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Wine Enthusiast Podcast: Goddesses of the Grape, Part 2

In the second of our two-part series for National Women’s History Month, we continue to talk to people working to change the status quo of the wine and spirits industry, from the founder of a women-oriented spirits company to the president of YWomen, an organization focused on engaging men in women’s leadership issues.

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Read the full transcript of “Goddesses of the Grape, Part 2”:

Marina Vataj: From Wine Enthusiast Magazine, this is the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. I’m Digital Managing Editor Marina Vataj.

Coming up, the second of our two-part series: Goddesses of the Grape. We’ll hear how women are working to change the face of the wine and spirits industry.

Sarah Bettman: We can’t fix what we can’t see. Until we start hearing bias both in ourselves and in others, we can’t fix it.

MV: We’ll meet the creator of the first luxury spirits brand aimed at the successful woman.

Nicola Nice: How many spirits can you name that are aimed or marketed towards women? No one inside or outside the industry can count to more than three.

MV: And, we’ll talk with a man who’s working with other men on empowering women as leaders.

Jeffery Tobias Halter: There are 30% of men who want to help, but we don’t know what it looks like. What does it look like on a daily basis?

MV: It’s coming up on the Wine Enthusiast Podcast.

Look around the world of wine, beer, and spirits, and you’ll find more and more women. More female vintners, master distillers, mixologists, beer brewers, not to mention the growing number of women taking over all levels of C-Suites at beverage companies around the world.

Compare that to the 1970s, when women comprised a mere 10% of the graduates of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. These days, it’s over 40%. And at UC Davis’s esteemed Department of Viticulture and Enology, more than half of today’s students are women.

But the thing is, to reach true equality … we still have a ways to go.

This past week, more than 700 people from all sectors of the industry from all around the world met to discuss how we’re going to get there. The Annual Women of the Vine and Spirits Global Symposium is the first trade event that enables women in the alcohol beverage industry to connect, network, and collaborate. 

Wine Enthusiast is thrilled to be a partner of Women of the Vine and Spirits. We sent Managing Editor and Tasting Director Lauren Buzzeo to the three-day event in Napa Valley to hear from winery owners, winemakers, salespeople and marketing chiefs dedicated to promoting women in the industry.

The first woman we’ll hear from today has been called, “The Joan of Arc of the Spirits World.”

Dr. Nicola Nice believes that when it comes to spirits, for too long women have been treated as “second-class consumers.” Dr. Nice is a researcher, sociology PhD, brand consultant, and now … a distiller.

Her new gin liqueur is called Pomp and Whimsy, and Dr. Nice says the 30% abv gin cordial is particularly tailored to the female palate.

She spoke with Lauren Buzzeo about the role of women in spirits throughout history, and the challenges and opportunities of creating a female oriented brand.

Nicola Nice: When you look at the brand landscape as its set up at the moment, it would be easy to make the assumption that women are not really included, or perhaps they’re an afterthought. If you go and look at the DNA of most brands, everything from how the liquid is evolved, to how the packaging is designed and how they’re marketed, usually the assumption is that it’s aimed primarily at men—and if women like it, too, that’s great.

Now, when you go and speak to women on the other hand, and you ask them, “How many spirits can you named aimed or marketed towards women?” No one inside or outside the industry can count to more than three. And that’s a kind of crazy state of affairs if you think almost as many women drink as men drink.

So, when you make this point to everyday women and you say, “What do you think about it?” they get pretty annoyed. Why are there not more options for us? My feeling is that up until this point there’s always been this assumption that you shouldn’t market directly towards women, or you shouldn’t have brands for women that women find them condescending, men don’t like to buy them, bartenders don’t like to serve them.

And you know what? I agree. Don’t create brands that are condescending towards anyone. So the aim with Pomp and Whimsy was to start with women and kind of say, “What would you want?” And take it from there.

Lauren Buzzeo: So your experiences, and certainly your time working in consulting with so many different brands and spirit brands, definitely helped to apply what you found to the creation of Pomp and Whimsy. So what do you believe defines the female palate, and how do you think spirits can and should be properly and appropriately catered to it?

NN: So, I think when we’re going to talk about palate there are two different questions here, right? The first question is: do we think women taste differently to men? Do you think their taste buds are different or sense of taste is different? Then the second question is: really more, nature/ nurture. It’s a nurture question. Do women want to taste different things to men? Even if they taste the same way, do they appreciate flavor in the same way?

So, on the first question I can’t really answer, “Do you see blue and I see green?” from a taste point of view, but we do know women smell more, that they have a heightened sense of smell, and we do know women are more likely to be supertasters. Now, 35% of women are said to be supertasters compared to 15% of men, and these are women who have a much higher concentration of taste buds. What that means is both that they can taste more, but they’re also a lot more sensitive to certain tastes. And as it happens, these tend to be tastes that are quite common in spirits. So, very bitter tastes, very sweet tastes, and the burn that comes from alcohol.

So for these women, it’s not that they cannot handle these spirits. It’s that they’re literally unpalatable to them. Their taste buds are in overdrive. But what it also means is that for that group of women, about 1 in 3 women, they can appreciate way more complex, nuanced, and let’s say, subtle flavors, than I think we’ve given them credit for, without very reductionist pink and fruity and syrupy products we’ve offered them up until this point.

Then, on the cultural side there’s a question of, “Should we market spirits toward women?” And I would say the answer to that is I’m an opportunist, right? So my job for the past 15 years was to go out, interview consumers, understand their needs, wants and desires, and come back and offer opportunity areas, unmet needs. And it was very clear to me for the longest time that when it comes to spirits, these opportunity areas are massive.

LB: I have to say from the perspective of being the tasting director at Wine Enthusiast Magazine, I love hearing the research and statistics behind the female palate and the super tasters, and there’s definitely a reason why women dominate our tasting panel currently. Not to discredit our male tasters, just saying, we tend to see those abilities and the capability to pick up greater nuance perhaps, on the female palate.

So, moving on from that, female-oriented spirits brands. They often carry or experience a bit of a stigma both within and without the industry. Do you feel that Pomp and Whimsy is subject to that? And yes or no, how do you feel that that stigma can be changed?

NN: I think the difference between us and say, brands that treat women in a very reductionist way is that: we’re starting with women. We’re starting with women, designed and created by women, with women’s needs in mind. Now, I don’t think that men should feel any less capable of appreciating Pomp and Whimsy than I would feel appreciating Jack Daniels, its as simple as that for me. I mean, gender’s a spectrum and that’s also reflected in brands and the design of brands, and you’re going to have brands that are hyper-masculine, you’re going to have brands like Ketel One saying, “Gentlemen, this is Vodka.” And you can have brands that are hyper-feminine and you can have everything in between. But if you were to line up all spirits brands on a spectrum of gender right now, you would see a ton of hyper-masculine ones, quite a few gender-neutral ones, one or two hyper feminine ones—and nothing in between.

So I think all we are really asking for at this point is, we just need more choices.

LB: To that effect, you just gave a very informative and interesting presentation as part of the Women of the Vine and Spirits Symposium here in Napa, California, that went into great detail about the history of women in terms, of spirit consumption and cocktails. And actually, as you noted, being the one responsible making those beverages for their guests, for themselves, for their husbands, for whomever … I think it’s interesting to note this recent resurgence in a lot of female bartenders. You look at Speed Rack and Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero, just a lot of great women who are really driving that and it just refreshing to hear that it is rooted in a greater culture that a lot of people don’t understand.

NN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think it’s really interesting when you look at the history of the cocktail and the way it’s written out. Not all of the writers are male but, a lot of them are male and they’re largely writing from the point of view of what’s published.

At the end of the day, the history of anything is about looking at what’s published, you go back a certain number of years and there’s no way of knowing right? It’s not just this area that women have been written out of, it’s all history women have been written out of.

But what’s curious about the cocktail world is that women were being published and there were a lot of books being written by women. Eliza Acton is quite possibly one of the most successful cooking writers of all time. She was writing in the middle of the 19th century and she had a whole chapter on beverages, liqueurs and mixed drinks.

I think this is the big difference between men and women: When you look at the history of the cocktail written by men for men, it’s very focused on bartending. It’s very focused on recipes and the right why way to shake something and the right way to measure something, and it’s very technical. And that does tend to be how men’s minds work, right? They’re more transactional.

