Speaker Biographies

Partner, Lobby WA, LLC
Chester is a lobbyist and attorney in private practice at LOBBY WA, LLC, representing clients at the Legislature and with agencies of government. He has built strong relationships with lawmakers in House and Senate Leadership and members of each caucus to facilitate the priorities of his clients. Chester’s business experience along with his degrees in Healthcare, Finance, Business Computer Information Systems, and Law make him uniquely positioned to facilitate unified solutions on a broad range of client issues. He routinely facilitates meetings with lawmakers, reviews and drafts legislation, and testifies before the Legislature. Chester graduated from the University of Washington – Foster School of Business with Honors, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Finance and Business Computer Information Systems, and concurrently earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Health from the University of Washington – School of Public Health and Community Medicine. After graduating, he worked as a financial analyst and healthcare consultant for Mercer Human Resource Consulting before attending Seattle University School of Law where he earned his Juris Doctorate, graduating with Honors. Chester is a member of the Washington State Bar Association and the Thurston & Pierce County Bar Associations and is also admitted to practice in Federal Court. As a lobbyist in Olympia, Chester represents a diverse group of clients, associations, and industries dedicated to serving their members. Chester works with lawmakers, state agencies, and county and city governments to solve his clients’ issues and protect their industries from burdensome regulation and tax consequences.

Founder, Epstein, Cohen Seif & Porter
Robert Epstein is a founding member of Epstein & Frisch law firm, founded in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1972. This firm has evolved into a firm of lawyers practicing as Epstein, Cohen Seif & Porter, LLP. Mr. Epstein has specialized in a variety of areas of business law including media law, immigration, and mergers and acquisitions. His most current interest for the past 20 years has been around wine law and wine litigation. He was the first American lawyer to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state’s laws that prohibited the inter-state shipment of wine. This case, Granholm v. Heald, was decided by the United States Supreme Court on May 16, 2005. The Decision now permits inter-state shipment of wine in many cases. Currently, Robert is challenging numerous state laws that discriminate against the interstate commerce of alcohol. He lives in Indianapolis and is an avid lover of wine and food.

Senior Account Supervisor, Colangelo & Partners
Michelle Erland is a Senior Account Supervisor with extensive experience in media relations and corporate communications at Colangelo & Partners Public Relations, splitting her time between New York and San Francisco. She joined the firm in 2019 and quickly became an integral part of the team, successfully bringing numerous client activations to life and securing impactful media placements for a variety of clients in the food, wine, e-commerce, and financial sectors. Throughout her tenure at Colangelo & Partners, Michelle has demonstrated her expertise in understanding the nuances of brand strategy and executing successful campaigns that result in coverage from high-profile publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Bloomberg, Wine Spectator, CNN, and Real Simple. Michelle holds an MBA from Johnson & Wales University and earned her Crisis Communications Certificate from Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. Michelle is also a graduate of the Intensive Sommelier Program at the International Culinary Center (French Culinary Institute) and a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas. In 2017, she became a Vinitaly Italian Wine Ambassador.

CEO, Studio Beverage Group
As an Israeli immigrant, Arie grew up in Toronto, Canada. After graduating from the University of Western Ontario, he moved to Florida where he completed his MBA and started a career within the beverage alcohol industry. Starting as a sales rep at Republic National Distributing Company (NDC at the time), he learned the business and moved up through the ranks within the distributor tier, holding leadership positions at the regional and state levels. In 2012 he took an opportunity with Palm Bay Imports as the Southeast Regional manager expanding his experience to all three tiers of the three-tier system. Throughout his career, he always looked to technology and innovation to create efficiency and new sales channels. This led him to join Provi in 2019 to help build out distributor partnerships for this bev-alc technology start-up. In 2021, Arie joined Southern-Glazers Wine & Spirits as an eCommerce director under the New Ventures team. Currently, he leads Studio Beverage Group as its CEO building out and redefining the direct-to-consumer channel for beverage alcohol. Arie live in Delray Beach, Florida with his wife Lyndi and two children Mila and Ethan (ages 11 & 22). He is a fitness enthusiast, surfer, golfer and enjoys a great bottle of wine.

Founder & Partner, Hinman & Carmichael
John is a founding partner of Hinman & Carmichael, LLP, one of the top alcohol industry legal firms in the country. He is recognized as an industry leader and outspoken proponent of alcohol beverage reform. John started in the industry in 1978 as the General Counsel of a multi-division company that owned wineries and vineyards. Today John advises alcoholic beverage industry clients in all tiers and in all phases of industry regulation, including trade practice, distribution and importation, product fulfillment, retail licensing, and production. John is a regular speaker and panelist at alcoholic beverage industry conferences throughout the US and has provided testimony in legislative and administrative proceedings across the country. He’s been featured in many publications and has authored numerous industry-related articles. John has been General Counsel to the National Association of Wine Retailers since its founding. John is a 3rd generation San Francisco native, a Vietnam Veteran, and an avid Giants fan.

