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Dini Rao Transcript

 “Raise A Glass To Wine Trailblazer Dini Rao” Transcript

Helen Rosner: Hi. This is Helen Rosner, and you're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe. You're the bombe.

Kerry Diamond: Hi, Bombesquad. Welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe, the number one female-focused food podcast in the universe. I'm your host, Kerry Diamond. We have a new member of the Bombesquad to introduce you to today. Her name is Dini Rao, and she's had a very interesting career in the world of wine. Whether you drink wine or not, I have no doubt you'll learn a lot about following your passion, blazing new trails, and being an entrepreneur. Thank you to our sponsors, Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Schools and Emmi cheese from Switzerland. You folks are the bombe. Thank you for supporting Radio Cherry Bombe.

Kerry Diamond: Before we get to today's episode, let's do some housekeeping. First off, I want to thank everyone who joined us on the Miami stop of our Food For Thought Tour. We had a great live podcast event at Chef Lorena Garcia's brand new restaurant, Chica, which just opened. I had the most amazing time meeting the Florida Bombesquad, and I cannot wait to come back. Special shout out to our Instagram friend, Katrina of GettingBakedWithKatrina. She drove five hours to be at our event. Can you believe that? It's always nice meeting our Instagram friends in real life. So thank you, Katrina.

Kerry Diamond: Our next and final tour stop of 2019 is in Philadelphia on Monday, December 2nd at Triple Bottom Brewing. The event will be from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. and will feature insightful talks, a panel discussion, delicious snacks and drinks, and networking. Tickets are $30 and available on Thank you to our friends at Kerrygold for supporting our tour.

Kerry Diamond: What else? The holidays are coming up, and I don't know if you noticed on Instagram, but the new Cherry Bombe magazine is finally here. Issue 14 is our first ever fashion issue, and it is the perfect gift for the Bombesquad members in your life. We actually have five different covers. So head to to check them out. Order your favorite, order all five, or subscribe. It's a killer issue, and the Cherry Bombe team worked really hard on this one. If you love the podcast, you will love our magazine. Before we get to my conversation with Dini Rao of Life in Vino, let's hear a word from our pals at Emmi cheese from Switzerland.

Kerry Diamond: Hey, Bombesquad. Let's talk about Emmi cheese from Switzerland. Emmi's beautiful variety of cheeses are crafted from the freshest milk from local Swiss farms. One of our favorites is Emmi raclette. It's a fabulous cheese that you can grill or melt over your favorite foods. Or you could take a page from Erin McDowell, author of The Fearless Baker cookbook and the upcoming book on pie, and to make her pear and raclette stuffed french toast. Made with thick slices of brioche, sauteed pears, and lots of yummy raclette, it's a delicious way to spice up breakfast or brunch at home.

Kerry Diamond: Or how about some of Erin's holiday baking recipes? There's her skillet citrus almond danish with gooey raclette caramel. This showstopper combines flavors of bright blood orange, almond cream, and a truly rich caramel sauce made with nutmeg and Emmi raclette. If you are looking for a new recipe to wow them with this season, look no further. You can find these recipes and more at And you can find Emmi's delicious cheeses from Switzerland, the ones with the distinctive blue and red logo, at your favorite grocery store or cheesemonger. Dini Rao, we're going to jump right into it. Who are you?

Dini Rao: I'm a wine lover. I'm a wine lover, mom, sommelier, entrepreneur.

Kerry Diamond: So how did you get into the wine business?

Dini Rao: It's a funny story. But back when I was 17 years old and in high school, I thought I would be a farmer.

Kerry Diamond: Really? Where did you grow up?

Dini Rao: Yeah. I grew up in Ohio, and I loved the landscape of the agriculture there and everything. I loved food. So I thought either chef or farmer. My mother took me to Upstate New York to visit the Finger Lakes region on our way to visit colleges. And little did she know that I would discover more than colleges. But we visited a winery, and I just fell in love. I thought-

Kerry Diamond: They have beautiful wineries in the Finger Lakes.

Dini Rao: Beautiful wineries. And they talked about the flavors, and it reminded me of being in my mother's Indian kitchen. I would always try and guess the spices and things like that and fell in love.

Kerry Diamond: I wondered where the story was going with the 17 year old part. I was like, "Were you sneaking drinks? Were you drinking with your parents' permission? What was going on?" So you figured out you could still be a farmer but grow grapes?

Dini Rao: Exactly.

Kerry Diamond: But that's not where your story went. Exactly. When you said you wanted to be a farmer, what kind of farmer did you think you would be?

Dini Rao: I don't even think I had an idea of what product. I wanted that whole lifestyle of living on the land and cooking from things and taking care of animals. That just sounded really romantic.

Kerry Diamond: And was there anything in your past that might've led to you wanting to be a farmer?

Dini Rao: Really, my parents are from India, and I think that's always played a role. Farming is such a huge part of the Indian fabric, and the animals and things like that and especially just the concept of being very connected to the land and what you eat and what you drink and all of that. So I think that's part of it.

Kerry Diamond: So I guess you were looking at Cornell since you were up in that part of the world. Where did you wind up going to college?

Dini Rao: I ended up going to Babson College undergrad, where I studied entrepreneurship. Because, in the end, I decided no matter what I wanted to create, whether it was a farm or a restaurant or winery, wine company, really the heart of everything was entrepreneurship.

Kerry Diamond: It's so funny because when I went to college, that wasn't even a thing. Really nobody used the word entrepreneur. You didn't grow up saying, "I want to be an entrepreneur." There wasn't an entrepreneur club. Now it's the thing. So what did that mean, to study entrepreneurship?

Dini Rao: Well, it was very hands-on. So the first thing we did, our very first class, we all started a business as a class. You had to get it profitable. You had an accompanying charity that was associated with it. This was before the dot-com boom and everything. So ours was a very basic business of-

Kerry Diamond: What was your business?

Dini Rao: -selling coupons.