Whereas women tend to be more holistic, they tend to be more contextual. The way that women have written about cocktails, it’s one chapter in a much larger book about how to entertain, how to run your household, how to feed you baby. And I think, thinking about how women drink now, it’s the same thing.

LB: So what is your general response or counter to people who may believe that marketing or designing specifically to women is only furthering potential stigmas or perpetuating negative stereotypes about female spirit consumption and about maybe women overall?

NN: If you start by saying, “You can’t have brands for women,” then that is the patriarchy, right there. If you just stand back and you say, “Why not?” and, “If so, what does it look like?” then, you’re the one who’s having the open conversation.

LB: So is it safe to assume that more research is being conducted to find the next trend or product lineup in the Pomp and Whimsy portfolio?

NN: Pomp and Whimsy’s future is all about reinvigorating this category of gin cordials, which has been lost for a hundred fifty odd years. As dry gins took over as the style across the world, people stopped drinking gin cordials. So you could say that the current Pomp and Whimsy expression that we have on the market is exploring one aspect of the gin flavor wheel.

So for me a gin cordial is really about taking the base flavors of gin and dialing them up and making more of a liqueur type experience from it. If we think about gin as having a flavor wheel you can have floral, you can have citrus, you can have spice, you can have that piney juniper side of things. Our intention with Pomp and Whimsy is to explore these different aspects of gin cordials.

LB: Alright, so we’ll look for something new coming out in the coming year?

NN: Yep. 2019.

LB: Fantastic. I think we should go taste some Pomp and Whimsy now. What do you think?

NN: I think so, too.

LB: Doctor, thank you so much for the conversation.

NN: Thank you.

Marina Vataj: You can learn more about Pomp and Whimsy’s mission to bring back the cordial on our website,

One of the keynote speakers at last week’s symposium was Sarah Bettman. She’s the Talent Development Manager at Constellation Brands, a leading international marketer and producer of wine, beer and spirits.

Bettman says at Constellation, they put diversity and inclusion at the forefront of everything they do. The company received top marks from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for its policies and practices related to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer workplace equality.

The company also participates in diverse recruitment and networking events with professional organizations such as, Prospanica, The Association of Hispanic Professionals, and the National Black MBA association.

Under Constellation’s expanded policies for parental leave, new birth mothers receive 16 weeks of fully paid time off, all other employees get up to eight weeks when they welcome a new baby or child into their family. That includes adoption and foster placement.

Between events at last week’s symposium, Sarah Bettman spoke with Lauren Buzzeo about the hot diversity and inclusion topic of our time.

Sarah Bettman: I suppose I should start by saying that I’m a slow learner. I feel like I’ve recently become the woman I’ve always wanted to be, but I didn’t know what she was doing. It isn’t until recently that I realized all my experiences have got me to here.

So after college, I took a ten-year detour as a firefighter/paramedic, and what that taught me was dealing with very difficult situations. From there I moved into work on organizational development, leadership development, and the conversation is still consistent: helping people see things they don’t see in themselves in order to be better. Which, fundamentally, is executive coaching.

So, having done consulting around the world, I was ready for going in house and building something, and Constellation had a role, and its really exciting to be here because bias is a foundational awareness of how we potentially get in our own way in a relationship, and the organization has been really receptive to it. So I feel like I have a voice. Everything I’ve done up to this point that may have been a little bumpy and weird has set me up to be here today.

Lauren Buzzeo: It’s really inspirational and wonderful to hear you talk about being so aware about your biases, but how did you come to such a conscious place about your unconscious bias?

SB: I have found that I love surprises. So, as a paramedic I would transport this, we would call him “urban outdoorsman homeless guy,” and people just blew him off.  I just saw something sweet and special in him. And I got him on a day, he would have seizures, and his postictal state in seizures would be to come out fighting. So we had to be on edge and ready for it, but I got him on a day he was lucid and he talked about how he had been a soldier in Vietnam, had came back. He had three children and a wife, and they had left him, and he was told he was a baby killer. He got zero resources.

Sam became my best friend. And one of the greatest gifts is many years later. I’ve been out of the field … I just found out that Sam actually got the right help he needed. He has an apartment on his own, and is doing great.