O’Leary Law & Policy Group
Sean O’Leary has become an authoritative source on the liquor regulatory system. He authored Amicus Curiae briefs at the U.S. Supreme Court, Federal Appellate Court, and State Supreme Court level supporting the expansion of markets and innovation in the liquor regulatory space. His opinions and analysis are well respected and sought after by those in the liquor industry. Mr. O’Leary authors the influential blog, Irish Liquor Lawyer, and has been cited numerous times in multiple publications such as Forbes, Decanter, and Wine Spectator and has made TV several appearances discussing liquor issues. Before beginning the O’Leary Law and Policy Group, LLC, Mr. O’Leary held the position of Chief Legal Counsel with the Illinois Liquor Control Commission where he played an important role in setting the direction and policy of the Commission. He acted as the policy liaison for the governor’s office and drafted regulations and statutes, including “of value” (trade practice) regulations and statutes that provided more opportunities for craft distillers. Mr. O’Leary attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and received his law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law. He lives in Indiana with his wife Crystal and their son Brendan.

President, NAWR; Founder, Benchmark Wine Group
While working in Silicon Valley, David Parker owned commercial vineyards in the Alexander and Willamette Valleys and sold wine under his own brand. He would go on to found Brentwood Wine Company in 1998. Later, he bought and expanded The Wine Market Journal and founded Benchmark Wine Group in 2002. Today, Benchmark Wine Group is one of the premier online sources of fine wines. Dave serves as President of The National Association of Wine Retailers helping to guide the organization and set its agenda.

Founder, Host, Author: Wine For Normal People
Elizabeth Schneider is host of the internationally acclaimed podcast “Wine for Normal People”, which regularly appears on top drinks podcast lists, in publications like Decanter Magazine, Forbes, and the New York Times Sunday print edition. She holds wine certifications, an MBA, and worked in marketing at a large international winery. Elizabeth is the author of the “Wine for Normal People” book, which is available wherever books are sold, and has garnered excellent reviews from Fortune, Forbes, Wine Enthusiast, the New York Post, and more, and was described by Oprah Magazine as a “cheeky guide that serves up everything from the best sipping, sniffing and swirling practices to advice for picking a crowd-pleasing bottle, minus any irritating attitude.” Elizabeth focuses on translating the wine world to make wine accessible and fun to everyone from novice to enthusiast. She speaks at events all over the world from Napa to Verona, Italy, and teaches online classes to normal wine people from Singapore to Sydney to Omaha. Elizabeth is known for a refreshing no nonsense, plain English, yet kind approach that is so rare in the world of wine. Well-known by wine lovers, she is a passionate wine educator, a consumer advocate, and one of the unusual, independent voices who doesn’t engage in pay-for-play PR or advertising.

Founder, Empire Strategic Planning
Senator Spano was first elected to the Assembly in 1978 and then served in the NYS Senate from 1987 until 2006. Senator Spano served as Deputy Assistant Majority Leader of the New York State Senate and chaired Senate committees on Investigations, Labor, and Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities. A lifelong resident of Yonkers, Senator Spano is married to Linda Spano and is the father of two children Christina and Leonard. The Oldest of 16 children, Senator Spano is the son of former Westchester County Clerk Leonard Spano and his wife Josephine Spano. No issue invokes more passion in Senator Spano than the rights of those with mental illness and developmental disabilities. For many years, the Senator served as Chairman of the Mental Health Committee where he earned a reputation for his staunch advocacy. He presided over passage of landmark legislation to close down outmoded institutions in a favor of community-based care. Senator Spano is also an advocate for children. He authored and spearheaded the successful passage of a bill pushing for more complete reporting and tracking of child abuse and a bill targeting drug dealers who use children to push drugs in our schools. In 2007 Senator Spano opened Empire Strategic Planning a full-service, professional, non-partisan consulting firm specializing in government advocacy, public affairs, and business development. ESP has quickly become one of the fastest-growing firms in New York State and the Tri-State area. The firm maintains a broad range of clients and has built a track record of proven success in both state and local government affairs. ESP utilities the direct experiences of NYS Legislature to help clients navigate through the bureaucratic maze and government agencies. With nearly three decades of government experience, ESP can expertly guide clients through the state’s legislative process while helping to shape public policy.

Territory Manager, Americas—LIV-EX
Robbie Stevens was born in Oxford and attended school and university in the UK. Since leaving school he spent time living and working in Argentina, Spain, and Portugal where most latterly he worked with Symington Family Estates. He joined Liv-ex in 2014 and oversees the running of the Americas strategy, market, and membership. He achieved his WSET Diploma in 2016 and has recently completed a cryptocurrency course with MIT.

Executive Director, National Association of Wine Retailers
Tom Wark is a 30-year veteran of the alcohol industry and, since 2007, the executive director of the National Association of Wine Retailers. Tom launched his marketing and media relations consultancy in 1994 and since then has served numerous industry producers, retailers, trade associations, media organizations, and industry service providers. As executive director of NAWR he administers the day-to-day operations of the Association, leads lobbying and litigation efforts, and represents NAWR as a spokesperson and industry representative. Tom is the publisher of the Substack newsletter, FERMENTATION, a continuation of his award-winning blog on the politics, media, and business of the alcohol industry. He is the author of FERMENTING CHANGE: The Politics, Corruption and Reform of the Three-Tier System. Wark lives in Salem, Oregon with his wife, Kathy, and his son Henry George.