Where Are Houston's Female Sommeliers?
If young sommeliers and wine professionals like Samantha Porter and Corrigan are any indication, Parzen's prediction is probably right. At 24, Porter is somewhat of a prodigy, writing a much-celebrated wine list at Osteria Mazzantini for her first job as a restaurant beverage director. She's since parted ways with the Italian restaurant, but she's definitely one to watch--and to hold on to here in Houston--as she decides what to do next.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen Samantha Porter is no longer with Osteria Mazzantini, but we imagine it won't be long before someone snatches her up.
Corrigan says she's content to continue her work at 13 Celsius, rather than hurrying to pass sommelier exams and work her way into a fancy restaurant job. And perhaps that's the way sommeliers in general are headed. When you consider that, the lack of female sommeliers might be more of an attitude problem in general than a chauvinistic issue. When women are accustomed to being overlooked in favor of men, they might figure, why bother?
Corrigan points out that you really have to work hard to be a sommelier. It's not just a matter of studying and memorizing. You have to be confident and willing to sell yourself as an individual. She worries that some women just might not be able to step up and give themselves the credit they deserve.
And that, says Parzen, is a shame, because in his view, women might actually be better at the job than men.
"Women are better sommeliers than men because they trust their palates more readily and they're less likely to let their egos get in the way," he says. "They come to the table more prepared."
He also notes that the split between men and women is more even among members of the Institute of Masters of Wine, a school similar to the Court of Master Sommeliers.
"The test to become a Master of Wine doesn't have the service component, and getting a Master of Wine is like getting a Ph.D.," Parzen says. "You have to do a thesis. It's a little more intellectually geared." And then he adds, simply, "Women are smarter than men."
When asked plainly what the problem is and how we can change it, no one really seems to have answers. Parzen, for one, is optimistic though.
"I think it's changing on its own because there's such restaurant growth here," he says. There are so many people coming from outside who are starting restaurants in Houston and bringing those skill sets with them."