an evening. The region’s full-bodied reds starred at beautiful wine dinners, but there was something missing. “I love rosé because it’s such a light, kind of carefree wine,” Tice Studeman says. “But what if we focus on all of the amazing rosés being made right now and think about it the same way we do a cab?”

The Rosé Project's first dinner, at The Surf Lodge

In 2017, she hosted her first rosé dinner at The Surf Lodge and called her new venture The Rosé Project. Loring Place chef Dan Kluger created elaborate dishes that paired with some of Tice Studeman’s favorite rosés.

Since the initial dinner’s success, Tice Studeman has gone on to host events in the Hamptons and NYC. A dinner with Select 7’s Marc Murphy sold out in 24 hours, and Simon Kim’s hot spot Cote allowed for unusual combinations of rosé with Korean cuisine. (Think East Coast uni with La Caravelle Rosé Champagne by Rita Jammet.)

In addition to being a favorite out East, rosé offers a versatility and trendiness, but Tice Studeman was sure to avoid the more common varieties and “swill.” “I really wanted to focus on quality and stay true to my vision of showcasing all kinds of rosés from lesser-known producers around the world,” she says.

Some of her favorite rosés of the moment are Clos Cibonne, Macari Rosé and Idlewild The Flower.

The Rosé Project returned this summer at Gurney’s Showfish and expands to L.A. next. Tice Studeman hopes to one day take the project back to Northern California and says, “I think it would turn some heads.”

Bertha González Nieves

With Long Island’s rosé obsession and taste for Italian spritzes, tequila rarely takes the spotlight at Hamptons fetes, but Casa Dragones CEO and co-founder Bertha González Nieves is here to change that with her luxury small-batch tequila. Favored by Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart, the brand made its U.S. debut in the Hamptons and has since hosted a slew of events, including dinners at hot spots such as Wölffer Estate Vineyards and new hotel A Room at the Beach.

“Our first retailer in the United States that actually believed in us was Amagansett Liquors, so the Hamptons have a very special place in our heart,” says González Nieves, who has a house in Springs. “So it’s been an area that has embraced us since day one, and we are really committed to continuing to build our business there.”

She is the first woman master of tequila and has been drawn to the spirit ever since she was invited to study it at age 20 in Jalisco, Mexico. “The agave fields, the production, the relationship people have with the spirit and how it represents Mexico—the entire process really captivated me and took all of my attention,” she says. “I feel very fortunate that I’ve had the chance to find my true passion.”

Casa Dragones tequila

Since that trip, Casa Dragones has received Wine Enthusiast’s highest ranking, and Forbes named her as one of the 50 most powerful women in Mexico. “There have been women participating in the industry for years, but I think in this generation, we are asking questions and pushing forward in a way that we’ve never done in the past,” she says. “As we develop, we’re passing the baton from generation to generation, and hopefully this is also opening the door for future generations. It shouldn’t be about gender; it should be about talent.”

Gabriella Macari

To be named as a master of wine, one must be invited two years in advance to take a test that includes tasting 36 wines and writing 13 essays over the course of four days. Gabriella Macari has been preparing for this for nine years—or, technically, her whole life, as she’s been working at her family’s Macari Vineyards in Mattituck since childhood.

But her journey to become a master of wine represents a focus on stringent education that Gabriella is bringing back to her family business. The vineyard is moving away from glammed-up weddings and putting more focus on education and informative tastings.

“Maybe I’m biased because I’ve been studying for so long, but I think the more you learn about wine, the more you can enjoy what you’re drinking,” she says. “It’s the most exciting point for me to be able to connect with people over storytelling and over educational things about grapes.”

In addition, Gabriella consults for global wine brands but appreciates working with her family, who frequently shop the local farms and cook together after a day of hard work in the vineyard. “My parents always said we could do whatever we wanted, and of course, [my siblings and I] all ended up working together. It sort of grabs you back,” she says.

Gabriella argues that now is the best time to sip wines from local purveyors, and that their quality has never been better. That’s not the only change: “Never before have I seen so many strong, smart, empowered women working in wine and spirits,” she says. “I think that now more than ever, women are coming together. Doing the things they love, it’s absolutely approachable.” 150 Bergen Ave., Mattituck