The Tasting Panel magazine

March 2016

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36  /  the tasting panel  /  march 2016 About Women of the Vine ® Women of the Vine is a member- ship-based alliance that empow- ers and equips women worldwide to advance their careers in the alcohol beverage industry, fostering gender diversity and talent development across the industry at large. The Women of the vine Global Symposium is scheduled for April 4–6, 2016 in Napa, CA. For more information, visit I n the 1990s, Victoria MacRae-Samuels asked her employers at Jim Beam if she could leave the sterility of the lab to work hands-on in the distillery. In reply, they offered her the position of Relief Supervisor, considered the most demanding role in a distillery that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. MacRae-Samuels took the job and worked whenever there was need, all hours of the night, some- times seven days a week, across two locations for five years—while raising two young children. "It was understood that if you could do that job, you could do anything," she says. Indeed, she proved that idea true, having done just about everything it takes to bring bourbon whiskey to market, from lab work and quality control to her current role as Vice President of Operations at Maker's Mark. What's more, she has the distinction of being the first woman to supervise a bourbon distillery and is one of the highest-ranking women in distillery operations today. MacRae-Samuels wasn't born into bourbon country; she grew up in Seattle, graduating from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma with a degree in chemis- try and eventually settling in San Francisco. On a vacation to the East Coast in 1988, she chanced upon an invitation to dine at the home of Jim Beam's larger-than-life bourbon distiller, Booker Noe. Serendipitously, MacRae-Samuels wound up in a conversation with Noe that would change the course of her life and career forever. Noe shared with MacRae-Samuels that he wanted to explore maturation in the barrel. "I said I didn't know anything about bourbon and he said 'You can learn.'" So she returned to San Francisco, packed her Honda and drove across the country—back to Noe, Jim Beam and a new job in a bourbon distillery lab. In 2008, after steadily climbing the ranks at Jim Beam for almost two decades, MacRae-Samuels transitioned to Maker's Mark and received an education in that product's rich history and the non-negotiables of the brand. MacRae-Samuels feels a deep responsibility to empower her staff of around 140 people to learn about, understand and protect the brand as well. She had an opportunity to see this in action in 2013 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, halfway through getting her MBA at Bellarmine University. She earned her degree and recovered, but hung back from Maker's Mark for a while. "I had to stand up for my health. When I returned in January of 2014, I found that my team was able to take the reins when I had to step away." MacRae-Samuels will be a panelist for the Women of the Vine Global Symposium, April 4–6, 2016, on the subject of "Spirited Women: Taking the Lead," in which she'll discuss her rise to the top in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Understandably, she has a natural affinity for young women who want to join her field, as well as women later in life looking to change careers. "I have two daughters, both of whom look to do their life's work and passion. When they're considering job options, they don't shy away from a field because it's not gender- diverse. That's the beauty of today." While MacRae-Samuels is a major cheerleader for women's advocacy and train- ing in the drinks business, she also sees great value in empowering men to widen their perspective. "For them to embrace the fact that everyone is different, to listen to different opinions and perspectives, is very important. Valuing differences is what makes us a stronger team. When everyone believes that, the business improves and everyone benefits." PHOTO COURTESY OF BEAM SUNTORY Victoria MacRae-Samuels: A Woman of the Vine by Jaime Lewis 36  /  the tasting panel  /  march 2016

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