My favorite happy hour is wine happy hour. Though a refreshing pinot grigio is my tried and true, I have recently been getting friendlier with reds. Alysse is happy about that—her fave is cabernet. We discussed our go-to wines and tried some new ones with Nikki Syverson, Event Director for Winefest in Des Moines, Iowa. I ended up drinking a delicious rose from Slovenia while we talked about her job and long history with wine.
People with Panache: What do you do as the Event Director for Winefest?
Nikki Syverson: I’m the director of the whole organization, so I manage all the ins and outs: from board recruitment and managing the board, to sponsorships, day-to-day mundane stuff such as accounting, and all of the event planning and event details for all of Winefest, which is now an eight-day festival with year-round events.
PWP: How long have you been involved?
NS: This will be my third festival. I was hired three years ago by Winefest. Before that, I was with the symphony for six years and simultaneously had my own event-planning business for four years.
PWP: Was this the perfect next step?
NS: My business partner and I did mostly weddings and some nonprofit events. It was getting to be a lot. Our business really took off when my daughter was born, and I wanted one thing to focus on. I was approached by Winefest, which I always enjoyed going to. I have been passionate about wine my whole life. My grandparents taught me about it when I was a kid. So it was a perfect fit.
Then, when I came on board, we made it an eight-day event. The next year, we added year-round events. It was really successful. We made it so we can offer something for everybody!
PWP: What do you do with the proceeds?
NS: Part of it goes back into our savings, and the other portion of our proceeds goes to Bravo Greater Des Moines. They’re the regional arts council, so they distribute the money to the symphony, the ballet, the opera and the arts center in a formula that they have. We just gave $12,000 to Bravo a couple weeks ago.
PWP: Wow! Is this your dream job?
NS: It used to be. I think I’ll have another dream job after this though. I love it, and I love what I do. I don’t know what the next step will be. I see myself doing this for a while. I know there’s something that will be even better after this.
PWP: That’s the fun part about accomplishing one dream job. You get to move on to the next! And meet so many wonderful people along the way.
Do you find that you interact with a wide variety of people?
NS: I work with a whole spectrum. With Winefest, I collaborate with everyone on my fabulous board and a variety of industry vendors. I’ve loved working with people on the wine side, culinary side—even sanitation side. I love the guy who gets our toilets! I’ve worked with him for years, and he’s a sweetheart.
PWP: What’s your favorite part of the job?
NS: Event days. I just think it’s fun. We had an event two weeks ago, and I was running around thinking “I love event days!” Which is good because that’s my job!
PWP: Are there any life lessons you’ve learned that you want to make sure you teach your kids?
NS: Do something that makes you happy. Make sure you find a work-life balance. As a working mom, that’s the hardest thing. Finding that balance, because you always want to be at two places at once. With my job especially, there’s so much stuff at night. All of our board meetings are at night. All of our staff meetings. It’s Winefest. People want to have wine at these things! It’s not always acceptable to day drink. (Ha!) But finding that balance. I’m very lucky to do something that I love, and I think life’s too short not to. And my husband has been really supportive of that, too.
PWP: What makes you happiest?
NS: Right now I’d say being with my family, days where we don’t have anything on the schedule.
Before the Winefest fun begins again in 2014, check out what Nikki put together this past season! Save the date for May 31 – June 7, 2014, for the next one. We know we will—and let us know if you’re going, too!
[Photos by Alysse.]