Kerry Diamond: Selling coupons. Okay. You were Groupon before-

Dini Rao: We were like a Groupon.

Kerry Diamond: -Groupon. Okay.

Dini Rao: Exactly. But it was very low tech. It was a paper one. A reusable one, at least.

Kerry Diamond: Was it profitable? Or did you all get-

Dini Rao: It was profitable.

Kerry Diamond: Did you all fail? Okay. Good.

Dini Rao: It was profitable.

Kerry Diamond: Good. That's so funny. And then you went on and got your MBA. Did you take some time off?

Dini Rao: Yeah. I went to go work in the wine business.

Kerry Diamond: You did? Okay.

Dini Rao: I worked at a retail store, where they took me to Bordeaux. And it was by the bleachers.

Kerry Diamond: Well, let's go back. Let's go back one tiny bit. But you started doing wine tastings in your dorm?

Dini Rao: I did.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. I was drinking boxed wine in college. We were not tasting wine, but you seem like you were a little more advanced when you were in college.

Dini Rao: Well, I had this newfound love of wine, and I just wanted to learn as much as possible. And luckily, I found a great group of people. I would just invite my hallway mates and things like that, tell them to come over. Everyone would chip in for the wine. And we would get different bottles, and we would explore different regions around the world. It was really cool because, even though we were in college, we weren't focused on getting drunk. I realized, through this, wine was such a good medium to connect with people, to take a breath away from our studies, and just relish and savor something else.

Kerry Diamond: You were so sophisticated when you were in college, weren't you? I'm thinking back. I'm like, "Oh my God." I was drinking boxed wine and drinking peach schnapps mixed with, I don't know, vodka. Something disgusting.

Dini Rao: I blame my mom for that. She was a really good cook. So she's responsible for my good taste.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. Okay. So you managed to find some friends who were psyched about wine the same way you were. How did you start to develop your palate and your vocabulary?

Dini Rao: Yeah. It was just through this process of tasting. And because we didn't have anyone knowledgeable with us, we had no idea how to pronounce things. I mean, it was Merlot, and it was ... And I didn't know French, so everything was mispronounced and everything. But we didn't care, and it wasn't about that. I think because we knew so little, it wasn't about the ego of anything or anybody bragging and saying, "Well, my father has this in his cellar," whatever, because none of us had that.

Kerry Diamond: So you graduate, and you decide "This is what I want to do professionally."

Dini Rao: Exactly. Even when I was in college, I got a job at a wine shop. And I was very fortunate because those guys were super, super knowledgeable. They had the store ever since Prohibition, but I was the first woman to ever work in the store, as I would find in many of my jobs in the wine business.

Kerry Diamond: I was going to say, I'm sure we're going to hear that you were the first for several things. So you graduate. Where did you find your first job?

Dini Rao: I took a job at the wine store, which was during-

Kerry Diamond: Post-graduation?

Dini Rao: I graduated in 2000. So a lot of my classmates all went to go work for these startups, making ridiculous amounts of money, and they had all these perks. They had foosball tables and soda machines. I don't know. They had all these crazy things.

Kerry Diamond: That was during the first dot-com boom?

Dini Rao: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Exactly. And they all said, "Oh, Dini, what are you doing?" Because I'd won the top award at the school or something like that. And I said, "Well, I'm going to work at a wine shop." And they were like, "Huh?"

Kerry Diamond: What did your parents say?

Dini Rao: Oh, well, yeah. They weren't so thrilled either. They thought, "Okay, we thought this wine thing was just a side interest. We didn't know you were actually going to do this." But in the end, they supported me and allowed me to do my thing. I just found the more I learned, the more it continued to ignite the passion. There was so much to know. I just kept studying and kept studying and thought, "Oh, every time I learn more, I fall more in love with wine, and it's unending."

Kerry Diamond: And a great wine shop is an amazing place to be. It's like a great bookstore or any kind of great brick and mortar.

Dini Rao: Yeah. You can travel the whole world from inside that store. And the gentlemen who owned the store, two brothers, and they were so, so good to me and taught me so much. They took me all over the world to different regions to study the wines. So it was so much.

Kerry Diamond: Wow. So it must've been a successful wine shop if they were taking you on travels. Where are some of the places they took you?

Dini Rao: Well, the main trip was Bordeaux, in addition to, I think, California and some other wine trips. But in Bordeaux, we were going to taste the 2000 vintage, which was an incredible vintage. And we were going to taste the futures of the wines that would then be released a few years later and that I could then recommend to our clients.

Kerry Diamond: Explain that term, futures, in wine. What does that mean?

Dini Rao: Yeah. So you actually buy the wine before it's bottled, and you invest in the future of the wine, and you help support the wineries and the people, the middlemen, along the way, who are investing in the wine. Because the wine business is a really long-term business, from the time you spend all this money until you actually get it back in the door from the retailers. So you go, and you taste the wines before they're in bottle. They're still in cask. And you try to imagine, "Okay, what will this wine be like a few years from now? What will it be 20 years from now when my customers go to open it?" And you have to make decisions then based on it. So you're tasting 50 wines a day. It was really intense tasting work.

Kerry Diamond: And spitting, right? For people who've never tasted wine professionally, you don't really swallow it.

Dini Rao: No. You have to spit. And even then, you absorb some of it. So you're taking time in between to eat some salami, eat some baguette.

Kerry Diamond: I feel like when you just start learning how to taste wine, it's a little embarrassing to spit. You're like, "What do you mean we're all spitting in the same container?" But that's just the way it is.

Dini Rao: Actually, I spent a lot of time practicing to spit.

Kerry Diamond: Really?

Dini Rao: Because the first time I tried it at Trade Tasting, it came right back out my mouth, all over my white blouse and everything. So I thought, "Okay, I'm not going to let this happen again. I'm going to practice and be an expert spitter."

Kerry Diamond: I'm guessing a white blouse at a wine tasting is maybe an amateur move. I don't want to...

