Where Are Houston's Female Sommeliers?

Categories: Wine Time

samporter.jpg
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.
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.

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."


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18 comments
deniseehrlich
deniseehrlich

While I agree there are not enough women running restaurant wine programs in Houston, this article is a little fuzzy about what it takes to be called a "sommelier" and the number of women in the larger wine business with some kind of sommelier certification, or other wine certification.  Anyone running a wine program top to bottom is a sommelier.  Persons who've passed various levels of exams are entitled to use titles like Certified Sommelier, Master Sommelier, etc. even if they are not currently running a wine program in a restaurant.  Of the two female Master Sommeliers mentioned in Dallas, only one is running a wine program last I checked. There are significant numbers of women working in the supplier and distributor tiers of the wine business in Houston that have some level of certification from the various education organizations - although there are currently no female Master Sommeliers in Houston.  Many women who used to run restaurant wine programs are now working in the supplier and distributor tiers where their representative numbers are slightly better.

Cheers!

wineguy999
wineguy999

You don't need to a pass a test to be a sommelier. All you need is the appropriate knowledge and abilities to do the job, and to run a good program. Thanks to the Court, that has been forgotten.

Julian Garcia Jr.
Julian Garcia Jr.

i love how this article seems to suggest that the reason there are not alot of women wine experts is because of Big Oil....(lol) and male (Machismo). Maybe there are not alot of women wine experts is because they just dont want to be a wine expert. This is 2014, you got to stop pointing the finger when something does not lean in your favor. Now if there are women all over being turned down just cause they are women, now thats a different story but my guess its not otherwise we would be reading about that.

Erica Murphey
Erica Murphey

Noah M. Horwitz, a sommelier is a waiter in charge of all the wine in a restaurant.

markzuluaga
markzuluaga

You left off the female somm from Masraff's Michael Churchill.

markzuluaga
markzuluaga

You left off the female somm that works at Masraff's.

markzuluaga
markzuluaga

You left off the female somm from Masraff's Michael Churchill.

Heightsrift
Heightsrift

Interesting piece, but not sure about the armchair sociology: the average oil mogul gives a damn whether it's a wine girl or guy advising him and decanting? I doubt it matters much to him.

wineguy999
wineguy999

Erica, sounds more like you're describing a wine steward. A sommelier is the person in charge of developing and managing the wine program in a restaurant. Much more detailed.

janusch
janusch

@Heightsrift Right, if they were really so Texas uber-macho they'd be ordering none of that effete grape juice, and second they'd actually prefer a hottie decanting it anyway

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@janusch @Heightsrift The people I talked to admitted that might not be the reason, and it might in fact have something to do with their own mindsets. I don't think there's a right answer.

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