So from an early age, realizing that what you see is not necessarily what you get, and we all have different experiences and as we sit here as women … It would be sad if I didn’t recognize how different we are as women, because then I wouldn’t be able to see the beauty of what you bring, and then I wouldn’t be able to understand your difficulty. That, as a white woman that grew up in San Francisco, I’ve experienced one thing, but as other cultures that even are white or male or otherwise, they’ve experienced something very different. I’ve just had a number of experiences in my life that really get to that root of how we can so accidentally diminish people.

LB: So how do you best integrate, or suggest even to others that they integrate their experiences into their roles to improve the business culture and success on a day-to-day basis?

SB: The foundation of my keynote is that we can’t fix what we can’t see. And until we start hearing bias both in ourselves and in others, we can’t fix it. I think that’s what makes the discussion around diversity and inclusion, and unconscious bias frustrating. Because people get it, get that it’s an issue but they don’t know how in moment how to fix it, and so the work is really teaching us how to see it, because once we see it, we know how to fix it. And even if we don’t see it, the ways we fix it are like, “Wow is that true? Because that’s not been my experience.” And so to be able to very neutrally interrupt bias is one of the fundamentals.

LB: As you’re talking I’m even realizing that I had the benefit of hearing your entire presentation and having some fantastic examples and candid examples by you of what some of those unconscious biases are. For the benefit of our listeners now, would you mind just sharing one example of an unconscious bias?

SB: Can I share two?

LB: Yes!

SB: The first one I shared was: Amanda in a team meeting and Amanda’s with our manager Mike, who believes she is great, sees her as potential, sees himself as a sponsor. And Amanda speaks in a timeline for a project that she’s leading. Mike says, “That’s great, let’s hear other ideas.” Frank speaks up and says like, “I think we should change the timeline.” Mike hears Frank’s and says, “That’s a great idea. Why don’t you lead it?” Amanda’s frustrated because she doesn’t feel heard. She just said that. I believe Mike doesn’t know he’s doing it, and Amanda is not getting heard, and if she doesn’t get heard she doesn’t get seen as promotion potential, and then she leaves the organization because it’s like, “I can’t have the impact. I’m gonna leave.” And she doesn’t say, “I was victim of bias, I was an example of micro-inequity, I’m a victim of anything.” She’s gonna say, “I’m looking for something elsewhere.” And that was one that resonated with women.

The other one that I want to share because it’s so prevalent for women … The premise I set up was if/then/therefore. So, if I am a woman I am helpful; Therefore, I’m happy in my role and I’m not interested in advancement. I believe us women get stuck in wanting to be helpful or useful, being seen as a contributing member of the team is important, and then we’ll get tapped.

The problem is we keep our heads down, we keep working, the people around us think we’re happy and they keep giving us more work. Then we do three times our job description, and we don’t move up. So there’s a responsibility on us as women to be clear about what we want. “I want to go to the top.” So that our leaders know how to act on our behalves. So, our leaders know, “I’m not going to ask you to do this because it’s not going to help you get to the top.” They can’t help until they know what we want.

LB: And I think that that speaks very well to the whole conscious versus unconscious aspect of this topic, which is very interesting to me because, you’re right, it’s very important that women— and everybody, for that matter—speak up for what they believe in and what they want, what their hopes, and dreams, and goals are. So, what are some basic techniques that people can do to be more mindful and aware of (a) opportunities of when to speak up, or (b) opportunities when there might be an unconscious bias that should be addressed or they should be made aware of?

SB: So, first and foremost, I suggest they take an implicit association test. Harvard has some great work around that and understanding where you sit. That’s a good place to start. The other is, listening for that if/then/therefore, and one of the things I said in my presentation: If/then that first thought, and if she’s a woman then she’s sensitive or any of these, that’s not wrong. It’s the “therefore” that gets us in trouble. When we make a decision on behalf of someone without talking to them.

One of the fundamentals of leadership is getting to know the people you lead, what are their aspirations? What are their fears? How are they motivated? I think we’re moving where that’s more prevalent, that much higher touch of leadership, and if you know that about people this is easy. So, getting to know others, especially those that are different, is certainly essential.