Dini Rao: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: Not to insult you, Dini, but-

Dini Rao: It was the first of many rookie moves.

Kerry Diamond: So you also went to California. What did you learn out there?

Dini Rao: Yeah. I mean, in California, it's a whole different thing than Bordeaux because, in Bordeaux, they've been making wine there for much, much longer. And there is a lot of prestige and ego about it. And in California, a lot of the wineries we visited were much more the farmers I imagined when I first entered the wine business. People were very warm and welcoming and willing to teach you all sorts of things and talk to you and spend all day with you, in fact.

Kerry Diamond: That's great. You eventually left the wine shop. What was your next adventure?

Dini Rao: I went to be a sommelier at a restaurant in Boston, really great restaurant. And I went into a wine program with two other women. The wine director and the wine manager at the time were both women. And we-

Kerry Diamond: Where was this?

Dini Rao: Grill 23 in Boston.

Kerry Diamond: Boston's a great city for women in food, the whole Boston/Cambridge area.

Dini Rao: It is. And I think it all started with Julia Child and her roots there.

Kerry Diamond: Absolutely. Yeah. Did I read that you actually worked a party-

Dini Rao: I did.

Kerry Diamond: -for Julia Child?

Dini Rao: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: Wow. I was like, "Dini's not that old. How is that even possible?"

Dini Rao: Thank you. She really was a huge influence in the Boston culinary scene and part of the Elizabeth Bishop Wine Center and the culinary program that I did through BU, Boston University. So she did a fundraiser dinner at her house, and we got to go in and cook in her kitchen.

Kerry Diamond: That's amazing. You're the last generation that got to do things with her.

Dini Rao: It's true. Yeah. I treasure that moment of seeing her in her element and how much joy she had in hosting.

Kerry Diamond: And that voice.

Dini Rao: And that voice and that laugh. Oh, so good.

Kerry Diamond: What else can you tell us about that dinner? Do you remember what was served?

Dini Rao: Oh, yeah. I mean, we ... I still have the menu on my wall. She signed the menu, and I still have it framed in my kitchen. So I remember we did the rillette, so many delicious things. But of course, I was very focused on the wines, and we had some incredible auction-worthy wines. But I still remember that Julia was just there, and she had some sort of French country wine that she was drinking that was fizzy, pink, and even a little sweet. It was just the opposite of the pretension that I had seen everywhere else in the wine industry. I thought, "Okay, this is the spirit of wine. This is really what I want my career to be about."

Kerry Diamond: What was the wine she was drinking? Do you remember?

Dini Rao: Sardon de Bougiefrom the southeastern portion of France.

Kerry Diamond: So she liked bougie wine? Sorry. I had to say that.

Dini Rao: Yeah, exactly.

Kerry Diamond: What a memory. That's amazing. Do you have a photo of you and Julia? People didn't really take photos of everything back then.

Dini Rao: No, but I-

Kerry Diamond: Today, you'd have a selfie with her.

Dini Rao: Exactly. And my daughter's really obsessed with her, my six-year-old daughter. And she watches the cooking shows. So we just went to visit the American History Museum that has her kitchen now there. We took a picture of my daughter standing next to her, and me with Julia's picture.

Kerry Diamond: Aww. The peg wall and everything.

Dini Rao: Exactly.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, that's amazing. How incredible that you were able to have that experience. Two things you mentioned, I want to go back to. You mentioned the term auction-worthy wines. What's an auction-worthy wine?

Dini Rao: Well, it's really a wine that will appreciate the time. So there's a sense that there's a future to the wine, and then there's perhaps a rarity element that it's not so easily found for various reasons. So those are the types of things that sell well when I worked at auction at Christie's.

Kerry Diamond: And I read that you tried the first vintage of Dom Perignon. Is that true?

Dini Rao: Absolutely. It's true.

Kerry Diamond: Wow. How old was that wine?

Dini Rao: 1921 Dom Perignon.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, okay. I just assumed they were way older than that.

Dini Rao: Yeah. No. Champaign isn't that old, and then Dom Perignon, that was their first commercial release.

Kerry Diamond: Still exciting.

Dini Rao: Still exciting.

Kerry Diamond: So old.

Dini Rao: Yeah. Still old.

Kerry Diamond: How did it taste?

Dini Rao: It was incredible. It still had a little bit of bubbles, and it had this kind of sea air magic to it. It was a relic of the era of Doris Duke. It was part of her collection. The family and ours at Duke University, and an incredible female wine collector and very powerful woman. And so that made it even more special that it was part of this collection and stored so well that you could actually still taste the bubbles.

Kerry Diamond: How did you get to try that?

Dini Rao: Well, when we worked at Christie's, when I actually came in as a summer intern in between my years of business school at Harvard Business School and we sold her collection. And when you sell a sale like that, you need to open some bottles to make sure that everything-

Kerry Diamond: Of course you do.

Dini Rao: ... is in good condition.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, that's so exciting. Okay. So we're jumping around a little. I want to go back to the fact that you worked as a somm at the restaurant in Boston. Can anyone call themselves a sommelier?

Dini Rao: Well, many people do certainly, but technically a sommelier is someone who's in the service of wine, so they're a wine steward. And so you may know a lot about wine. A lot of people know awful lot about wine, but they're not in that service aspect.

Kerry Diamond: What do you mean in that service aspect?

Dini Rao: Working at a restaurant, serving wine to people, recommending and serving the wine and there's a real art to not only knowing a lot about wine and being able to taste and identify wine which of course you do when you take these wine exams and things, but to be able to know how to prepare and serve the wine to somebody, to decant it.

Kerry Diamond: Got it.

Dini Rao: Very old bottles have the sediment in it so you're decanting over a candle and you're recommending wine to people and really I loved the job because you're taking care of people, and I love that role nurturing people.

Kerry Diamond: Decanting over a candle so you can actually see the sediment and not pour it into someone's glass?

Dini Rao: Correct, exactly.

Kerry Diamond: Because when you spend a lot of money on a fancy old bottle of wine you don't want a mouth full of sediment.

