People are not always nice. — Unfortunately, I have seen behavior at wine conferences and other industry events that can be reminiscent of a high school cafeteria. As an attractive woman who is friendly and approachable, people will make assumptions that I don’t take my business seriously and that I’m not as committed to my craft or qualified. I ignore their behavior and simply do what I do to move my business and initiatives forward. In my accomplishments I prove them wrong.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sandra Guibord, CEO & Founder, Sandra’s Wine Life.
Sandra Guibord has over two decades of experience in all aspects of the media and entertainment business. A former Wilhelmina model and actress, including daytime soap operas, network television series, films, and corporate spokesperson roles. Now, Sandra is a preeminent guide within the wine and spirits community, assisting corporations in entertainment their top clients and senior executives.
Sandra has been guiding people through the often-vexing world of wine with her unique, fun and festive approach that has made her popular with everyone from beginners to experienced connoisseurs. Her passion is helping the everyday wine admirer select wines for everything from backyard barbecues to business dinners to romantic dates, and even building custom wine collections.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in a corporate family, watching my father work hard his whole life, beginning in a military station in West Germany during the Cold War. After college, my father started climbing the corporate ladder in the technology industry. He was one of the first technologists to define the role of Chief Information Officer in the Global Corporate market, designing his role within the C-Suite of the corporate sector. His career moved our family to many places throughout the United States. I was very close in age to my parents and grateful for that; we were just 20 years apart and often joke that we grew up together. Because of this I was able to learn ‘alongside’ my father as well as witness his great efforts and success firsthand.
Much to the surprise of anyone who knows me now, I was very shy as a young girl. However, our frequent moves to new states and schools forced me to develop strong interpersonal communication skills. My parents would encourage me, saying: “Walk in the door of that new school and create who you want to be.” This helped me develop confidence in who I was and what I chose to become in all aspects of my academic and professional career.
That confidence inspired me to pursue a career in the modeling industry at a very young age. When my successful modeling career brought me to New York, I decided to segue into acting. I was represented by top agents including Wilhelmina and Creative Artists Agency, and represented Wendy’s, Toyota, Proctor & Gamble products. I earned roles in daytime soap operas such as One Life to Live and big screen film projects including Shadow of Doubt and Death of a Dynasty, as well as the network television programs on NBC, CBS, and FOX.
With my extensive travel and my time spent living in California as an actor, I was able to indulge and grow my passion for wine. I developed relationships that grew my knowledge of the business. In 2000 I launched my wine education and multi-media platform business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My mother always said, “Bloom where you are planted.” Throughout my career I have had to move back and forth, multiple times, between the East and West Coast of the United States. I worked in Europe, then raised my children in Connecticut and Vermont. I have opened my mind and heart to wherever my journey takes me and am able to find my own connection to root myself there. I love to travel.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The movie “Working Girl,” of course! As a young woman in any career path, you need to stand up and demand your role. Sometimes it may be an unconventional path, but it always requires being true to yourself and standing up for your values. No one should be afraid to set high goals and creatively build their path there.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I have spent the last 20 years as a wine educator, as CEO & Founder of Sandra’s Wine Life. The in-person education aspect of my business involved leading wine seminars for large corporates, entertaining large groups of high net worth clientele for private banks, accounting firms, technology firms, and non-profits.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
In Spring, 2020 when all my in-person presentations were cancelled, I knew I had to transition to virtual events. All of my corporate clients now needed an intimate connection platform with which to reach their customers. I created Sandra’s Wine Life’s Virtual Wine Seminars to entertain small groups of advisers and their select clients.
Can you tell us about the specific “A-ha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
I had that “A-ha” moment on a Zoom call with all my ski friends. We were commiserating over cocktails about our beloved ski season being cut short from the pandemic. It was such an easy platform to use and it was a valuable experience to connect virtually. I knew instantly that it was the path I needed to take for my company to be successful during the pandemic.
How are things going with this new initiative?