And then finally, I believe we have to start with ourselves. So three things that I said that are really important: that we fundamentally have awareness, eyes wide open, see what’s out there, awareness that this is and try to find evidence of it. We need to have a learner’s mind. A learner’s mind to when we get more information, even if it doesn’t make sense that we can change.

For example, when I ask my partner Matt what he thinks he needs says, “Nothing.” To be able to go, he really, actually is thinking nothing even though I have no idea what that feels like, that’s what I need to do. Not he’s lying to me, no—actually, he’s thinking nothing. So we have to have a learner’s mind. I now know that, and now I’ve improved my relationship significantly.

Finally, a fundamental desire to be better.

LB: In closing, what would you say is the next, first active step to better address our future from a bias notion?

SB: Start talking about it. Start sharing those things that we talk about. Those first thoughts and check them out.

I think one of the things I hope, as people talk about this is they now can ask when they hear something, “Is that true?” And when you ask, “Is that true?” yes it’s a yes/no question, but a lot of times it opens up a dialogue and it opens opportunity for learning. I don’t want to teach people: “If this then do that.” I want to teach people how to have conversation and it may be uncomfortable for me to learn about someone who’s different, who’s doing something that has a different experience. Especially, when perhaps, I’ve contributed to their experience but until I know I can’t help them, and I can’t fix it.

So that’s really where it starts. Let’s have these conversations. Let’s be open. Let’s celebrate how wonderfully quirky we are as human beings and let’s laugh at ourselves. Because until we do that it feels too heavy and then it feels too daunting to overcome.

LB: Well, here’s to some more conversations on this subject. Thank you so much, Sarah, for taking the time to speak with us today.

SB: You’re most welcome. It was great to talk with you.

Marina Vataj: Are you a woman in the industry who’s forged your own path? We’d love to hear your story. Send us an email at

Time for a break! But when we get back, a professional gender strategist on a mission to develop emerging women leaders.

It’s coming up on the Wine Enthusiast Podcast.

Welcome back to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. I’m Marina Vataj.

This week we’re toasting female pioneers in the winemaking world with the second part of our two-part series, Goddesses of the Grape.

The person we’ll hear from next isn’t a woman.

Nope. He’s a man.

A man dedicated to getting other men to advance women in leadership.

His name is Jeffrey Tobias Halter, and in 2016 he gave a TED talk titled, “It’s about Time to Ask Men to Stand Up.”

Jeffery Tobias Halter: Americans were asked, and one in four Americans said we will colonize Mars before half of the Fortune 500’s CEOs will be women and so it’s about time. It’s about time we have a new conversation. It’s about time we stop asking women to lean in, and we start asking men to stand up.

MV: Halter is the president of YWomen. Managing Editor and Tasting Director Lauren Buzzeo caught up with him at the recent Women of the Vine and Spirits Symposium in Napa Valley.

Lauren Buzzeo: We just had a wonderful seminar with Jeffrey Tobias Halter, the president of YWomen, which is a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women’s leadership issues. Not something terribly common! And Jeffrey, I’d just like to start by asking, how exactly did you get into this business?

JTH: Yeah thank you. It’s certainly nothing I ever thought I would be doing.

In 2000, I was working for Coca-Cola, I was actually doing sales training, and we had a 200-million-dollar discrimination lawsuit. It was very visible. We laid off 8,000 people, and overnight I went from leading sales training to running diversity education. And I’m a straight white guy. I wondered what meeting did I not go to get in charge of this project, because if you think about the horrible training you’ve seen on The Office, that was my program.

But over the next three years I would hear stories of our company, things I didn’t know were going on: Stories of racism and sexism and homophobia. And I had what they call a “white male epiphany,” and a white male epiphany occurs when you realize what white male privilege is, and the world revolves around you. You’re always the default gender in the room, you carry privileges you’re not even aware of.

Very simply, I chose to get curious. For the last three years at Coca-Cola, and then for the last seven years of my life, I’ve led this company called YWomen, which is about helping companies create strategies, really solid strategies like you do for any other part of the business: With scorecards, measures, metrics, and then once you have these, how do you go about engaging men? The surprising part is, for most people to hear: there are 30% of men who want to help, but we don’t know what it looks like. What does it look like on a daily basis when we’re doing it?

