Wining & Organizing with Ava McFarlane
At Ingredient, we have a cohort of Spock-esque folks we like to call superheroes, though you might have heard them referred to as project managers. One such superhero is Ava McFarlane.
She spends her days juggling timelines and scopes, resources and dependencies. In short: she makes sure all of the little details are accounted for — so the rest of us can focus on other stuff. By night, she’s an avid food and wine enthusiast, and she’s spent the last year studying to become a Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Certified Wine Professional.
Ava recently sat down with Lead Copywriter Courtney Bade to talk project management, cooking for others, and making the wine world more inclusive.
Courtney: So, I know you went to school for marketing and strategic communications. What initially made you so interested in our industry?
Ava: Growing up, I always had a blast watching commercials with my dad — Superbowl ads and things like that. And I liked keeping up with how a brand’s creative would evolve over the years. It was just a really fun part of my childhood, but I think it subconsciously inspired me to pursue it professionally.
C: Project management tends to vary a lot from company to company. What does it look like here at Ingredient?
A: At Ingredient project managers get to be involved in all parts of the process. It helps me feel like I'm flexing the creative side of my brain, when really, I'm just surrounded by creative people. Also, I'm talking to the client, all day, every day — giving them the best of my “You need it? I got it” energy and doing whatever it takes to be a good partner to them. That's something I really, really love about working here.
And of course, every bit of planning and scoping I do always ties back to food in some way. I’ve been passionate about food and cooking ever since I was a teenager — I understand it on a really deep level.
C: So then, how did it feel to find a job where you get to combine your love of organization — of project management — with your love of food?
A: Um … incredible. I feel like I have the unicorn of all jobs. Angela [Ritchie, account manager here at Ingredient] and I have been friends for a while, and she had been telling me for, like, a year that I should work at Ingredient. Then, finally, a project management position opened up that was the right fit. And here we are!
C: More on the topic of food: I know you worked as a chef at Restaurant Alma for a spell, and didn’t you and your partner have a meal kit business for a while?
A: Yeah, we did it for about a year, starting toward the beginning of the pandemic. Basically, we noticed that people seemed to really be into HelloFresh and that sort of thing — but thought it’d be great if that business model was a little more local. So, we started a company called Casa Kith and made our own meal and cocktail kits using as many organic, locally sourced ingredients as possible.
C: How cool! What was your favorite part of that?
A: Well, coming up with menus each week was totally awesome — but being able to deliver meals to people, at a time when we are all isolated and closed off in our houses, was even better. People would upload photos of them cooking the meals with their kids, or making one with their partner for a date night, or doing it with a small group of friends. It was so cool getting to witness the culture and community that was built around these meal boxes. That’s really what I crave from the process of cooking — that sense of community.
C: You’re also really into wine and have your WSET Level II certification. Can you tell me a little bit about what it took to get certified?
A: So, the Level I certification is something that literally anyone who is even the littlest bit interested in wine can do. But for Level II the intensity bumps up exponentially. I did weekly webinars and online tastings with a professional out of California — and studied everything from fermentation processes to the types of soil in wine-growing regions. And at the end, I had to take what was basically a really long standardized test about wine.
C: Is there a type of wine you’re particularly interested in?
A: I’m very into natural wine; it really aligns with my values and lifestyle. You know, I try to buy local and organic, and I support ethical business as much as I can. But I’m also super passionate about wines from overlooked growing regions, like South Africa. Fun fact: every wine that comes out of South Africa is inherently natural, no matter how big or small the vineyard, which I find so incredible.
C: On the topic of those over-looked growing regions … I think for many people, the wine industry seems exclusive and intimidating — and it’s notorious for being very Eurocentric. Do you think that’s changing at all?
A: You know, there are thousands of really smart, kick-ass people who know way more than I do about wine, but have never been able to get certified because of financial limitations, because they’re too busy, or because they simply don’t have access to the courses — or because there’s such an air of pretension in the wine industry that it makes some people feel like they won’t be welcome. It’s slowly getting better, but we have to keep making an effort to make wine education more accessible and open up doors for people who have historically been overlooked in the industry.
C: What role do you want to play in making that happen, if any?
A: Part of what I want to do with my knowledge is share it with other people and build a grassroots community of people who love wine, but don’t really know where to start with that education. There are so many interactive components of wine, so it actually lends itself really well to inclusivity — you just have to break down those walls of pretension first.
But as a BIPOC person, I also think that just showing my face in the industry — and being loud and proud and public about my interests — is super important for helping others realize that they can do it too. You know, as totally bare bones as that sounds.
C: I think that makes total sense. So, I feel like most people’s interests tend to have some sort of a common thread between them. Do project management and wine have one, for you?
A: I think they’re both about taking a lot of information and processing it down into something that is approachable and easily digestible for the people you're working with — or the people you're enjoying wine with. It's kind of like being an interpreter, you know?
C: Okay, last fun question: If you had to pair a wine with a typical project management task, what would that pairing be?
A: Well, I’m not sure about a specific task … but project managers are the ultimate at-work chameleons who work across all departments, keep track of project-specific details, and help steward strong client partnerships. So for those reasons, I’d pair project management with Chenin Blanc, which is an incredibly versatile grape. Depending on where it’s grown, it can express a wide range of flavors, from fresh citrus to dried tropical fruits, so it’s super food-friendly. Also, it’s a great one to age with other grapes to create blends — and project managers team up with everyone to kick ass on projects!
Want to learn more about our approach to project management — or get a recommendation for a great natural wine? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.