Q&A with Antonia Dominguez

Name: Antonia Dominguez

Occupation & Company: Wine Specialist, Donnybrook Fair.

Tell me about your current role?

I joined premium retailer Donnybrook Fair eight months ago. The initial focus was to set up the wine department in our new Dundrum store. As a point of difference, I categorised the wines by style. I am currently working with the senior buyer on our offerings and conducting a range review of all stores. I am also responsible for staff training, tasting events and other promotional activities.

How did you first get into the drinks industry?

My father. He introduced me to the world of wine. He was from Jerez and there was always a barrel of sherry in our home. My earlier memories are of him returning from business trips in Spain with a drum of Amontillado in hand to top up our barrel. That was pre-Ryanair days of course! Later in life, my father asked me to move to Madrid and help him set up a wine export company. I left a well-paid, secure job in law to find that my father had to stop before he started on account of other pressing business matters. But during those brief few months with him, I had been exposed to enough wineries to catch the bug. I had also travelled to China to study the market there, and knew it had big potential. So, I decided to go for it and set up a wine export company myself. The rest is history.

What is your favourite part about working in the industry?

Wine, people, travel. Over the years I have been frequently reminded that my life would have been a lot simpler if I had stuck to investment banking or law where I started out. But to work with something you are passionate about is a joy and a blessing, even if I’ve had a rollercoaster ride in the process!

The people I have met in this industry are extraordinary. My MW mentors, inspirational women like Roisin Curley MW and Lynne Coyle MW.  Fellow MW students, winemakers and other people in the profession. I have made life-long friendships.

This month I am launching an online MW student journal called Winescape with Irem Eren, who you profiled last month. Irem and I became fast friends on the program, and have travelled to many wine regions, tasting countless wines together. We want to share our experience with other wine-lovers.

Fellow WSW committee member Lynda Coogan and I have just launched a wine podcast – Wine: The Long and the Short of It – airing soon. Lynda’s is another friendship forged through our wine connection.

I find that the wine and spirits industry is unique insofar as it is not competitive like other sectors can be. People are always willing and eager to support each other and to collaborate. What binds us is our passion for wine and/or spirits. It is a beautiful world to work in.

We’re meeting up for a wee drink after work – what are you having?

I’m eclectic and like to change things up, but here are some of my go-tos: a pint of Guinness; a glass of quality Cava or Crémant (Champagne for special occasions, although I’m loving English sparkling wines now); a glass of Redbreast. Now, as we are approaching summer, I’m enjoying vermouths, preferably Sherry-based, served with ice and a twist of orange. Brilliant with salty olives and almonds. And of course, wine in general. I would not do it justice to single one out!

You can only have one drink for the rest of your life, what’s in your glass?

Sherry. There is a reason I got married in a sherry winery. The type depends on the occasion and food pairing. A Manzanilla served with a plate of pescado frito, ideally sitting in the sunshine of Jerez. Amontillado with earthier dishes; broad beans, artichokes, mushrooms, jamon ibérico, Manchego cheese. It’s one of my favourite drinks around Christmas. As is Oloroso. The power and elegance of it makes it perfect with game and other heartier dishes. There is a sherry for every occasion and every food pairing. It is so versatile and offers the best quality for money of any wine, in my opinion. We all know that Sherry is not the most marketable wine and suffers from being dreadfully misunderstood. I’d like to open a sherry and tapas bar in Dublin someday. It’s on my long list of bucket-list projects!

It’s Saturday night, what restaurant are you going to?

I love cooking, coupled with the fact that I have 4-year-old twins, means I don’t go out dining all that much! I went through a phase of trying all the latest fine-dining establishments but now I like to revisit my tried and tested: Kinara Clontarf for consistently excellent Indian cuisine with stellar service, Mr Fox for something more stylish and contemporary, and 777 for fab Mexican food with funky vibes. I spent 5 weeks travelling in Mexico and fell in love with the cuisine. I think 777 is the most authentic offering we have in Dublin and does the best Margarita!

Is there a bucket list drink you want to try, or a dream drinks destination you’d love to visit?

It would be lovely to taste one of the great iconic wines – Romanee Conti, Sassicaia, Opus One. Alas, I haven’t been offered any lately. 😊 For me, it’s all about the hidden gems. There are so many fascinating wines emerging from relatively-unknown indigenous varieties – Albillo, Tintilla, Pais, Alicante Bouschet, Bobal. I love visiting any wine region and drinking like a local. I’ve managed to tick a few off my bucket list but there are plenty left: Mendoza, Alsace and Stellenbosch to name of few.

The most memorable experience of your career?

One memorable experience was finding myself in a remote city called Hohot in Inner Mongolia, explaining the Sherry-making process to a roomful of non-English speaking Chinese distributors. We had flown from Shanghai to Datong in northern China and then travelled 3 hours in a minibus through mountainous terrain to visit this distributor. There is literally nothing I won’t do to promote sherry!

One thing you’d like to see more of in the drinks industry?

More individuality and less consolidation and domination of the ‘big brands’. Also, more women in positions of influence. Having spent time working in the drinks trade globally, it is still very much a male-dominated industry where women take a back seat. But we are making progress. Organisations like WSW are central to that progression.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a career in the industry?

Having been both employed and self-employed, I would say, be humble and be patient. Surround yourself with the right people. Know how to differentiate between the genuine and ingenuine. And don’t be afraid to fail. The mistakes are an imperative part of the learning curve.

You can follow Antonia’s journey below.

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