ALUMNI PROFILES — Fall 2006
   

 
Peter Weygandt, J.D. '75

Wine Importer's Label Says It All: Impeccable

The transformation of Peter Weygandt, J.D. '75, from attorney to specialty wine importer was conducted with care, patience, and passion—all qualities he seeks in the producers whose bottles he brings to America. Weygandt's earliest interest in wine came during his law school years, when he balanced classes on torts with more leisurely reading on ports and corks. "I liked the intellectual side of [wine-making]," he remembers. "The geography, the geology, the history, the culture, the traditions. I just found it fascinating."

During Weygandt's first decade as a lawyer, practicing civil law in Illinois and Pennsylvania, wine was always present as a hobby. But when he and his wife, Maria (Metzler) Weygandt, vacationed in France in the mid-1980s, they experienced a shift. After visiting a few growers, Weygandt decided to try his hand importing these artisan wines to the United States. He soon started his own law practice, enabling him to set his own hours and generate capital for the couple's burgeoning company. By the early '90s, some of Weygandt's wine selections were receiving rave reviews. A national business—an international venture—was born.

Today, Weygandt-Metzler Wine Importing represents 70 wine producers from France, and a handful of others from Austria, Italy, Spain, and Australia. "As an importer, I'm like a glorified prospector/marketer," he says, noting that the company's growth was a result of adding high-quality, previously undiscovered producers. "The discovery is the thrill, if you will. It's also the most critical point."

With a staff of fewer than five, his wife among them, Weygandt does all the buying and the majority of the selling, relying on distributors in 30 states to do the marketing. Traveling takes up a third of his time, with frequent trips to Europe, Australia, and New York, and yearly visits with his distributors, which he describes as "catering to top restaurants and retailers."

As for how a bottle becomes "A Peter Weygandt Selection," the importer prefers wines that have been made with low yields, natural methods of viticulture, and minimal intervention in the winery and bottling. These unmanipulated wines, he says, are "more complex, more interesting, and more genuine." The market, however, will also play a role. "A few years ago," he notes, "people wanted expensive wines. Now they want value wines. You've got to keep on your toes."

Even more important is maintaining a discriminating appreciation for taste and flavor. "I rely on my palate to make decisions," Weygandt says, and it's easy to see why. The influential wine critic Robert Parker has used the term "impeccable" to describe Weygandt's palate and his company's portfolio. While such praise is invaluable, Weygandt sounds most appreciative when talking about his customers and growers.

"The most gratifying thing for me to hear," Weygandt says, "is when a consumer tells me, 'I always turn the bottle around and look at the back label. I know that if your name is on the label, I'm getting something good.'"

The connections Weygandt has formed with the winemakers themselves, first forged in France two decades ago, are genuine and strong. "I have tremendous respect for the people, particularly the French, who make these wines," he says. "They work in the vineyards all day long. They have a difficult climate to work with. They make tough decisions, and they're brilliant winemakers, combining science with art. What I'm trying to do is communicate to the consumer what's special about these wines because they are not mass-produced wines. They are really handcrafted—and they taste it, delightfully."

-Stephen Schenkenberg


Melinda (Mindy) Kramer, A.B. '03

Leading a Global 'Green' Effort

Throughout the developing world, women are leading grassroots environmental movements—and 25-year-old Melinda Kramer is taking the lead in bringing them together.

Kramer's inspiration struck when Wangari Mathaai won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her work to stop deforestation in Kenya. "I realized then that, around the world, women were working tirelessly to protect their communities—but also that too often they were isolated from each other's efforts." With that realization, Kramer, A.B. '03 (anthropology), understood that these women needed a way to learn from each other, share resources, and build alliances—and that's when the idea for the Women's Global Green Action Network (WGGAN) was born.

Within weeks, Kramer and co-founder Mary Rose Kaczorowski had launched a new organization and set about with fierce determination to get the United Nations (U.N.) on board. After presenting their organization at the U.N. Commission for Sustainable Development, and generating support from singers like Bonnie Raitt and activists like Julia Butterfly Hill, they began planning a global women's summit to coincide with the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City. At WGGAN's first-ever international caucus, women environmental leaders from more than 25 countries convened. Participants ranged from Kaisha Atakhanova, who recounted the campaign she led to prevent nuclear waste from being commercially imported into Kazakhstan, to Pati Ruiz Corzo, who shared her story of spearheading the establishment of a one-million acre, community-managed reserve in Mexico's Sierra Gorda.

