At the helm of three trailblazing companies, Amanda Victoria is a force to be reckoned with. In the early 2000s, she began her career in spirits. In acquiring a passion for whiskey early on, she worked at numerous reputable New York City craft cocktail bars such as Pegu Club, PDT, and Dutch Kills — all while juggling her studies in advertising and marketing communications, media, and French language/cinema.
With her academic and professional pedigree, she landed her first full-time job with William Grant & Sons as a national spokesperson for Lillet, the French aperitif of Bordeaux. With opportunities to travel and teach, she expanded her knowledge base by studying in the Court of Master Sommeliers, all while cultivating a personal love of wine. Eventually she went on to work for Bacardi as a national spokesperson after its acquisition of St-Germain. She would go onto work for numerous other highly regarded French and Scottish brands before feeling the desire to venture off and create something for herself.
Today, she is the CEO and co-founder of Siponey, a premium canned cocktail company that she started in the middle of a pandemic. She is also director of judging and partner of the L.A. Spirits Awards, a spirits judging competition that welcomes entries worldwide; and the founder of Aperitif Hour, a lifestyle and drinks-based education company.
With her three professional pillars, Victoria aims to support communities and causes she cares about through cocktails, wine, and spirits education, communication, and programming. Siponey Royale, a premium RTD (ready-to-drink) cocktail made from rye whiskey, local New York City wildflower honey, and real lemon juice, emphasizes ingredients with little to no processing or manipulation, advocating for a shift away from what she says are products built on synthetic, highly processed, and GMO (genetically modified organism) ingredients. Meanwhile, through the L.A. Spirits Awards, she is showcasing global talents. By spotlighting a roster of diverse industry experts to serve as judges, she is using the awards as a platform to fight radical inequalities for BIPOC and women in the spirits industry.
While Victoria’s professional pursuits are thriving, so, too, are her personal ones. In addition to being in a loving and supportive marriage to her husband, Joseph Mintz, Victoria is overjoyed to be a new mother to Mila and describes her daughter as “a strong baby girl who is of Puerto Rican and Jewish descent.” Her pride for her child’s biracial heritage only strengthens her unwavering commitments to better advocate for BIPOC initiatives in all spheres of her life.
In the following interview, Victoria shares the highs and lows of her 15-year career as a bartender, spirits educator, and small business owner. With her sights set on championing BIPOC women across three businesses, her continued leadership is helping to propel the industry into progressive and powerful territory.
1. With your robust work portfolio, please tell me how it led to your eventual desire to start your own companies within the wine/beer/spirits industry?
After years working on French spirits such as Lillet, St-Germain, Cointreau, I went on to work for Belvedere Vodka (owned by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy), for my third national spokesperson role; and here, I held a senior role with a team of six or so ambassadors to support our national efforts.
After that, I entered the world of Scotch whisky working as the director of communications to The Scotch Malt Whisky Society to help expand their community stateside. Here I felt my passions for both wine and spirits colliding, along with the country I grew to love very much, Scotland.
However, it was at this point that I felt it was time for a departure, and to pursue something on my own. I launched my first company, Aperitif Hour, with notable and wonderful clients such as Fever-Tree. That positive experience acted as the inspired catalyst to co-founding Siponey, my second company.
Most recently, I became partner and director of judging for the L.A. Spirits Awards.
2. Today you run a trifecta of companies?
Currently, I am at the helm of three small businesses based between New York City and Los Angeles, and I enjoy diversifying my experiences within them. Each one is very different, thus they fill different voids of passion. Aperitif Hour, my first company, a sole proprietorship, was officially formed in 2018. My focus here is education and communication, asset development and tools.
Siponey was first conceptualized in July 2019, when I was six months pregnant with my partner in life and business, Joseph Mintz. Joseph comes from a background in horticultural studies and business operations, and together with my experience in premium spirits, we debuted our first product, Siponey Royale. It is a premium RTD cocktail made from rye whiskey, local New York City wildflower honey, and real lemon juice. The overarching focus of this company is an emphasis on product development and environmental advocacy, where we boast “honeybee sustainability in a can.”
Furthermore, our philosophy is founded upon the use of local ingredients, biodegradable and sustainable shipping/packing practices, as well as donating a portion of all profits to beekeeping communities and activists, such as the urban beekeepers at Detroit Hives. Lastly, we are also the first canned spirits company to be seeking B Corp status; our company ethos is in line with their certifications.
With the L.A. Spirit Awards (LASA), I’ve recently built a uniquely inclusive and diverse panel of best-in-class industry experts as our judges; they include Karla Alindahao (Forbes), Nima Ansari (Astor Wines & Spirits), Brooke Arthur (Westward Whiskey), Ashela R. MacDonald (William Grant & Sons), Samara Rivers (Black Bourbon Society), Joseph D. Solis (D’ussé Cognac), Mark Stoddard (Hendrick’s Gin), and Devon Tarby (Death & Co). Here, there is an emphasis on community building and being surrounded by talented individuals who keep me sharp!
