Napa Pride: An Interview with Tracey Mason of Clos du Val

The wine industry expert speaks out on the LBGT community and wine

Tracey Mason and Ulysses Preciado.

When you’re sipping a good glass of wine, it doesn’t really matter if the person who made that wine is male or female, black or white, gay or straight. It’s good wine. 

But knowing more about the personal lives of the people behind one of your favorite wine brands might expand your ideas about what it means to be black or female or gay. 

That’s why Tracey Mason, the executive vice president of global marketing for Goelet Wine Estates — which includes properties in France and Australia as well as Napa’s Clos du Val — is an "out loud" member of the LGBT community.

Of course, that’s not why she was hired. Mason is a turn-around specialist and marketer extraordinaire who can come in and make the changes that take a brand to the next level. The "Declaration of Vindependence" she instituted at historic Clos du Val has refreshed the 40-year-old winery’s image and reinvigorated the company culture and winemaking approach. 

Mason and her right hand man Ulysses Preciado — who is also gay — support programs like Out in the Vineyard and Napa Valley Pride because they think it’s the right thing to do. For Pride Week, The Daily Sip talked to Mason about being a LGBT leader in the wine industry. 

The Daily Sip Interview with Tracey Mason

TDS: Why do you think it’s important for you to be out?
TM: If people can imagine you being their sister, their wife, or their daughter, I think it helps to change their perception on what being gay looks like — for straight people and, perhaps more importantly, for gay people who may be struggling with coming out and fear the stereotypes that may be applied to them. There are many amazing faces to the gay community; I am just one of them.

TDS: Do you think gay people are portrayed accurately in the media? 

TM: Not generally. The media always seem to highlight and harbor the most outrageous point of view or most extreme stereotypes, whether it’s politics or gay and lesbian issues or anything it seems. But, it’s getting better. Prominent "out" journalists like Rachel Maddow, shows like Will and Grace and Modern Family, support for gay marriage from President Obama, these are all ways in which media can work for the gay community, not against it. 

TDS: What was it like when you started out? 

TM: I’ve been in the business for more than 20 years when there were very few women in this business, much less gay ones! So, at first I attempted to keep it hidden, which proved exceptionally unsuccessful.

TDS: How did you come out professionally? 

TM: I was actually outed by one of my colleagues at Diageo who’d heard a rumor he chose to perpetuate at a National Sales meeting many years ago. I remember going back to my hotel room after I’d heard what was being said and thought I can either own who I am or allow jerks like that one to bully me forever. So, I chose the former and never looked back.

TDS: Was it a relief? 

TM: It was a relief in the sense I wasn’t trying to hide anything anymore. I am extremely open and not being out was extremely counterintuitive to me — it felt like really hard work. And it was gratifying to see so many of my male counterparts come to my defense and continue to embrace me regardless. 

TDS: How did things change professionally after you came out?
TM: Interestingly enough, I think being gay in such a male-dominated culture made it easier for me. Once the potential for sex is removed from the menu, people focused more on what I was bringing to the table professionally. And at least nobody can ever say I slept my way to the top! 

TDS: Do you think it matters to others in the LGBT community knowing that you have such a prominent position with Goelet and Clos du Val? 

TM: I want them to know we’re a really open company, highly supportive of the community and that everyone is welcome here. As a gay consumer, it matters to me when I know the companies I support are gay-friendly. It’s a definite sense of comfort. It would matter to me knowing that Clos du Val and Goelet is such a wonderful accepting company. Those are the types companies I want to buy from.

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