Where Are Houston's Female Sommeliers?
Quick, name all of the female sommeliers in Houston.
Photo courtesy Adele Corrigan Vanessa Trevino-Boyd, left, and Adele Corrigan, two of Houston's handful of female sommeliers.
OK, if you can't name all of them, name at least ten.
Trick question. Here in Houston, we have only a handful: Vanessa Trevino-Boyd (60 Degrees Mastercrafted), Samantha Porter (freelancing), Annette Amaya (Cru Wine Bar), Angie Chang (Sonoma Wine Bar) and Cathy Nguyen (Mark's). There's also Adele Corrigan of 13 Celsius, who many people consider a sommelier, but who hasn't actually taken the test because, as she says, "I just don't need it right now."
"I feel like the word "somm" now days is to describe the position you have, not necessarily your certification," Corrigan explains. "There are so many different schools now that sommelier has become a generalized term. You can call me whatever you want: Sommelier, beverage director, wine lady."
Whatever you choose to call her and her fellow "wine ladies," it's a fact that there are far fewer women in the industry than men. This is true nationwide, but the numbers are particularly startling here in Houston.
On the Court of Master Sommeliers website, one of the frequently asked questions is "How many Master Sommeliers are there? How many are women?" The answer: Of the 140 people who currently hold the title of Master Sommelier, only 21 are women. Fifteen percent. In Texas, we have only two female Masters, both in Dallas.
"The restaurant business definitely lends itself to chauvinistic stereotypes," says Jeremy Parzen, our wine guru. "The pretty girl greets you at the door, and the man opens the red wine. Think about the general oil mogul in Houston. He wants it to stay that way."
Corrigan, too, thinks the lack of female sommeliers in Houston could have something to do with the machismo in the oil industry, where many of the city's wealthy drinkers and diners acquire their riches.
"Even in the oil business, there are no women," Corrigan says. "Maybe because the men are so used to dealing with other men, they want that relationship in the restaurant, too."
Of course it's easy to blame a number of Houston's foibles on the oil business, but looking at the number of female sommeliers and beverage directors across the country, Houston--and Texas as a whole--is behind.
"If you go to other markets like New York, there are so many more high profile woman wine directors," Parzen says. "Even in Portland and Seattle, there are so many more women. Our market is starting to catch up with that. Look at how many women are at the Houston Sommelier Association seminars. I'd like to think that the number of women wine professionals in Texas is growing."
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