Meet Marina! She is half of the duo that makes up wine importing agency, Wine Alliance. Wine importers, like Marina do the leg work around the world seeking out the best wines to bring to the liquor market in Alberta. Without them, we wouldn’t have products to bring to our customers! Marina shares how a trip to Italy blossomed into a fruitful career in wine, what she loves about being an entrepreneur and of course, which of our wine styles suits her best!
VS: Before you were in the wine business, what did you do?
MB: Like most of us in Calgary I found myself in the Oil & Gas industry. Never finishing high school and being a runaway who joined the carnival, and then becoming a young mom, working in oil & gas was an easy way to build a career. Starting as a receptionist in 1996 in a growing company I climbed the ladder over the years and in 2007 when I left I was the Executive Assistant to the CEO.
VS: What attracted you to becoming a wine agent?
MB: In 2006 my husband and I took a journey to discover my Italian heritage, it was here that I met my cousins in the small village of Forino, Avellino. This was my first time to Italy and I did not speak the language, my aunt was warm and loving and opened her home to us and it was here where my life was about to change and I didn’t even know it. It was the fastest 6 days of my life and so much to absorb, the family (which seemed to be everyone in the village) the culture (which was not like the Italian community in Canada) and my cousin, Ciro, who was also searching for something.
I can say at the end of the whirlwind trip we got on the plane and all I could think about was how can I keep this new connection with my cousin, what can I do to make sure I build a bridge from Calgary to Forino. Well, it took one 10 hour flight and quite a reflection on what just happened. When we landed I look at my husband Craig and said, “The wine! I’ll sell his wine in Alberta that’s how we can stay in touch.” Without missing a beat Craig’s response was, “I was wondering what was taking you so long”!
When we got home I called my aunt and told her the great news that I was going to sell the family wine in Alberta and everyone thought I was crazy, especially because at the time I was a beer drinker. Ignorance is bliss. The idea to bring the family together and see Ciro again consumed me.
First day back to work, my boss called me in his office to hear all about the trip, after sharing I stood up to leave when he said, “Marina, can you do one thing for me, when you leave us can we have 3 months to find a replacement?” Exactly one week later I was back in his office handing in my resignation letter.
VS: So, you have deep roots in wine – no pun intended – how does family still play a role in your wine story?
MB: This journey started because I was looking for family and connection. From the beginning, family and friends supported my small business and my daughters have grown up learning about wine, where it comes from and the families that make it all happen. I quickly gained the reputation of the ‘family woman’ in the industry and wore that like a badge of honor. That also lead to how I started to grow my wine/spirits portfolio, others introducing me to small family owned and operated wineries. In the beginning I was terrified to grow the portfolio, but over time the people I met like Jim Fetzer who taught me so much about family business and the world of wine. Jim was a gift, I was alone in this industry and was making it all up as I went along. Jim was born into the industry and really took the time to teach me.
That is when I committed to only representing small families and to present their stories the best I understood them.
VS: What do you find most rewarding about being an entrepreneur?
MB: The satisfaction of the results.
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely, you have to be imaginative and trust yourself. I have learned so much about what kind of person I am and what kind of woman I want to be because I have this opportunity to explore my city and province through wine and storytelling.
VS: Your office is in Kensington, what are your favourite places in the neighbourhood?
MB: Kensington Fitness is a great place for me to start the day, a place I can go where I don’t have to think about anyone’s needs but my own. It is the one place I can go where it is all about me and as an entrepreneur that is rare and something I truly cherish.
VS: What has your business partner, Chris taught you?
MB: Working with Chris the past 8 months has been so exciting and I feel at times a weight lifted off my shoulders. I truly admire Chris’s palate and how his mind translates flavors into ideas. I had the privilege to see him in action when we were at Prowein in Germany in March, I learned more about wine in those three days with Chris, tasting wines all day and discussing them it was like a light bulb went off for me!
VS: What is your favourite wine memory?
MB: When Ciro hosted my birthday party in the Fiano family vineyard. My dearest family and friends traveled with me to Forino and we harvested the Fiano (grapes) and collected the chestnuts for my uncle and then all feasted at the table for the evening! It was like a dream.
VS: You work pretty odd hours, what do you enjoy doing when you’re away from it all?
MB: My husband and I renovate. We have been renovating now for 8 years and I suspect we have another 5 to go. I love spending time with him and it gives us something to do together. It’s also another place in my life where I don’t have to make the decisions, I get to be the apprentice and we enjoy the rewards of our hard work together.
VS: If you could cultivate one personal trait, what would it be, and why?
MB: Man you don’t make this easy do you. Hum…Balance
I think everyone struggles with balance, but as an entrepreneur you are often on 100% of the time and learning when and how to focus on other aspects of your life can be tricky. I’m currently teaching myself to schedule ‘personal time’ in my calendar. It helps me stop and think before I fill the blank slot for an event or meeting.
VS: You’ve had a pretty fantastic year of business travel in Europe, what’s next on the list?
MB: No business trips planned for the next 12 months, but rather a family adventure to Ireland. My sister in law’s parents are celebrating 45 years married and they have put out the invitation to the whole family to join them in Ireland.
VS: If you trade places with anyone in the world for a day, who would it be and why?
MB: That’s easy, it would be my nephew Wolfgang, he is 2 ½ Every time I spend time with him I’m reminded of the simplicity of the world around him. It’s not complicated in the eyes of a little person.
VS: What was the last book/Netflix series you finished, did you enjoy it?
MB: OMG we just finished House of Cards. I loved it. It’s twists and turns, it had so many story lines going and it often surprised you with the direction it took.
VS: Last but not least, which one of our styles represents you the best?
MB: Ask any of my family and friends and I know they would say I’m ‘Bold’ without hesitation, but when I reflect on myself I think I am ‘Elegant’!