Dini Rao: And you don't want to heat the wine either which some people think you're using the candle for.

Kerry Diamond: That's funny. Okay. So do you have to get certified though to call yourself a somm? No, you don't. Okay.

Dini Rao: Now, there is ... In addition to being a sommelier by vocation or you know the job you're doing, there's also certifications that you can get through the Court of Master Sommeliers and things like that so you can become a certified sommelier, a master sommelier for example. And for those things you have exams.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. But when you go to a restaurant and someone says, "Let me introduce your sommelier." And someone comes to the table, they're not necessarily someone who's gone to school to be a somm, but they could be.

Dini Rao: Correct.

Kerry Diamond: Okay.

Dini Rao: They could have just trained on the job.

Kerry Diamond: Got it. All right. What do you do next?

Dini Rao: Well, I've been traveling around the world and I've been meeting with all these people in the wine industry and experiencing the wine industry and I thought okay there's more that can be done in the wine industry. I thought I really want to make an impact. I want to help revolutionize this kind of archaic business. And so I thought well I could use a few more tools and that's when I applied to and went to Harvard Business School.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. So at the time you said you were working with two women at the restaurant.

Dini Rao: The wine director and wine manager.

Kerry Diamond: Right. And men on the wine shop that you worked at, was it rare to be working with women in the wine industry? I mean, you were working with wine buyers, you were visiting the growers and the vineyards and all of that, were you meeting a lot of women along the way?

Dini Rao: Not at all. Pretty much everyone was a man. Even the owners of the restaurants were men. Majority of the servers there. Certainly most of our clients. When you go to talk to someone who wants to speak to the sommelier, usually it was a man too. It was very unusual.

Kerry Diamond: I've talked to Amanda Kludt about this a lot. When you go out to eat and the check automatically gets dropped in front of the man even if you're the one paying or if they bring out, someone orders a steak and someone orders a salad, the woman automatically gets the salad dropped in front of her. How did you approach a table that was mixed gender?

Dini Rao: That's such a great question because I think this is one of the benefits of having more women in these wine service roles and in wine in general, working in wine because there's no assumption there, because I know often when I order the wine at the table and I know much more about wine than my husband, and often they bring it to him to taste. So I've had that experience of being on the other side. And really it's communication because whoever they've ordered the wine with or whatever should be the person to receive that first taste and assessment of the wine.

Kerry Diamond: I think it's changing slowly.

Dini Rao: Slowly. It depends, but I'm always surprised at how often it happens that the person doesn't bring me the wine to taste. And it's funny because it's not even about a big honor to be the first person to taste at all, it's really just about confirming that this is what you ordered, and assessing the condition of the wine, which the person who's ordered it should be in the best shape to do that.

Kerry Diamond: So you're not encountering a lot of women. I would imagine that also means that you're not encountering a lot of women of color.

Dini Rao: No. Although the line director, Alicia Towns who was the woman who hired me as an African-American woman, and she now works with me on my current business.

Kerry Diamond: Right. You two are working on your project now. I didn't realize that's how you met.

Dini Rao: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. Very exciting. We'll go back to her and what you two are up to these days. Okay. You're at Harvard. How was Harvard?

Dini Rao: It was a whole new world even though I'd been part of the business world in some senses and things like that. When you go to Harvard that's like the big leagues. And so again when I told everybody there, "Oh, I work in wine." It was really unusual and they all kind of did a double-take and said like, "You, you working in wine? Huh, okay." I always loved that aspect of breaking down people's beliefs about what a wine expert should look like. And I met some fabulous people and I brought up the old tradition of doing the wine tastings in my dorm rooms. I didn't have a dorm room been, but I started hosting wine tastings again. Just little group wine tastings and found that yes, this is what I love doing. I love igniting that passion in people, that aha moment when they first fell in love with wine.

Kerry Diamond: We'll be right back with Dini Rao after this quick break.

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Kerry Diamond: And we're back with Dini Rao. So what were you doing while you were studying for your MBA? Were you working other jobs, internships, things like that?

Dini Rao: No, I did my first year full-time and then during the summer after I took an internship at Christie's and that's when-

Kerry Diamond: Here in New York?

Dini Rao: Here in New York, yes, and that's when I got introduced to the auction world. And that's when my head kind of exploded with that sale of Doris Duke. And at the end of the summer, somebody happened to be leaving the department and there's only four wine specialists at Christie's for all of North America and those people usually stay in those positions for all their lives. And so when one person left and they offered me the job, I thought, "Well, Harvard Business School will probably always be there, but this job is here now and offered to me now." So again my parents-

Kerry Diamond: That's tough. Your poor parents.

Dini Rao: My poor parents, they said, "What have we done to deserve this? Our daughter goes to Harvard, but she refuses to graduate. She leaves Harvard Business School to go work in wine again." And it was the best decision I ever made, because then I had these years of seeing the whole other side of wine that most people don't get to see. I mean, even-

Kerry Diamond: Wait. When you hear things like Christie's you just think art auctions, furniture auctions.

Dini Rao: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: You don't really think wine auctions.

Dini Rao: You don't think about... Well, I do.

Kerry Diamond: You do and the rest of us.

Dini Rao: And there was actually a wine at Christie's very first auction that they did back in the 1700s even, so there you go. But you're right, mainly people think about the art and other things, but when you think about an estate that needs to be auctioned off, a lot of times those people not only have the prints and things like that or the fine art, but they also have collections of wine that need to be taken care of.

Kerry Diamond: So you're also a wine historian of sorts, I would imagine.

Dini Rao: Well, it's so interesting. I suppose so. I hadn't thought of that but that's good.

Kerry Diamond: Because you have to know the stories for all these things.

Dini Rao: You do, yes and there are some fascinating stories like The Billionaire's Vinegar. This incredible lure.

Kerry Diamond: By just the title, I can imagine where that story goes.