I am thrilled to say that Sandra’s Wine Life’s Virtual Wine Seminars have been an extreme success. I am conducting presentations four nights a week all year long. Helping my customers, which consist of the largest financial, technology, legal and non-profit institutions in America, connect with their clients in a fun and interactive way is incredibly rewarding.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
For many years I pushed my company forward on my own. Then through my boyfriend, Barry, I have learned the art of building relationships and networking. His expertise in law and International business has affected the way that I see myself and the potential of the future of my company. It has been such a wonderful experience to have a partner that believes in me, my talents, and my vision. I am so excited to be building this company with someone that I not only respect, but that I love.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
My wine events involve shipping wines to guests that are spread all over the country. My team and I have had a crash course in learning the legalities of shipping wine to all 50 states — each of which has its own laws. In my first few events, I was working with a client in a specific region. When we received the addresses of the guests, we panicked when we realized that we had people participating in four different states! Many were not in their primary residence due to the pandemic. We quickly had to source wines from several locations. I ended up with three different wine lists for all the guests, which was a challenging position as a presenter. But everyone enjoyed themselves and the event was a great success in the end.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
My service is more valuable than I realize.
When I started Sandra’s Wine Life, I viewed my service as simply entertainment. I have grown to realize that my services are quite valuable as a business generation tool for my clients, particularly in these pandemic times. My virtual seminars are an opportunity for agents to reach out and effectively connect to their clients. I create an environment that is relaxed and enjoyable to set the mood and facilitate open conversation. This might seem a small thing, but as there is so much to be distracted by about in these times, having the ability to keep people upbeat and in the moment right now is a skill that has proved very valuable, and it’s also very enjoyable for me to be able to provide.
People are not always nice.
Unfortunately, I have seen behavior at wine conferences and other industry events that can be reminiscent of a high school cafeteria. As an attractive woman who is friendly and approachable, people will make assumptions that I don’t take my business seriously and that I’m not as committed to my craft or qualified. I ignore their behavior and simply do what I do to move my business and initiatives forward. In my accomplishments I prove them wrong.
Don’t be shy about developing your network.
If you never ask or reach out to those in your network, you could be missing out on enormous opportunities. For example, Thomas Preti Catering has separately been providing food to match my wine pairings to some of my clients for as long as 10 years. Just a few months ago I first approached him with an idea about the two of us teaming up to provide food and wine pairings together for exciting virtual events such as Wine & Opera with International Opera Performers, Wine & Cinema tastings. Immediately he was on board. Now I kick myself for being shy about reaching out years ago!
Your perspective and brand tone can change dramatically as your life changes. Lean into it.
When I first started Sandra’s Wine Life, I was a single woman in New York City, and as such I focused on the demographic that I was a part of. As life evolved, adding children, increased obligations and more Corporate services, the focus of my company also evolved to incorporate my perspective on how wine fits into life and its moods and situations, broadened to home entertainment, business dinners, family holidays, International travel and large-scale corporate entertaining.
Be patient and stay the course.
Over the last 20 years, I have had to go to great lengths to keep my business alive. I have had to be creative, carve out time that didn’t exist, continue selling my services, collaborate with others, and learn a number of new skills on the fly — and with great enthusiasm! I did this all while raising children, dedicating myself to growing my former husband’s business and without having any encouragement or support. My business was always my voice and I needed to keep it alive and growing slowly so when the time came that I could fly. The time finally came, and when it did, I was truly ready. Now I’m flying and loving every minute!
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Cooking has been my time of peace at the end of each day. With so much uncertainty, it calms me to pour a glass of wine, put music on and start chopping, grating or mixing. It is a of meditation for me to focus on simple preparation acts in the kitchen, particularly making favorite recipes for everyone in my house. I have two sons that are teenagers, so as you can imagine, they are always hungry! A sense of predictability and routine has been good for us all. Homemade mac and cheese can calm anyone’s anxiety.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Spend, Save, Share… Spend only what you need. Save for what you don’t know you’ll need. Share with others in need.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love the chance to sit and have a nice long lunch with Dolly Parton. Not only has her career has spanned decades in music and film. But Dolly has built a brand and business that is beyond her music, reflective of her humble upbringing, her rise to fame and her gracious heart that is that has been the center of her whole career. Who wouldn’t want to sit with a glass of wine and listen to Dolly and her stories?!