Women and wine go together like men and beer during the Super Bowl. Except with a lot less shouting and high-fiving. Perhaps it’s the relaxing sensuousness of opening and pouring a bottle, or maybe it’s the swirling and slow sipping that we love. Or maybe it’s just the fact that wine in all its varieties and styles is quite a fascinating, delicious, and beautiful part of the human experience. It’s not that women don’t love a good beer—we most certainly do. But wine is special. It can be sophisticated without pretention. It satisfies. It tells a story. And for women sommeliers, their story is only beginning to be told.
A sommelier knows more about wine than most people will ever even think to ask. In our food and wine-pairing world, the wine expert is a necessity, of course. But master sommeliers are rare, women among the ranks, even more rare. That is now changing.
In this enlightened era, only 32 of the world’s 229 master sommeliers—that’s just under 14 percent—are women,” reports Bloomberg. “Canada has two. Three-quarters of them ply their trade in the U.S.”
Men have long dominated the sommelier industry, bringing an air of arrogant, snooty wine knowledge that often seemed to be a benefit really only to the person talking about it. But as U.S. produced wine has risen in popularity, making this craft more accessible to the mainstream, so too has consumer interest risen. It’s not uncommon to see middle-income families boasting small wine collections, touring vineyards, or even attempting to make their own.
Along with a growing number of restaurants, Whole Foods Markets and other high-end supermarkets often employ well-versed wine experts to help you pick a perfect bottle. And while it should seem to be a natural fit for women, just like the male-dominated industry of professional chefs, women have historically been absent from the sommelier industry. Like farming and tech, two other industries long the dominion of men, the sommelier profession is now seeing a rise in outstanding female sommeliers.
“Being taken seriously was an issue, and still is, in some cities and countries,” explains Bloomberg. Madeline Triffon who now oversees wine for Plum Market in Detroit, was the first American woman to be awarded master sommelier status in 1987. “The credential has been a boon in my career—it opened doors and continues to do so,” she told Bloomberg.
“I was once passed over for a sommelier job because the restaurant worried that I wouldn’t be able to carry cases of wine up and down stairs,” Shelley Lindgren, wine director and owner of San Francisco’s A16, told Bloomberg.
It’s stereotypes like those that have kept many women out of the tight industry—either too frustrated or too angered to swim against the current. “Men are sometimes in a state of shock when I tell them I am the wine director,” says Marika Vida of the Ritz-Carlton in New York. “Ultimately, I think they find it alluring. Women guests think it’s very cool—we’re helping the sisterhood.”
Women In Wine Leadership Symposium Website
Jill Ettinger is a contributing writer for Women Of Green. She is also the senior editor and featured columnist on EcoSalon and sister-site Organic Authority. She is the co-director of Eat Drink Better, and editor for NaturallySavvy. Jill has been featured in The Village Voice, MTV, Reality Sandwich and Global Rhythm, as well as the anthologies Towards 2012: Perspectives on the Next Age (Tarcher/Penguin) and What Do You Believe? (Outside the Box). For more info, visit www.jillettinger.com. And stay in touch with Jill on Twitter and Instagram.