Dini Rao: Exactly. A bottle of supposedly Thomas Jefferson's wine that was auctioned off for an awful lot of money.

Kerry Diamond: And was it really his?

Dini Rao: Well, probably not. I won't give away the whole story but probably not. There was a huge bidding war and a lot of ego around the bottle and things like that.

Kerry Diamond: It sounds like it would make a good movie.

Dini Rao: It really would, yes.

Kerry Diamond: I want to see that on HBO.

Dini Rao: And the sad thing is after the bidding war, the gentlemen who ended up winning it put it on display under lights. And so the cork ended up sinking in and whatever the wine was ended up getting destroyed. And so later on at Christie's, we ended up selling just the bottle itself which sold for a very modest amount compared to the nearly 200,000 pounds-

Kerry Diamond: Wow. Okay. I need to read the book. So Christie's, how long did you stay there?

Dini Rao: I was there for about three years. And then I decided, "Okay, I think I actually do want to go back and get my MBA."

Kerry Diamond: So you finished?

Dini Rao: I finished and then I had this opportunity where, again, I had this fork in the road because when I graduated from Harvard, Christie's invited me back to actually come back and run the department, be head of the department. So I thought okay, this is something that... Can you imagine this little Indian girl from Ohio to be offered that role was pretty exciting. But at the same time Amazon was also starting their wine division. They were starting up a wine department and I thought, again, it's just the side of me that loves to create and love something new and exciting.

Dini Rao: And also Christie's represented all of the people that treated wine like a trophy and they already knew a lot about wine and they didn't really want more education. And Amazon represented to me this chance to, again, have more people fall in love with wine and give access to more people and give access to more small wineries to reach those customers. So I just thought I'm in.

Kerry Diamond: I'm sure a lot of people are thinking Amazon and wine? How does that even go together? How does that even work?

Dini Rao: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So you're about to tell us? How does it work?

Dini Rao: I'm about to tell you. So the whole concept of Amazon's product lines is this long tail of selection. So when they went to go offer diapers for instance, all of a sudden the big brands of Pampers and things like that were not the biggest sellers, but seventh generation and all these other products. All of a sudden were able to get a lot of sales and a lot of traction because Amazon offers all of these selections. So I thought okay, if they can do that and kind of democratize wine so that it's not just the big brands, it's not just the gallows of the world that have that representation, but all of these small farmers everywhere around the world could actually be available to the customer. I thought this is fascinating.

Kerry Diamond: I didn't even know until I read your bio, I didn't even know you could buy wine on Amazon.

Dini Rao: Well, now you cannot. Or unless they started again, but they ended... Part of the reason I left is they shut it down.

Kerry Diamond: I know there are a lot of regulations about where you can ship wine to. I'm guessing that was part of the problem, issue.

Dini Rao: They lost their appetite for all of the legal hurdles for dealing with shipping wine around the country. And so at the end of the day they just said, "Okay, this is a problem for another day."

Kerry Diamond: So no wine club. Did they have a wine club back when you were there?

Dini Rao: Yeah. Well, we had never even really fully launched. I think we only were shipping within Washington State, but there was a wine club and we were enabling... Really, we were trying to create a platform where the wineries could also ship directly to consumers and things.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. I had no idea there were so many non-alcoholic wines. Very interesting. Okay. So did you move out to Seattle for that?

Dini Rao: I did.

Kerry Diamond: You did?

Dini Rao: I lived there for years.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, wow. Did you like Seattle?

Dini Rao: Seattle is an incredible state.

Kerry Diamond: It's so nice out there.

Dini Rao: It's beautiful, and I know you just had the awesome-

Kerry Diamond: It's so wonderful.

Dini Rao: Cherry jubilee.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah, I love everyone out there. So many incredible people. And the food scene and the wine scene, and then you've got ... I feel like we barely even scratched the surface in terms of what we did for wine at the event. But you've got all the Washington State wines, incredible stuff.

Dini Rao: Oh, they're awesome, awesome wines. And yeah, I wish more people knew how great they are. But they think of Seattle and they think of the gray, rainy weather and they don't realize on the other side of the mountain is this beautiful sunny Walla Walla.

Kerry Diamond: Well, we had days of spectacular weather, and I was like I think all you Seattleites are lying to us about the weather because you just don't want the New Yorkers moving out there. I don't blame you.

Dini Rao: Exactly. Very likely.

Kerry Diamond: As a native New Yorker, I can say that. So how long did you live in Seattle?

Dini Rao: That was about three years.

Kerry Diamond: And when did you meet your husband? I saw your cute Instagram post.

Dini Rao: My husband and I met in under ed. So, yeah we met in 1996.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, wow.

Dini Rao: We've been together a long time.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. So Amazon phases out of wine. What happens to you?

Dini Rao: Well, then I went over to Amazon Fresh, which is their grocery delivery business because I thought okay, if there's anyone... If they're gonna do the delivery through the groceries, eventually we could have wine as a part of that, which we did. And so I was there for a little while, but the wine aspect wasn't really moving fast enough. And meanwhile, I was offered a job at a new startup that was just coming about called Lot18 which wanted to do a very similar thing as Amazon was doing with wine. And so I accepted that job. It was based in New York, and that led me back to New York.

Kerry Diamond: And now you are on your own.

Dini Rao: And now I'm on my own.

Kerry Diamond: Tell us about your latest venture.

Dini Rao: Yeah. It's called a Life in Vino. And so I think of this as a passion project that I've been building up to over these 23 years of working in wine. And I keep coming back to, especially at Amazon and the other startup that I was a part of that was VC-backed and surrounded by men. And always the mission was to be able to bring great wine to people and help people fall in love with wine, but we never delivered that and I found that it was because the companies were all of these men sitting in a room talking about shipping wine. It was always about logistics and a lot of legal discussions, and things like that.

Kerry Diamond: Not the romance which is why you got into it.