So I work with men to get them really, really good. There are great men in the wine and spirits industry that are really doing pioneering work advocating for women. We’ve got some great sponsors here, and as long as we’re 85% of senior leadership, we’re 85% of the problem. Women talking to women are not going to solve this. But we’re also 85% of the solution, and you’re not going to drive long-term systemic change without us.

LB: How do you encourage men to start getting involved and being conscious of their actions towards women’s advancement and gender parity?

JTH: It’s a 80/20 answer. 80% of it is head. I need to understand the business case. I need to understand why this is important, that this isn’t just some nice thing to do. My consumers are women, the buying desk is changing … Most companies think its still men selling to men when, in fact, that’s not the case. You look at some of the largest retailers in this country they have women sitting on their buying desk. So what’s the customer story to tell? What’s the talent story to tell?

Ten thousand boomers a day—largely white men, like myself—are leaving the workforce. Every day, every year, for the next seven years until we’re all gone … We’re being replaced by 85% women and people of color, and Millennials. So, the very representation of your company is going to change significantly in the next ten years. So talent, all of a sudden, is really important to leaders. If you want high engagement, if you want innovation, you need diverse teams to give you that. But all of that information is not enough to move men to advocacy.

Advancing women today is a lot like diet and exercise: everyone knows it’s a great idea, but how many of us do it every day? So, what I find it takes is a personal connection. You’ve got to make it real for them, and the men that I have found that choose to do this work either have been raised by a very strong independent mother, they have a working spouse or working sister, but nine times out of ten they have a daughter. And the really funny part for women to hear is men rarely make the connection that if I’m not advocating for women today, then I’m actually hurting my daughter’s future. We lead very silo’d lives. We go to work and we never equate the women in our lives as coworkers. Advocacy comes from that personal connection.

LB: I think that’s one of the most interesting things that I, personally, took away from your seminar: just having a better understanding to looking within and looking at other people’s situation and not just exclusively at yourself. It’s a little bit more of a holistic approach. Its not just only about one’s self but recognizing everybody around you. A very oversimplified question perhaps, but what would be your top or best tip that you could give someone that’s looking to make a change in their corporate culture or in their business?

JTH: Go out and talk to your employees. Every leader I know has a mission statement and company values on the wall of their office. This is the time for senior leaders to stand up and say, “We honor these values. We want you talking to each other, and I wanna know what those issues are.” So that’s at the top.

At the grassroots level, all I want men to do it is take a colleague that they trust to coffee and ask as simple question, “Tell me your experience as a woman in this company. What don’t I know?” And if you ask in a very genuine manner you’re not going to get in trouble.

I’m gonna sit there and listen, which is often hard for men, and after ten minutes I’m going to say, “What else don’t I know?” And in that next ten minutes I’m gonna hear some root cause issues that maybe I was unaware of and its really subtle right? It’s the notion that women are talked over in meetings and nothing happens. Women are expected to do the office housework. And so little minor things that men don’t think about that happen to women ten times a day.

Then ask one more time, “What don’t I understand?” And in that last ten minutes you’re going to hear root causes that you had no idea existed in your company, and that as a leader you’ve got to choose to do something about that. So listen three times and just genuinely, don’t defend, find out what’s going on in somebody’s life.

We’re at a tipping point: Women are getting their voices, and long, long, long overdue. Smart companies are going to embrace this. They’re either going to use this as a chance for dialogue and conversation. Senior leadership is going to have an opportunity to step up, and we’ve got to be very conscious of supporting women and men in this conversation, to make it productive.

LB: And continue to work together to achieve that.

JTH: There you go.

LB: Jeffrey thank you so much for your time, a pleasure.

Marina Vataj: You can learn more about YWomen, and watch that TED Talk we mentioned at

And if you know an amazing woman working in wine, beer or spirits, or you are one. We want to hear from you, please send an email to

That’s it for today’s Wine Enthusiast Podcast.

Big thanks to Lauren Buzzeo for reporting from the 2018 Women of the Vine and Spirits Global Symposium in Napa Valley. The annual event is organized by Women of the Vine and Spirits. You can read more about the trade organization’s mission to empower women in the alcohol beverage industry by visiting our website,

You can subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please write us a review. We’d love to hear from you!

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I’m Marina Vataj, see you next time!