For over 20 years, Dini “Vino” Rao has been on a quest to help people fall in love with wine. She has hosted wine tastings for British royalty, celebrities, and even a private dinner at Julia Child’s house. Her training included the rigorous tasting of working in wine retail, pouring and pairing as a sommelier, and the academic study of completing the Level 4 Diploma with Merit through the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET).
Dini fell in love with fine and rare wines while serving as AVP and Wine Specialist at Christie’s auctions, but then chose a new path to help launch online wine sales at Amazon and Lot18. She has always been interested in the innovations of the industry. Now she is using her expertise and her Harvard MBA to bring virtual wine tastings to wine lovers around the globe via her company, Life in Vino. She started this endeavor pre-pandemic but admits it has become much easier since then. With these inclusive wine experiences, Dini hopes to empower and affirm wine lovers from all paths.
1. How did you get into the wine business?
My mother has always been an incredible cook, especially of Indian food, so she lured me into this world. I would play a game of tasting her food and letting her know if any spices were missing or unbalanced. Then when we were visiting colleges in the Finger Lakes region, we stopped at a winery. I was in high school, but was already fascinated with the tasting terms they used and the agriculture landscape that spoke to me. So, I got a job at a small winery one summer and never stopped my quest to learn more.
Now, I ask my kids to do the same tasting game. Let’s see how they turn out!
2. What are the most frustrating and rewarding parts of your job?
The most frustrating part is that no matter how much training I’ve had, many people still treat me like I am a novice. They can’t get over the fact that someone who looks like I do might be an expert. On the other hand, I’ve had a few incredible experiences of working for people who have mentored me and taken a chance on me. And the most rewarding part is when I am able to pass that along – to help someone understand wine more, to give a person more confidence to just enjoy.
3. What is your most memorable wine experience?
I loved exploring people through their wine collections, while working at Christie’s. Tasting the 1921 Dom Perignon from Doris Duke’s collection and seeing all the bottles she chose to bring back from her travels was like being transported to her time.
4. What is an upcoming trend you see in wine?
I think like many products people buy, they will ask for increasing standards – not only do consumers want their wines to be sustainable and considering better packaging, but with so many labels to choose from – which are the ones that they feel good supporting? Who is taking care of their employees, the earth and the future?
5. What is the best piece of advice someone has given to you?
Align your time and energy with your values. I’ve spent far too many hours working jobs and for people who didn’t and it was like a hamster wheel. Now I manage my energy with precision. I have two kids, one with significant special needs, so my family comes first. I am working towards social justice and undoing racism in my communities. And I love starting projects that feed my creativity. That is a full life right there. Everything else is just noise.
6. What is one tip you have for someone just getting into wine?
Spend time getting to know wine consumers. Too many people immerse themselves with wine industry people and start talking like robots. Relate to real people, think about what they need. I see a lot of young wine sommeliers get excited about some weird wine they try to sell me because it is different. Take the time to understand your customer and what will work for them. I don’t believe there are good and bad wines any more – wine technology is incredible these days. Instead, people have their own tastes, so learn them before you sell to them.
Founder, Life in Vino
Sommelier, Wine Consultant
Nominate someone for Wine Pro Wednesday: