Mother’s Pride: A Conversation with TV Host & Wine Educator Leslie SbroccoLeslie Sbrocco
“Expressive, legs for days with buckets of personality”—but enough about the wine; let’s talk about everyone’s favorite food and wine TV personality Leslie Sbrocco. She is actually all those things and more.
For 15 years, Leslie has come into our living rooms, presiding over the Check, Please! guests as they share their critiques of Bay Area restaurants. She is also known across the country for her National PBS show 100 Days, Drinks, Dishes & Destinations. She reaches many more with her regular appearances on the TODAY Show on NBC.
Leslie is also a wine educator, sharing her passion for vino and the people who make it with audiences around the world through her blog “Thirsty Girl.” She has been named among the 100 most influential people in the U.S. wine industry by IntoWine (landing in the top 20 at number 16).
The energetic, effervescent Leslie also makes time to show up for community, and that includes the LGBTQ+ community to which she has a personal connection.
Liam P. Mayclem: What does Pride mean to you?
Leslie Sbrocco: Pride is a celebration for everyone, shining a light on diversity and inclusion and on acceptance. And I am a proud mother of my daughter Grace, who is part of the LGBTQ+ community along with my nephew and my uncle. I feel at home, frankly, with a community that is inclusive and embraces one and all for being who you are.
Liam P. Mayclem: How was that coming out moment with your daughter Grace for you as a mom?
Leslie Sbrocco: We (Leslie and her husband Leonard) were driving across the Golden Gate Bridge and Grace told us she was in a relationship, and we adore her girlfriend. For us, it was just like okay, well, that’s nice. I mean I didn’t even bat an eye. And you know what I’ve found is just a sense of peace. I think when somebody recognizes who they are there’s a feeling of calm and peace and just Pride. I’m so proud of her. She’s so talented. She drew me a pair of shoes that are very special to wear for the Pride shoot for the San Francisco Bay Times.
Grace just graduated from City College with a certificate in graphic design. She’s an amazing artist. So, when I think about Pride, I think about Grace, and as a mom, I am just so very, very proud of who she has become. (Leslie is also very proud of her son, Dominic.)
Liam P. Mayclem: Check, Please! Bay Area is one of if not the longest running local TV food shows. It is about giving the ordinary food fan an opportunity to give their critique of local restaurants. Isn’t it true that an extraordinary man, Barack Obama, who went on to become president, was on an early Chicago edition of the show?
Leslie Sbrocco: He certainly was. The show originated in my hometown of Chicago, where I grew up. I wasn’t in Chicago when he lived there, but he was one of the first guests (on Check, Please!) when he was state Senator Obama. I saw the show not too long ago and he looked so young and was so articulate. I thought: In the time that he’s done that, he’s now controlling the free world and has changed our lives forever. Amazing!
Liam P. Mayclem: You have always championed women in your stories and work in the wine world. Was this a conscious choice?
Leslie Sbrocco: Focusing on women in wine has always been important to me and then telling stories about amazing women in the industry making and creating wine. If we need to talk about the wine industry itself, it’s gotten so much more inclusive and so much better. And yet we have so much work to do. I just noticed as I spoke around the country and would lead wine and education seminars that I wanted to empower the women in the audience. I noticed the difference in the questions they would ask. (They were) smart and curious, and frankly better tasters.
I really wanted to say to women that if you love wine, I want to share some of my knowledge and give you some language to work with and help you find out what you like and you don’t like. That’s it. I think we’ve come so far and now have a growing number of female winemakers and also female CEOs of wineries. I’m proud of taking an early stand to support and inspire women; it matters to me.
Liam P. Mayclem: We were all affected by the pandemic. How did it affect the production of Check, Please! Bay Area?
Leslie Sbrocco: Good news: we’re getting back into production. Obviously, we couldn’t film anything last year, right? We went through a whole cycle of both my shows, 100 Days, Drinks, Dishes & Destinations and Check, Please! Bay Area, being shuttered. We couldn’t really do anything, other than repurpose some previously produced segments. It was tough not being out there with my crew, my work family.
Liam P. Mayclem: Put your DJ hat on. What are you listening to now?
Leslie Sbrocco: I’m a Brazilian jazz person. I love to listen to Brazilian music, anything by Astrud Gilberto. It gets me in an outdoor summertime mood. I imagine myself on the beach at Copacabana sipping a caipirinha. I also listen to Hawaiian music and imagine myself on the beach in Hawaii drinking. There is a theme here!
Liam P. Mayclem: The Last Supper question. You can have two guests—who will they be and what will you eat and drink?
Leslie Sbrocco: This is the hardest because there are so many guests whom I would love to have. I just watched the PBS documentary on Hemingway. What a character! He was fascinating, and in his prime probably a fun drinking companion. Then the one and only Dolly Parton. She is most magnificent human and I love her style and everything about her. She would definitely be the other dinner guest. We would, of course, be drinking champagne. And with Hemingway, I’m not sure I’d want to do a body shot off Hemingway. But hey, you know, Dolly would be better!
Liam P. Mayclem: To eat at that Last Supper?
Leslie Sbrocco: Just some lovely sushi choices with champagne. That’s like my go-to when I’m feeling low. That makes me happy.