Kramer credits her anthropology studies at Washington University for sparking her interest in emerging social change movements. "As a student, I was able to study abroad in Africa. Walking for six hours a day with women retrieving water for their families, I saw the inescapable linkages between environmental issues and human ones." After returning to St. Louis, Kramer became active in WUSTL's Interdisciplinary Environmental Law Clinic, where she worked in Herculaneum, Missouri, to help a community fight for the cleanup of a massive Superfund waste site. "I met families whose homes were literally black with soot from the nearby toxic lead smelter. I found it was the everyday folks—without the professional environmental or litigation training—who were the most articulate in expressing their community's needs," Kramer says. "I began to understand that the challenges these Missouri women faced were surprisingly similar to the ones I saw in Kenya. Every community around the world has mothers fighting for their families' health—and that energy, when harnessed, is unstoppable."

Women's Global Green Action Network, which started as a project that Kramer and Kaczorowski ran from a laptop at Kramer's kitchen table, has grown into an initiative that runs regional training for women around the world. Next up for the network is a workshop in the Philippines, where women will learn how to build sand-filters to provide safer drinking water for their communities. WGGAN is also sponsoring an upcoming delegation of environmental justice lawyers to Bolivia to work in partnership with Bolivian indigenous women leaders. And the network's future goal is to get computers into the hands of the thousands of women leaders who don't yet have them, so that they can share best practices, contacts, and ideas.

Says Kramer: "In the next year, we hope to have hundreds of new members and training sessions on every continent. I never imagined the organization would grow as fast as it has, but I know that it's because the time has come. Women in communities around the world are poised to take leadership roles in creating a future grounded in sustainability, equity, and peace."

For more information, please visit: www.wggan.org; email: info@wggan.org.

-Orli Cotel, A.B. '02


Nick Botonis, B.S. '88

School's Always 'in' for Software Designer

It was 1983, and high school senior Nick Botonis was visiting Chicago, interviewing vendors of computer software. He and a few teachers and fellow students had traveled there from St. Louis, on assignment to find a new way to track student attendance. They were underwhelmed. "I was being a little negative toward one of the vendors," Botonis recalls, "telling him that the software he was selling wouldn't do what we needed it to. The salesman got a little upset with me, this snotty high school kid telling him that his product wasn't any good. He said, 'If you think you can do better, why don't you do it?' I took that as a challenge, and I did."

Soon thereafter, Botonis designed a software program, calling it School Information Systems, and offered it to his home school at no cost. While he was in college, Botonis, B.S. '88 (computer science), tweaked the program, fielded inquiries from interested schools, and began training the secretaries of those few institutions he called clients. "Long story short," he says, "by the time I graduated, I had a fully developed product and a business with existing customers."

Reflecting on his college experience, Botonis says: "At the time, a lot of students didn't seem to like that what we were learning in the computer science area was more conceptual than it was actual hands-on programming—the kinds of things you'd learn at a trade school. But the education turned out to be a much better value. Learning the concepts and theory gives you a better understanding of what needs to be done." Botonis also credits his time in two non-engineering courses—business law and accounting—with critical career preparation. "That made the difference between graduating as a techno-programmer and graduating as someone more focused on establishing a business."

Over the past two decades, St. Louis-based School Information Systems, Inc. (also known as SIS) has grown from a one-person operation with annual revenues of $40,000 to $60,000 to a 40-person business with annual revenues of $5 million. The company's current mission is to provide school administrative management tools for the K-12 public sector, specifically tools that track student information and the school's operational and business information. Currently, 260 Missouri school districts—about half in the state—use SIS to manage such areas as student demographics, grades and transcripts, class schedules, and medical information, as well as its own matters of budgeting, payroll, and human resources. "We provide the software to do everything a school does except teach the children," says Botonis, the company's president and CEO.

The benefits are wide-ranging: Parents can receive instant e-mails about absences or cafeteria balances; teachers can build curricula integrated with state and national requirements; counselors can create and manage four-year plans for each student; administrators can quickly generate information for state reporting. The company recently released their newest version of SIS, which is an all Web-based system with a central-district SQL database—the result of nearly three years of development. The company also keeps up with latest technology trends, such as hand-held devices and student biometric identification for lunch point-of-sale and building security. Botonis says that half of the business's new offerings come from his staff, while half originate from the administrators, teachers, secretaries, and parents who request them.

As for the focus of his career—the only one he's known—Botonis reports that he and his team are pleased to be focusing on education. "Most of our employees are happy being involved with a business that provides services for schools," he says. "In addition to making a living, they feel as if they're providing something very needed for school districts. We're happy that our software is something that gets used by a lot of teachers, staff, and parents every day."

-Stephen Schenkenberg