Dini Rao: Not the romance and not the people. It wasn't about the people and how people enjoy wine and especially the social aspects of it, and certainly not about the women who drink wine. And so I thought okay, this is a huge gap that perhaps only I and a few people out there are really qualified to think about. And so I started doing a business that's very focused on the way women think about wine which is socially. And so Life in Vino we offer remote wine tastings, and I also offer kind of ways for you to host your own wine parties so that people can come together, learn about wine, and have a wine tasting from the comfort of your home either a live one with me online or you're joining me from anywhere in the world. Some people invite over their friends and they get together or some people are just doing it...

Kerry Diamond: It's so remarkable. I mean I never even thought about the idea of a remote wine-tasting.

Dini Rao: Yeah, well it's funny.

Kerry Diamond: It's like a peloton for wine tasting.

Dini Rao: Exactly. And part of the idea came from my husband who was riding his peloton and he was high-fiving my friend in Seattle and I was like, "Oh, that is so cool. I didn't know there was a social aspect of it."

Kerry Diamond: Oh, so that was the aha moment?

Dini Rao: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: Okay.

Dini Rao: And I thought well people should be able to do this with wine tastings. Why do I have to be working out to have this social interaction with somebody in a different part of the world? And so I thought, "Wouldn't it be great if we were all tasting wine together, learning about wine?" And I was toasting my friends instead of high-fiving them in different parts of the world. And just to be able to do something social at night after you put the kids to bed or after a long day.

Kerry Diamond: Regardless of where you live.

Dini Rao: Regardless of where you live. Yes, with my mom.

Kerry Diamond: If you live somewhere and you're like, "Oh, there's just nothing like this for me in this town."

Dini Rao: Exactly, yes.

Kerry Diamond: So Alicia Towns Franken is your partner in this. And you and Alicia had worked together back at the restaurant in Boston.

Dini Rao: Exactly.

Kerry Diamond: So now you're two women of color running a wine business. It shouldn't be that remarkable that we even have to comment on it, but sadly the wine world has been a little slower than some other industries that diversify.

Dini Rao: Yes, exactly. I always say it's the British white older man that really comes to mind when you think of a wine expert, so it isn't unusual to see women of color. And we hope that will be less so with this business because I think that's one of the things we realize when we talk to people is that when you talk to someone and they say, "Oh, I love wine, but I would never go to a wine tasting because I don't know how to hold a wine glass or I feel embarrassed about what I don't know." And so the anonymity that doing a wine tasting online offers you, I think will also encourage people who look all different ways to be able to join one.

Kerry Diamond: It's so curious why there's still so much intimidation about wine. I feel it myself. You just-

Dini Rao: I do too.

Kerry Diamond: I think it's because you spend money on these things and you're like, "I might open it and who knows what it'll taste like." You don't want to feel like you wasted your money but then you don't want to ask stupid questions when you go into a wine shop. But I do feel like wine shops are such underutilized resources.

Dini Rao: Absolutely. And I think people feel intimidated to ask questions, but that's really what I do. They don't even realize that. After working wine for all this time, I can't possibly taste every label that's out there, and it's always changing with every vintage. And so you really do need to rely on the people who are tasting them every day and who have tasted those bottles. It's such a good point to be able to find a good wine shop where you feel comfortable going in, where they greet you when you come in, and to be able to use their expertise.

Kerry Diamond: So tell me what else you do? I would imagine you consult maybe for some folks.

Dini Rao: Yes, I do and I do live tastings for people. I go in and I like to do things that are very experimental, very hands-on. My idea is that you should never do a wine tasting that you could learn all the things I'm saying by reading a book because that's totally passive learning, that not a lot of people realize this, but one of the reasons is so hard to talk about wine and describe wine is that the language center in our brain is in a whole different part of our brain that smells and tastes. Because it's a more evolved side of the human being than the primitive side that tastes.

Dini Rao: And so really, you have to build those neural pathways, those connections, those roadways between being able to smell and taste, and talk about something and it takes practice. So in my tastings both live and online, I spend a lot of time helping people get that practice and be able to give words to things. And we do little silly exercises and there's just a lot of fun.

Kerry Diamond: To have that vocabulary?

Dini Rao: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: I saw you can watch replays of the class.

Dini Rao: You can watch replays.

Kerry Diamond: So if people miss a class with you, the live class, they can watch a replay. That's amazing/

Dini Rao: Yeah, and it helps with the different time zones too.

Kerry Diamond: Yes, I would imagine. So one thing I wanted to talk about, Dini since we have you here is it seems like the wine and spirits world is sort of having a belated me too moment. As you pointed out, women still aren't represented in the numbers that they should be in the wine world. There was a recent issue that the New York Times reported on about a sommelier who had been sexually abusing and harassing women. The 50 Best organization was celebrating 50 best bars and they gave its icon award to someone in the spirits world too.

Kerry Diamond: I think it's done a documentary where he said, "A bar is no place for a woman. The important characters are always men." And a lot of women in the industry rightfully so complained about this, and before 50 Best did anything, this man gave his icon award back. But the question being why did he even get his award in the first place?

Dini Rao: Right. Because this isn't even something that we're looking at. I mean, it's so sad because in other industries, I think his comment would have been laughable because you would have just said like, "Oh, come on. You can't ignore women in this industry or whatever." But the truth is in the wine industry because they're so rare particularly in positions of power and things like that, it's not laughable. It actually indicates what many of us who work in the business do encounter every day.

Dini Rao: And so I think it's just a reflection of the bias that's there and it's so important that we take those things seriously. If you're giving someone an award, you need to think about that as a symbol of greatness and what are we rewarding? What are we encouraging? And it's so important really where we choose to put our accolades in our money.

Kerry Diamond: Well, I'm so happy that women have people like you to look up to and that you're changing the wine world whether you know you are not, just by who you are, but also by really doing something different and interesting and fun that brings wine to so many people wherever they're living.

Dini Rao: No. It's just my pleasure and in fact I'm not even charging for the wine tasting side.

Kerry Diamond: Wait, that's so funny. You're crazy. Is that what they thought you in Harvard?

