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Friday, January 29, 2016

Vanessa Gomes: Crusader of Craft

by Blair Loup

Vanessa Gomes posted up amongst mountains of beer at Champagne Beverage
Vanessa Gomes posted up amongst mountains of beer at Champagne Beverage
The craft beer industry has increasingly captivated my interest over the past two years. I've learned more about brewing processes and styles of beer than I ever thought I'd care to know.

But what interests me the most is the elaborate, Game of Thrones-esque story of the growth and shifting of the Louisiana craft beer industry.

Obviously, it lacks much of the drama and violence of the critically acclaimed HBO series, but watching the movement and growth of new and established Louisiana breweries reminds me of the shifting and growing map in the show's title sequence. It can be hard to keep up.

It’s all very entrancing, much like talking to Vanessa Gomes. Vanessa, the Craft Brand Manager for Champagne Beverage, has been a titan of the local craft beer industry on the Northshore for the last seven years.

With a German mother and a Brazilian father, this first-generation American didn't have a typical South Louisiana upbringing. In fact, English is her second language (they spoke German in her household). Though the dual citizen of Brazil didn't try a poboy until she was in her teens, Vanessa claims her culturally diverse upbringing made her the well-rounded individual she is today.

In 2009 while working in the service industry, Vanessa met Nick Powers. He told her about his plan to open The Barley Oak, a craft beer bar in Mandeville, in hopes that she would come work for him.

“I thought he was absolutely crazy,” she said.

Six years ago, Abita and Covington were the only Louisiana breweries up and running, with Bayou Teche soon to follow. A craft beer concept in that area seemed doomed, and Vanessa hesitatingly agreed to work one shift per week at the newly opened bar The Barley Oak.

That one shift turned to full-time, then to salary, and soon enough she was practically running the joint.

According to Vanessa, soon after she started at The Barley Oak, the craft beer industry finally took root in Louisiana.

"It was a fun time to be running a craft beer bar and keeping the tap selection interesting, cool, and unique," Vanessa said.

After four years at The Barley Oak, Vanessa’s wealth of knowledge had grown, and others took notice.

Around that time, Champagne Beverage, a distribution company, had acquired Glazer's craft portfolio and was on the cusp of launching New Belgium. They hired Vanessa on as their crafts brands manager, putting her immense beer knowledge to use.

Handling Champagne's craft brands requires Vanessa to know everything about the beers and suppliers in her charge, to be able to communicate that to the sales staff, and to place the beers appropriately so they sell.

At first, Vanessa admitted, she was overwhelmed.

"I had no idea what I was doing or how I was going to do it," she said.

But she's managed to pull it off. In her last three years at Champagne Beverage, she's taken their craft beer sales from zero to 1.8 percent.

Vanessa is also in charge of brand development, order placement, inventory balance, and coordination of special events like beer launches, dinners, and festivals.

She may be the crusader of craft for the Northshore, but she didn’t get where she is without tribulation. Vanessa said being a woman in this role has been her greatest challenge.

“You have to be that much more knowledgable,” she said, “if you’re not an expert, it’s not enough.”

In her experience, no one will give you respect, you have to command it. It’s one thing to face the every day challenges of being a woman, and being a woman in the beer industry comes with an entirely different set of challenges.

In a matter of days, Vanessa will be utilizing her many talents in her new role as Lead Brewery Rep with Bell's Brewing out of Kalamazoo, Mich. Soon, Bell's will be distributed in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi markets with Vanessa leading the charge.

While she's excited to start her new job, she's grateful for her years with Champagne.

"The Champagnes have given me full support on everything I need to do my job and enhance my education," she said. "They've truly gone above and beyond."

I’m extremely excited to continue to watch Vanessa’s career unfold over the brim of my glass.

Needless to say, it will be exciting to continue to watch Vanessa's meteoric rise over the rim of my glass. Cheers to you Vanessa on your last day at Champagne Beverage!

This post is part of a monthly series spotlighting Louisiana women in the business of booze. Previous features include: