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Women sommeliers and the old boys club

February 9, 2010

W.B. Yeats A DRINKING SONG: Wine comes in at the mouth And love comes in at the eye; That's all we shall know for truth Before we grow old and die. I lift the glass to my mouth, I look at you, and I sigh. (image from Spectrum, Art & Jewelry)

I’ve been drinking wine since I was in my mother’s womb (gasp! Yes my mom did drink wine while she was pregnant with me. I am OKAY). My parents allowed me to try a sip of their wine at the dinner table every since I could talk. They started giving me small glasses of wine from middle school on (especially when we were in France). As I’ve grown older, my dad’s impeccable taste for (and collection of) wine has taught me a few things:

  1. The higher the alcohol content ≠ the better the taste
  2. Always, ALWAYS smell the wine (after swirling it in your glass) before tasting it, it’s usually a good indication as to the quality of the wine
  3. There’s a reason why they call it “Two Buck Chuck” (though not gonna lie, Charles Shaw’s wine is not bad)—though just because a bottle of wine costs $100 does not mean the taste is excellent.

Needless to say, I am no sommelier (which is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional; pronounced so-mall-ee-ay). I have learned everything about wine from my dad, my boyfriend, and the cute wine store in my neighborhood. It seems that many people who take interest in wine are, in fact, men. And whenever I go out to dinner with my dad and he’s asking for wine recommendations from the “wine guy” (or sommelier), it’s usually a man.

The wine profession is an “all-boys” club. Why? No one knows for sure. Many sommeliers do not need a formal education or certificate to work in the wine industry, but the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers that offers a highly regarded crediting program, only 14 out of the 87 people from the U.S. are women (as of 2007).

But, some restaurants prefer to hire women as sommeliers because of their softer sales pitch. Many women ask “What are you in the mood for?” to create the emotional connection. But not so fast; I’m not about to make reinforce the stereotype that women are more emotional than men.

Let’s briefly go back to the roots of winemaking: The majority of winemakers are men, with women trailing slowly behind (for example, of the California winemakers, women make up 15-20%). And since the beginning of time, many cultures, including in Ancient Greece, both men and women drank wine.

So what’s the big whoop? Why aren’t women going into the wine business? Well, it’s certainly not that women don’t buy wine: in fact, women buy 60-70% of all of the wine in the U.S. The wine industry is finally catching up to this statistic by starting to market wines to women. And in 2007, the first National Women’s Wine Competition was staged, where a panel of judges consisted only of women. The competition still continues today.

Hopefully competitions like the National Women’s Wine Competition will help women to become more informed about wine and want to pursue wine as a profession, whether as a sommelier or as a winemaker.

As a side note, my boyfriend and I just handmade our own Pinot Noir, and it doesn’t taste too bad. While I’m not entering in a wine competition anytime soon, or studying for my sommelier exam, I hope to impart my wisdom of wine on other women. Knowledge is power, and after all, because women are buying the majority of wine, they should know what they’re buying. Plus, it’s a ton of fun to taste different kinds of wine. Why not learn what you’re tasting?

  1. Julie Bartkiewicz permalink
    February 9, 2010 11:55 pm

    Since swearing off Mojitos and Whiskey (for reasons which will not be discussed) I’ve been sent back to my high school days of Red Wine!

    While I like to think I have matured since the early 90s, I can still be found polishing off a bottle of La Fiole du Pape Chateauneuf on occasion. I no longer drink from the bottle and have found out what I had been missing all those years. It is a wonderful French Red for those of you out there who are looking to try something middle price range.

    Emily, I am curious as to what some of your top picks are?

    • February 10, 2010 9:51 am

      Oh I have way too many favorites! I will definitely try the La Fiole. Some of my favs are:

      *anything by Susanna Balboa from Argentina

      *For Italian wines, I tend to like Primativo wines. Fave is Sessantanni Primitivo di Manduria; I can’t remember if I had the 2006 or 2007

      *For something that’s more reasonable, I would try the Little Penguin wines from Australia. They’re trying to mass market themselves like Yellowtail (which don’t produce bad wines either) but haven’t been as successful.

      • Julie Bartkiewicz permalink
        February 10, 2010 6:29 pm

        I have had both Yellowtail and Little Penguin both are quite popular in Canada right now, I’m much more into the Italian and French reds.
        I particularly like Masi Modello delle Venezie, its a good every day wine.

        I will keep an eye out for Susanna Balboa.


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