Dini Rao: No. I need to retake my MBA, but I have so much fun.

Kerry Diamond: It's so funny because I was just about to ask you what do you charge for these classes? Oh my god, that's funny.

Dini Rao: I know, but it's this-

Kerry Diamond: Wait. So we always ask people how they actually make a living. So Dini, how do you actually make a living?

Dini Rao: So I do sell these do it... I call it the just add wine tasting party kits and so I do charge you-

Kerry Diamond: And those are not free.

Dini Rao: Those are not free.

Kerry Diamond: What do you charge?

Dini Rao: And I charge $50 for those, and the wine isn't there. Everything else you need to plan the party from the blueprint to how many people to have, how much wine to buy, the wines to buy themselves, the shopping list and then videos to help you make the recipes to help you set up the table and then one to actually play during the wine tasting so that you can have the experience. People pay thousands of dollars to have a wine expert come to their home and lead these tastings and you can have a recorded world-class wine tasting with your friends in the comfort of your home.

Kerry Diamond: So tell us what you'll be drinking on Thanksgiving since the holidays are right around the corner?

Dini Rao: Well, it is a holiday where I love to drink American, being an American holiday, but I also love Beaujolais with turkey because I think it's one of those wines that's like super full of fruit and things like that. So I found that the grape in Beaujolais is called gammy and so I found this really awesome American gammy from a California producer and it's going to be so lovely and juicy. And then I have a sparkling wine from Oregon because I think every party should start out with bubbles. And then I have a white wine of Chenin Blanc from California as well because Chenin Blanc is one of those really nice fleshy, peachy, and soft, and round kind of grapes that goes well with turkey too.

Kerry Diamond: I wouldn't have thought of Beaujolais and turkey but that makes sense.

Dini Rao: Yeah. It goes well with the cranberry sauce. It's like the cranberry sauce of your Thanksgiving meal.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. So one last thing I want to chat about before you go. There has definitely been a big movement toward non-alcoholic beverages.

Dini Rao: Yes, fascinating. These elixirs.

Kerry Diamond: So mocktails. Exactly. So if you want to make sure that during the holidays you have something for everyone but you want to make it feel festive. It's not like, "Oh, we have some club soda for you or here's some water." What do you do?

Dini Rao: I actually make mocktails for my children just so that they have something festive too. So I always make a little something, a pitcher or you know if you have a punch bowl or whatever, I like to go old-school too. And I'll just take whatever the ingredients are that maybe we're putting in our cocktail and I'll make those festive. The key is you always need acidity in it. I think that's where people go wrong. They go for too much sweetness. So for Thanksgiving holiday I'll use an apple cider. But if you just have the apple cider and maybe something bubbly with it, it gets to be too sweet so you've got to add that twist of lime. That's my trick.

Kerry Diamond: You know what, we had at a party recently. Actually, we did a rec lot party with Emmi, our radio sponsor and we had this Fizzy Fox beverage there. It was a shrub and it was cranberry and berry flavors, and it held up so beautifully against the really strong flavors of the cheese, and I just thought like this is the thing I want during the holidays because it was non-alcoholic but it just... It had so much body and flavor. And they put rosemary sprigs in it so it was really nice. The smell of the rosemary and the taste of the shrub was fantastic.

Dini Rao: The herbs, the herbal tonics and things like that are really, I think making a huge comeback. And it's interesting you mentioned too because I think a lot of people want to feel good. As much as we all love wine, we want to feel good the next day. And we also want to enjoy the moment, and the people who are around and don't necessarily want the buzz. And I think for me that's part of the reason why I love doing wine tasting is that I find the more you enjoy wine and the more you learn about it, the less it really takes to satisfy you.

Dini Rao: You can have just a half a glass. I do that a lot. I just had half a glass of wine and because I'm enjoying it so much and I'm going kind of slowly with it and deliberately and relishing it, and that's what I call a Life in Vino, the reason I named my company that is much like La Vie En Rose, this is life in the wine but it's building a wine life for yourself and really relishing things.

Kerry Diamond: Well, that is lovely, Dini. I think that's a good place to end. So tell people how they can find you and your remote wine tastings?

Dini Rao: Yes, Sign up there.

Kerry Diamond: Very exciting. We're welcoming Maria Sanchez of Cherry Bombe to Radio Cherry Bombe for the very first time. Maria.

Maria Sanchez: Thank you.

Kerry Diamond: Welcome.

Maria Sanchez: Thank you.

Kerry Diamond: Are you excited?

Maria Sanchez: I'm excited and nervous.

Kerry Diamond: Is this your first podcast?

Maria Sanchez: This is my first podcast.

Kerry Diamond: This is your first podcast. Yay. We should have a T-shirt, but we don't. We didn't even get her water. This is no frills podcasting today. Well, Maria, we wanted you to come on the show because when new folks join Cherry Bombe, we usually have them on the podcast for the speed round. So we're going to subject you to the speed rounds in just a minute or two.

Maria Sanchez: Okay.

Kerry Diamond: But in the meantime, I wanted you to tell people a little bit about yourself. You joined as our assistant.

Maria Sanchez: I did.

Kerry Diamond: You're doing your best to keep the trains on time at Cherry Bombe HQ. Not easy.

Maria Sanchez: Right.

Kerry Diamond: We're going to tackle the disaster that is my inbox one of these days.

Maria Sanchez: Soon, very soon.

Kerry Diamond: Soon. Yes, very soon. Maybe even later today. But in the meantime I want you to tell folks a little bit about your... It's not your side hustle. What do we call the other part of your life.

Maria Sanchez: Sure. So I am getting my masters in public health nutrition, which I think sometimes when people hear that they're a little bit confused by what that even means. So I'm not a registered dietician, but I do look at nutrition on a little bit of a macro scale in terms of populations. It could be cities, it could be groups of people, things like that but it also encompasses sustainable food systems, research around implementing new ways of procuring food, things like that. So that's sort of what I'm studying and we'll see where it goes and where it takes me.

