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Hear Me Roar!

Columnist: Christina Julian
April, 2018 Issue

Christina Julian
All articles by columnist

I was raised in a household that bent to the right, so the idea of seeing women in positions of power on the political front, was unthinkable. Now, as mid-century status beckons, it’s less about what side of the fence I lean on, and more about being open and ready for action.

I grew up thinking presidents and politicos looked and behaved in certain ways, and have since learned that the staid ways of yesteryear are gone—a notion that is liberating and harrowing. But when my four-year-old daughter says she wants to be a pet doctor one day and president the next, I’m confident both are attainable. We’ve “marched” to show tunes and down the beloved yellow brick road, and also for equal rights.

I’ve watched organizations like Women of the Vine & Spirits take off and aid in the advancement of women in the alcohol beverage industry—an organization with a definitive and welcome purpose: “To provide networking opportunities and educational platforms for advocating gender diversity across leadership teams, as well as career advancement,” according to Deborah Brenner, founder and president. This year’s global symposium (the fourth of its kind) sold out in seven hours and was headlined by Gretchen Carlson, news anchor, author and advocate for workplace equality with her landmark sexual harassment case against Fox News Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Roger Ailes. (She’s also the author of  “Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back.”)

“This is the year for women, and Women of the Vine & Spirits is proud to be a leader in this movement of change and empowerment in our industry as it ripples across the country and across all industries,” said Brenner.
Beyond national media moguls, local women are making their own marks, including Katie Hamilton Shaffer, who I first met in 2012. Shaffer was all kinds of amped about a new venture she conceived of, Feast it Forward (covered here in 2016), that centered on the premise of “products with a purpose” and the intersection of wine, food and philanthropy. Shaffer casually tossed down a doodled vision for the company, and she was off—to make it happen.

In a few years’ time she actualized her dream of creating a live experiential studio in downtown Napa. The Feast it Forward showroom (think Emeril Live meets the Today Show and Martha Stewart Living), is set to open this spring in the Oxbow District. The doodles (and Shaffer’s go-get-em mission) garnered the attention of partners including Microsoft, Monogram, Gibson Guitar, Minted, Anolon, TCL, OXO, Stolzle, Sherwin-Williams, Airstream and more. The studio-come-showroom joins a 16-vintner wine collective with a-list designers, crafters, celebrity chefs, musicians and entertainers. The fully-loaded, two-story space with wrap around patio, encourages visitors to engage with products and experiences, listen in on live performances and demos, and raise a glass in the name of philanthropy—all under one impeccably designed roof and space. On any given day (or night) visitors and or those that have procured the space for a special event could run into celebrity chef Jacques Pépin, in-house chef advocate Rick Moonen, Richard Blais, Chris Cosentino, Claudine Pepin, Imagine Dragons, Michael Franti, Ozomatli, Jackie Greene and others. If I’ve learned anything from Shaffer over the years since we first met, there is no such thing as dream big, it’s all about doing it big.

Totes and tails

No one loves her fur babies more than me, which is how I discovered Tote Tails, in 2015, at the St. Helena Farmer’s market. What began as a way for two lifelong friends and Napa natives, to support local animal welfare issues, has morphed into a thriving and ever-expanding business. Amitie Tofanelli and Devin Pyner attended UC Davis during a time when reusable bag usage was taking off and they saw the business potential.

Tofanelli created a custom illustration of a pet, and Pyner printed it on a cotton twill tote bag—and the business was born. The duo handled their own order fulfillment, marketing and sales, which started with a presence at the Napa and St. Helena farmers markets. Next came a retail account with Three Dog Bakery in Sonoma. Ten percent of all sales went to local animal and rescue organizations.

In three years, the business has grown by more than 700 percent, according to Tofanelli, and expanded to Amazon and Etsy. The Tote Tails website now carries a catalog of more than 1,000 unique pet and animal designed products, in more than 10 popular product categories, to include items like flip-flops, towels, throw pillows, custom baby products and more.

As my daughter hauls around a jam-packed Tote Tail bag, to explore the Feast Studio Lemonade Stand (another one of Shaffer’s ideas into action), I see in her, hope for a future—that brightens with every step forward, we as women take.

After years in the technology and advertising trenches, Christina Julian traded city life for country and unearthed a new philosophy—life is complicated, wine and food shouldn’t be. Her debut novel, a romantic comedy called “The Dating Bender” is now available. Learn more at You can reach her at



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