Pampata Airaudi Is One to Watch in Wine
This month’s continued celebration of women features Venice, CA local, Pampata Airaudi, founder of Sapere Aude Sparkling Wine (pronounced: Sa·pe·re Au·de, which means “dare to know”). Pampata goes by "Pata" for short. I first met her at our former favorite nail salon, Two Brown Eyed Girls, a few years ago. We instantly hit it off complementing each other’s color choices and the conversation flowed from there. We’ve stayed in touch since that time and I am so happy to have her featured here as one of the few Black women in the exclusive world of winemaking. Her grace and sense of humor are two of my favorite features she possesses, making her a natural leader at her wine company. She's carving a new path for other women in the industry so we sat down (in a socially distanced manner) for this interview to share more about her vision and process to being a changemaker.
Ariel Kochbarski [AK]: What was the reason you created Sapere Aude? What was missing for you in the sparkling wines that were already on the market?
Pampata Airaude [PA]: We (husband and I) created Sapere Aude because we were drinking more and more sparkling and rosé with friends and nothing in the market spoke to us - from flavor profile to branding. This was 2010, pre-rosé boom so the market was niche and old. Everyone else seemed to be trying to remake Champagne, but you can’t fake a great Champagne! So we simply made something we like to drink. As we have progressed, our focus is on making a sparkling that’s uniquely Californian.
[AK]: How long has Sapere Aude been in business?
[PA]: 10 years! In 2011 we created a sparkling blanc (300 cases) some we gave away, most we drank! In 2012 we focused on sparkling rosé and it’s been our baby ever since.
[AK]: As one of a few women of color in the wine business, can you speak to your experience in the business?
[PA]: Oh my goodness, where do I even begin. For the most part I’ve had a fairly accepting experience - I’ve been lucky enough to work with a production partner that has been completely supportive especially since my career was in film and TV production and I had no wine knowledge whatsoever. For our initial sparkling blanc, I had the opportunity to work for a Napa based winemaker that really gave me free reign to learn everything from agriculture to production to the business side of winemaking. That being said, when I’m out working the market or hosting a tasting I’ve experienced what I can best describe as dismissiveness.
Sapere Aude Sparking Rosé.
Dave and Pata on a trip to Osaka, Japan.
[AK]: Distribution seems to be a major challenge to new wine companies. Where do you sell and how did you break in?
[PA]: We have been sold everywhere from Whole Foods to Gjelina. At first it’s hand selling, pounding the pavement. Choosing a distributor is definitely a challenging experience. Do you go for a large company and risk getting lost in their portfolio? Do you go for a mom and pop small distributor and risk lack of growth or even the “trendy” distributors where you remain niche? Sapere has run the gambit and at the end of the day it depends upon which direction and how you want the company to grow. A lot of niche brands are strictly DTC bypassing traditional distribution methods all together. My personal philosophy is “great wine wins the race.”
[AK]: Can you give us some tasting notes for your blend? And what to look for when you’re trying any new wine?
[PA]: Our sparkling rosé is dry, light and balanced with notes of stone fruit. Every production is a bit different due to weather patterns, where and when we harvest. At its core Sapere is a sustainable everyday sparkling, no residual sugars, low alcohol, fine bubbles and a pinch of tartness. Our current production is a blend of 80% Pinot Noir from Mendicino and 20% Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.
When I’m trying new wines, my philosophy is try it all New World, Old World, Natural and what you like is what you like. Listen, back in the day I knew nothing about wine and Boones Blackberry merlot was my jam, literally and figuratively! I find the more you expand your palate the more refined it becomes over time. And let’s be honest there’s no guarantee that the $100 bottle of wine is “better” than the $20 bottle. Wine is subjective.
[AK]: Are there any organizations that you participate in to help other women of color overcome the same hurdles you did?
[PA]: With the advent of social media there are many outlets of resources more readily available. I’m in the process of applying for membership to the African-American Association of Vintners based in Napa. There are also a plethora of Instagram accounts I follow like HueSociety. I’m really excited about the new opportunities of visibility for women and people of color in the wine industry.
Pinot grapes on the vine.
Sapere Aude's tasting notes.
[AK]: You told me recently that Sapere’s next wine is going to be a proper champagne! Can you discuss the differences between the sparkling wine you make now and your new champagne?
[PA]: Super simply, Champagne is just sparkling wine that is made in the Champagne region of France. There are all sorts of specific rules from what grapes may be blended into the cuvees (pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot meunier), to fermentation processes, to storage and aging, all controlled by the government. For our current wine, we combine the best of all worlds, we mix a traditional Alsatian production method with traditional Champagne cuvees and blending practices, with California fruit and style. This could be a whole separate lengthy convo!
Our Champagne project is a partnership with a classic Champagne house, I am excited to collaborate, mix our styles, but mostly to learn.
[AK]: You are fundraising and looking for investors, which will allow you to grow. Where do you see Sapere Aude going with new funding?
[PA]: We are always exploring potential partners to help us reach our goals; nothing set yet, but we are having some exciting conversations.
[AK]: I imagine that your business is doing well during this time. How has the pandemic affected Sapere Aude, for better or for worse?
[PA]: On the business side because we’re such a niche brand with 1000 case production the pandemic didn’t affect the business. We were able to pivot to direct sales and focus on retail when restaurants were closed. The biggest impact will be production this year as suppliers like bottle and cork manufacturers were shut down in Europe, adding to this locally the fires have a yet to be determined impact on harvest this year.
[AK]: What is important for you to maintain in the Sapere Aude brand as the business grows?
[PA]: It’s important to remain authentic to who we are and where we’re from. We don’t come from a wine family, we don’t own a vineyard (yet), we’re not pulling in big bucks - everything we earn goes into production but we’re ever growing and moving forward. Sapere speaks to each drinker's personal ethos - celebrate all the wins big or small, keep learning and “Dare To Know”
[AK]: Is there anything else you want our viewers at The Sustainable Stylish Life to know about you?
[PA]: If I wasn’t doing this I’d be in skincare or a manicurist - I LOVE products and nails! There’s no such thing as less is more when it comes to my skincare ritual or nail design...more, more, more