3. Did you ever face any challenges and/or negative pushback in your role(s)?
In the past, I contended with toxic work environments that painfully lacked diversity and called me “bossy” when I spoke my mind. Additionally, I dealt with abusive work environments that allowed for everything from sexual assault to no work/life balance. In fact, I realized how important it was to me to work for myself after enduring all of this toxic corporate culture. I can recall there being a clique culture at a liquor supplier I was working for at the time that I was outcast from. I found myself trying to make three different stakeholder teams happy —a global maison team, U.S. national/regional teams, and an agency team — all of whom didn’t like each other. This put [me] in an impossible position and spread me across the country without a tether. Eventually, these teams for the most part dissolved — and I did manage to make more than a few lifetime friends and supporters along the way!
However, I attribute the dysfunction to the overall corporate culture, egos, complacency, people being in their roles far too long, and overall lack of real care for business priorities. I even created a cocktail recipe catalog which someone else deliberately took credit for. It was bogus. At a separate company, I had a counterpart director [who] harassed me (and others). The harassment began on day one when I was deemed “easy on the eyes.” It escalated to violent outbursts of anger and resentment for my job within the company, which was deemed the “fun” role. The fact that our president let this sort of ongoing abuse happen was truly disheartening.
4. Did this kind of toxicity seep into your pregnancy while you were juggling work at the same time?
Absolutely. After finally gaining the courage to announce that I was pregnant to a client, they tried to abruptly end our oral agreement that was scheduled to go on through the year. I was unexpectedly not needed anymore. Ironically, a big basis for having a baby at that time was based on the confidence I had at work!
My work had been so highly praised, internally and externally, until my pregnancy was made public; and then suddenly, I was caught trying to prove that I was still capable of working with a belly. … Ultimately, there was a hard lesson to be learned here, but it was an important one I’ll never forget: Always get a written contract.
However, my biggest lessons coming out of this have been to create boundaries and to not let this sort of stuff happen ever again within my own companies. Despite all these hardships, I’m actually grateful this all happened — it propelled the launch, and the eventual success of Siponey.
5. In surmounting personal and professional obstacles to your successes, when was the first time you felt that you had “made it?”
Watching myself on television with my parents over the holidays, years ago. Specifically, it was where I hosted the show Celebrity Tastemakers on channel PIX11 in the NYC metro area. I would interview industry experts over rare Scotch whisky — we would talk about the Scotch and their careers (you can find episodes in the media section of Aperitif Hour).
6. The pandemic has uprooted much of our cherished day-to-day living. What was the biggest challenge you or your business(es) faced since Covid-19?
For Siponey, I missed the in-person interactions, tastings, and fun educational component surrounding the drink. Additionally, it was devastating to lose our customer base in the wake of the mass closures of bars and restaurants. For the L.A. Spirits Awards, I miss the real-life interactions with my colleagues and friends. Related to this, I’m saddened that our inaugural competition can’t be done in person alongside my fellow peers.
7. How did you address these issues [related to Covid-19]?
With Siponey, we addressed it by pivoting to e-commerce and a direct-to-consumer model. We did consider this previously, but we never thought it could be possible, especially with the tricky-to-navigate, three-tier distribution model — but we are making it work!
L.A. Spirit Awards: We are executing a remote judging model for our inaugural year. We never thought this could be possible, but we are making it work as best as we can! We deem this strategy as our “Covid pivot,” which requires an immense amount of logistical thoughtfulness and legal due diligence to support. However, I have an incredible team: My partners, co-founders Nicolette and Joel, have a wealth of experience managing notable spirits competitions based in California that are known around the world.
Also, woven into the tapestry of the L.A. Spirits Awards is the cultural diversity. In fact, our founders and judges are majority female and diverse, compared to other competitions. This deeply matters to me: I am a very vocal proponent of BIPOC, LGBTQ, and women in the workplace. I have been a whistleblower to injustices around these groups for decades within the wine and spirits industry. So, to have the support of the L.A. Spirits Awards and its co-founders to build a community to eradicate these inequalities has been one of the most momentous moments of my career to date.
8. What’s next for you and your companies/brands?
I’m excited for Siponey, and hoping to see it being served in the sky [and/or] on the water (we’re currently in conversation with travel channels such as airlines and cruises). Also, we’ll be debuting at supermarkets this November 2020. In fact, we just signed with our new partners Florida Craft Distributors. We will specifically be entering local grocery chains there [in Florida] with Siponey Café, the second iteration of Siponey. Siponey Café is a rye whiskey, wildflower honey, cold brew coffee, and lemon juice cocktail with fresh ingredients canned at 6 percent ABV.
With the L.A. Spirits Awards, I have a continued focus on leading a community built on inclusivity, diversity, and SERIOUS TALENT! I also encourage entries at https://laspiritsawards.com/. We launched recently (in early August) and are still accepting submission entries until Sept. 23, 2020. The competition takes place this October. Spirits producers and brand representatives who are eager to get the products in front of the most talented palates in the industry via an inclusive and diverse organization should enter ASAP. For those who aren’t in the competition, you are welcome to follow all the excitement on our Instagram: @laspiritsawards.
9. What opportunities do you see for your business(es) to grow further?
The ethos I subscribe to for all of my personal and professional pursuits is to actively practice inclusivity and diversity. For Siponey, my specific objectives are to place more emphasis on direct-to-consumer models, seek out distribution deals that are in line with our company philosophy of sustainability and environmental awareness, continue our sustainable/environmental initiatives, and champion community building. With the L.A. Spirits Awards, my team and I are focused on digital community- building within the wine and spirits industry.
Published: September 18, 2020