In a recent online chat, a reader asked Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema for a list of local restaurants where the sommelier is a woman. “I don’t know all their names,” Sietsema began, before rattling off a handful of restaurants and soliciting his audience for more.
Angie Duran, operations director of Bottles Wine Garden in the West End, wanted to make sure those names weren’t glossed over. She started tagging all the women in wine she could think of in an Instagram post. Tammy Gordon, a wine lover and food podcaster who works in PR consulting, saw it and volunteered to turn the list into something a little more official. Together, with the help of a crew of other women, they ended up compiling a six-page Google doc listing names, titles, and Instagram handles for more than 80 (and counting) female sommeliers plus wine business owners, educators, and consultants across the DC area.
For Duran, it was ultimately about much more than one local critic’s off-the-cuff comments—”Tom answered the reader’s question the best way that he could in that moment. I get it, it’s a live chat, right?” Rather, it’s become an opportunity to shine a brighter spotlight on the women shaping the local wine scene. She wants to make sure everyone—diners, industry colleagues, and certainly media—knows their names.
“There’s so many bottles of wine that get opened by women every single day… But do they get any acknowledgement for the work that they were doing?,” says Duran, who was previously general manager at Centrolina. “The restaurant gets all the credit. The chef gets a lot of credit. And they’re just never really acknowledged in a larger way.”
Erika Parjus, a 26-year-old somm who works with Duran at Bottles Wine Garden, was among those who contributed to the list. Coming up in male-dominated industry, Parjus feels she’s had to work harder than some of her counterparts to pay her dues and prove herself. She’s also dealt with casual sexism from customers, such as comments about why she’s wearing a suit and not a dress. And as a queer woman specifically, she’s feared having to “play a certain part” to be successful. Through it all, it was other women who’ve given her opportunities, mentored her, and offered support for her to be who she is.
“Women in wine need to get their voices out there. They need to have their names spoken,” she says. “Because at the end of the day, people always remember the the cute male sommelier who served them a wine, but when it happens to be a woman, for whatever reason, it just gets kind of lost in translation.”
Vanessa Cominsky, a wine pro who worked for St. Anselm and Albi before going into wine and spirits distribution, has encountered her own difficulties getting recognition. At one restaurant, she took over the beverage list from a male colleague who’d left: “People still up to my last shift had come in and said, ‘Oh, is so and so here?’ And I’m like, he doesn’t work here. He hasn’t worked here for two years. It’s just crazy. I’ve served people so many times, and they still are like, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize you were the beverage manager.'”
Cominsky, who’s also been furiously adding names to the Google doc, heard from a number of women who are general managers or in other positions but are also certified sommeliers. “What broke my heart is those messages [where they say], ‘I’m so sorry to have to say that you didn’t include me,’ and apologizing. And then I’m like, ‘Girl, I am so sorry I didn’t know.’ That’s just such a such a sad thing that women feel like we have to apologize for putting ourselves out there.”
Gordon, the PR guru, hopes that having this list out there now will provide a resource for owners staffing restaurants, journalists seeking sources, or companies organizing wine trips. She says even she was amazed by how quickly the list grew and how many names are on it.
“I’m pretty immersed in wine, and I didn’t even know. So for me, it’s a roadmap,” Gordon says. “I want to go meet those people, I want to taste their lists, I want to talk to them about wine.”
CORRECTION: Angie Duran is operations director, not owner, of Bottles Wine Garden.