Kerry Diamond: That is so fascinating. Well, I hope we can do a lot in 2020 that incorporates all that you bring to the Cherry Bombe family because it's very interesting and very necessary today what you're studying. And the nice thing about Maria is she does not judge us, doesn't judge what we eat when we had a pie birthday party yesterday. Judgment free zone.

Maria Sanchez: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So thank you for that. All right. We're going to do the speed round.

Maria Sanchez: Okay.

Kerry Diamond: You ready?

Maria Sanchez: I think so.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. One thing you would never eat?

Maria Sanchez: Twinkies.

Kerry Diamond: Twinkies. Okay. I have to ask why.

Maria Sanchez: I think that they're like the ultimate space food. Do you know what I mean?

Kerry Diamond: Well, it's not food.

Maria Sanchez: Yeah, exactly.

Kerry Diamond: That's funny. A treasured cookbook?

Maria Sanchez: I got one from my mom. I borrowed it. I don't want to say I stole it, but I borrowed it from my mom and it's about like Puerto Rican home cooking.

Kerry Diamond: Great. Do you remember the title by any chance?

Maria Sanchez: I think it's called Cocina Criolla or something like that.

Kerry Diamond: Great, great. Dream vacation, destination?

Maria Sanchez: Oh, I would love to go... There are so many places but I really would love to go to Vietnam. That's one of my top dream destinations that hopefully soon I'll be able to get to visit.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, fingers crossed for you. It's a beautiful place. All right. Your favorite kitchen implement?

Maria Sanchez: I have to say a garlic press.

Kerry Diamond: You're team garlic press. Okay, that's controversial.

Maria Sanchez: I know. I think it's because I have one that's pretty easy to clean and I find it very time-saving for me.

Kerry Diamond: The oldest thing in your fridge?

Maria Sanchez: My failed sourdough starter.

Kerry Diamond: That's the second failed sourdough starter for team Cherry Bombe. What happens? Tell us.

Maria Sanchez: I think that I underestimated or overestimated how much bread I would actually make with it, so it's been sitting there, unused from-

Kerry Diamond: Is it dead? I mean you can bring those things back to life.

Maria Sanchez: I haven't even looked at it.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. So you felt ashamed to even look in its direction?

Maria Sanchez: Exactly.

Kerry Diamond: Have you and Audrey Payne discussed this?

Maria Sanchez: We have.

Kerry Diamond: Okay, because Audrey's sourdough starter, #RIP.

Maria Sanchez: We have. And I think that's kind of the reason why I'm scared to look at it.

Kerry Diamond: Jess, do you have a sourdough starter? No? Jess is shaking her head, no. I don't have one either. I have a cat. That's about all I can handle at this point in my life. All right. Here's a tough one. Your favorite Cherry Bombe cover girl? We all know the answer to this one. Come on.

Maria Sanchez: I know. I was like let me think of a different one. I think Sophia Roe.

Kerry Diamond: Because?

Maria Sanchez: Because I just love what she stands for on her platform. I think that the wellness space can be really exclusive and I think that she does good work to make sure that it's something that everyone can access, and that it includes people, especially the most vulnerable people who need wellness sort of I don't know, I guess ... I don't want to say guidance, but it includes those people who might think that wellness is something for rich people. So I love that she makes it accessible for everyone.

Kerry Diamond: That's great. I can't pick a favorite. I'm contractually obliged not to have a favorite but I do have a big space in my heart for Sophia.

Maria Sanchez: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. Last question. If you had to be trapped on a desert island with one food celebrity, who would it be and why?

Maria Sanchez: Does Chrissy Teigen count?

Kerry Diamond: Of course Chrissy Teigen counts.

Maria Sanchez: Okay. I would say Chrissy Teigen because I feel like we would have the best time.

Kerry Diamond: Who would do the cooking and who would do the hunting and the gathering, and the fire starting?

Maria Sanchez: I feel like I'd be a collective effort. Yeah, I feel like we would take turns maybe.

Kerry Diamond: And then John Legend with a helicopter in and rescue you too, that's a bonus.

Maria Sanchez: That would be great.

Kerry Diamond: Well, we don't want you to be trapped in a desert island any time soon, but if you have to be we hope it's with Chrissy.

Maria Sanchez: Absolutely.

Kerry Diamond: So anyway, Maria. We couldn't be happier that you're part of team Cherry Bombe.

Maria Sanchez: Thank you.

Kerry Diamond: So thanks for joining us on the radio show today.

Maria Sanchez: Thanks for having me.

Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you to our very own Maria Sanchez for doing the speed round. Thank you so much to Dini Rao of Life in Vino for stopping by Radio Cherry Bombe and sharing your story with us. To learn more about Dini's business visit If you're not a subscriber to Cherry Bombe magazine, all I can say is what? Visit and get a subscription for yourself and your favorite foodie. And don't forget we'll be in Philadelphia on December 2nd for the final stop on our Food For Thought Tour. Thank you to Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Schools and Emmi cheese from Switzerland for supporting our show.

Kerry Diamond: Today's episode was recorded at the Wing SoHo. Radio Cherry Bombe is edited, engineered, and produced by, you know it, Jess Zeidman. Cherry Bombe is powered by Audrey Payne, Maria Sanchez, Donna Yen, Kia Damon and Nancy Pappas. Our publisher is Kate Miller Spencer. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tralala. Thanks for listening everybody. You are the Bombe.

When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.

Elizabeth Emery: Hi. My name is Elizabeth Emery and I'm a food blogger and recipe developer at Do you want to know who I think is the bombe? Karen McAthy, founder and co-owner of Blue Heron Cheese. Not only is Karen an incredible vegan chef in her own right, but through Blue Heron she's created an amazing range of plant-based artisan cheeses and vegan foods. Karen is an authority on vegan cheese making and her enthusiasm for experimenting with vegan ingredients using traditional cheese making methods is incredibly inspiring. (singing)