This Mother's Day, sommeliers will be on hand to help you select just the right wine to go with that special meal out. And some of those somms will be moms.
Though it's still very much a man's world, more women are moving up the wine ranks, says Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder and CEO of the International Culinary Center which has branches in New York and California. For the 2012 and 2013 school years, 60 percent of the 251 graduates in the schools' sommelier programs were women.
And at the California branch of The Culinary Institute of America (CIA, Greystone), the Accelerated Wine & Beverage Program, designed to train future sommeliers and wine industry leaders, has enrolled more women than men, looking at overall numbers for the four years the course has been offered.
It comes down to simple economics, says Cann Hamilton. Women already work in front-of-house positions such as waitress and hostess, and when they realize that sommeliers tend to make more money, it makes sense to get the training.
Crystl Faye Horton-Friedman, a certified sommelier working at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House in Manhattan, started out as a bartender working to support her acting ambitions. But it wasn't long before she realized that sommelier was the role she wanted to play since she loved wine and enjoyed interacting with customers.
"I didn't really know at first that it was so male-dominated," she says. "You very quickly understood that it was."
Back when she started, she'd sometimes get customers who wanted to know, "Where's the wine guy?" It made her a little her nervous. But "I started saying to people, 'Well, now you got the wine babe. How about that?' I just kept going to school and learning more things and I knew that anything people could throw at me, I could back up with facts and knowledge."
These days there are four "wine babes" at Del Frisco's, including fellow sommelier Kristin Beckler.
"Getting someone to trust you is the biggest obstacle to overcome because they are expecting a man to talk to them about wine," says Beckler. "Once you can win their trust, then they become these really loyal guests."
Beckler has a 4-year-old son and Horton-Friedman has a 6-year-old and 13-month-old. Like other mothers, they juggle their responsibilities. Both enjoy being able to spend days with their young children since they generally work at night, though the flip side to that is things get tougher when the kids go to school. "Right now, it's been the best thing," says Beckler.
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