Women In Wine Part 6 Ft. Sara Lehman & Jamie Benziger

Can you believe this is part 6 already!?

Today we have a Sommelier and lifestyle director at One Sixty Madison, Sara Lehman and winemaker at Imagery Estate Winery, Jamie Benziger. One woman makes the wine and one woman sells the wines. It’s a pretty awesome circle to see. Read both women’s interviews below!

Winemaker – Jamie Benziger

How did you get started in wine?

I grew up in a family surrounded by wine. My Dad founded Imagery Estate Winery, and has been the winemaker there for as long as I can remember. However when I was little, I did not realize what it meant to be a part of this enormous wine community. I left for college at Loyola Marymount University and would come home in the summer to work the concierge booth at Benziger. It was during those summers that I realized what my family had built and I wanted it to be in my future. To be closer to home and the winery, I transferred to Sonoma State University and finished my Business degree in Marketing and Wine Business. It was after graduating that I started interning at local Sonoma wineries and continued to dive further into winemaking. But, I owe it to my first harvest and my Dad for truly pulling me into the production side of the wine business.

What inspires you most about working in wine? Is it working with your family? Creating something new and special that people enjoy?

I have been very fortunate to grow up in the family dynamic I had. Since getting my first job at the winery and seeing the drive and passion that each one of my family members involved in the winery had, I knew I wanted to keep the family business going strong. Having the opportunity to work alongside, in my opinion, the most talented winemaker and my number one mentor, my Dad, and getting to go out into the market where almost every salesperson has some positive interaction and funny story about working with a Benziger, has made every day inspiring to work in the wine industry.

Day in and day out, I get to work with so many different and unique varietals that the passion for adventurous winemaking runs through my veins. Now with our new California wines, I am able to broaden Imagery’s reach while maintaining our commitment to creative, “out of the box” winemaking.

What advice would you give to a woman wanting to break into the world of wine?

In the wine world, it is important to always work hard and keep driven, especially as a woman. Everyone who has made a name for themselves in this industry has had to prove himself or herself at one point or another, and anyone who enters into it must do the same. Even though I came from a well-known wine family, it was very important for me when not only working outside the family winery, but working at the family winery that my elders, coworkers, peers, and family felt like I deserved any position I held and that I was the best person for that job. I did not want anything handed to me. It was essential that I worked hard and earned it.

What’s your go-to wine at the moment?

I am loving the Imagery California Chardonnay right now. It is crisp, clean with bright acidity and perfect for enjoying after a day’s work. Not to mention, it’s a wine that goes great with one of my favorite dishes, Italian breaded halibut in a lemon sauce.

Another wine that is also a favorite is our Imagery Upper Ridge Malbec that can be found in our tasting room. It is rich and fruity with soft tannins. The Malbec varietal is one of my favorites to work with because it is so versatile. It makes a phenomenal stand-alone wine but can also be blended with almost any varietal to make a great wine.

Somm & Lifestyle Director – Sara Lehman

How did you get started in wine?  

I grew up with parents who taught me to appreciate wine, but really got into it when I had the opportunity to study abroad in Germany, during Pastry School. I was able to receive my Sommelier and wine training at The German Wine School in Koblenz, and after taking one food and wine pairing class I was hooked! 

What made you want to become a Somm and a director at such a well respected NY restaurant?

I wanted to become a Sommelier to showcase unique and wonderful wines to clients but also I wanted to demystify under appreciated grape varietals, and help the everyday wine drinker feel comfortable about wine. I have worked in the restaurant industry for over ten years, and it was time after working several years both in the back of the house and front of the house management roles, that I wanted to continue with my wine education and service and that’s when I started working as a wine director for several restaurants throughout NJ and NYC. Currently I am actually a Wine Educator, Sommelier, and Lifestyle Director of a Luxury High Rise Building, which is a unique opportunity I have to privately buy wine for clients in the building as well as plan, teach, and host multiple food and wine classes monthly! 

What advice would you give to a woman wanting to break into the world of wine?

Do it, and don’t be afraid! In the beginning I had my fears due to the stigma in the industry, and thought I was “too young” or didn’t “have enough experience”, but that wasn’t the case at all! You just have to be your authentic self, be passionate about wine, and the rest will fall into place (as long as you keep working toward your goal). One of my mentors once told me, “Just be your authentic, passionate, wine loving self, and you will be successful!”  The wine industry is constantly changing and there are so many different ways to enter the world of wine, that the options are almost endless. 

What’s your go-to wine at the moment?

Well, it really depends what I am eating, but with the cold weather I generally steer more towards red wines (cliche I know) and lately have been on a Portuguese red wine kick due to my recent October trip over there. 

You can read all my other Women In Wine Interviews here!

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