The World of Women in Wine
Being a female in a career thats typically male-dominated is becoming a growing trend, especially in the world of fine wine. The role of female sommelier’s is forever increasing, and their knowledge of wine can only help enlighten us on food and wine pairings, along with the right way to enjoy a delicious glass. We interviewed five female sommeliers to see their thoughts on the emerging role of women in the industry, as well as their beliefs about why the sommelier industry has not typically held so many women in the past.
When asked why women haven’t traditionally been sommelier’s, Mia Van De Water, Wine Director at North End Grill, states that wine has traditionally been a male job. “Think back to the Renaissance and beyond when the male butler and housekeeper ran the household,” she explains. “Then it was the butlers job to tap the barrels of wine in the cellar and put wine into bottles for dinner service.” She connects the household jobs to the roles of restaurant professionals. “Chef’s, sommelier’s, matire’ds, managers and even servers in high-end restaurants have been historically male.” Mia says that up until around forty years ago, men were the ones in charge of the money and financial interactions, while women were politely shunned from having such professions. “Just like chefs, it’s not the “norm” for women to be in these positions,” says Barbara Werley, Master Sommelier and Wine Director at Pappas Brothers Steakhouse. The idea of the “server norms” is predominantly seen in traditional European Restaurants. “I had one bad experience in an Italian Restaurant in D.C. with a very old-school, European staff that insisted women did not belong in fine dining,” says Master Sommelier, Wine Educator and Consultant Kathy Morgan. “I was told I knew nothing about Italian wine and didn’t know how to sell wine.”
“I believe that like every profession, it’s very important to have diversity” says Master Sommelier and Senior Executive at The Vintner Group, Laura DePasquale. In fact, all of the women interviewed agree that the emergence of women in this field is exciting and has been a long time coming, while also agreeing that there is no reason that the sommelier industry should be a male-dominated one. “Male and female sommeliers do not do different things in their work,” says Erin Scala, Head Sommelier at The Musket Room. “We all taste and evaluate wine, order wine, and manage beverage programs and lists. These are things that you do not need to be a specific gender to do.”
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Although the sommelier profession is not limited to just men, Master Sommelier Laura Williamson believes that it’s the female approach at serving the wine to the customers that makes them so fit for the profession. “Women keep creating, defining, and expanding dynamism with table-side wine service due to their approach in assisting guests with finding the optimal, precise pairing to reference the exact guest preference,” she explains. Williamson credits this to the result of a woman’s innate ability to listen to guests’ table-side demands and desires so that the experience is created for the guest, and not for the sommelier.
“Women are involved in every aspect of the business” says Master Sommelier and owner of Corkbuzz Wine Studio Laura Maniec. “They are winemakers, sommeliers, importers, distributors, sales persons, etc.” The ever-growing world of women in wine is encouraging more women to break the gender norms and be part of the industry. While the female sommelier profession is growing, it is the importation and especially the distribution side of the wine business that lacks ‘girl power,’ suggests Laura DePasquale.
It seems that these women all believe that now is the most exciting time for women to step forward and embrace their passion for wine. “Women are nearly everywhere now,” Mia Van De Water says. You can easily walk into a restaurant in New York and see women running the restaurants, the wine programs, and multi-unit operations. “In Manhattan, the industry seems to be about 50% male and 50% female” explains Erin Scala. Kathy Morgan tells us that women are running important wine programs, engaging wine lovers in the dining room and social media, and everything else that comes with the territory.
As for their favorite wines, they all seem to be unanimous in saying they ‘can’t narrow it down to one thing,’ proving that these women really do love wine. It is evident that their thirst for knowledge of fine wine is ever-expanding, as Laura DePasquale, Laura Williamson, Laura Maniec and Kathy Morgan all sat for the first all female examining panel for the Certified exam in in New York City on January 10th. Mia Van De Water will be sitting for the Advanced Sommelier Exam in June.
These women all explain how it’s hard-work and dedication that got these women where they are today. “There seems to be some romantic notion about being a sommelier and most forget that it is actually hard work and long hours” says Barbara Werley. These women work hard to help their customers get the best out of their dining experience, to enlighten wine drinkers on essential facts, and to pave the way for females in the wine industry of the future.