6 Female Sommeliers Talk Wine, Passion, and Disrupting a Male-Dominated Field

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Ten years ago, if you asked to speak to the sommelier of a restaurant, it's likely an older gentleman would make his way to your table to discuss varietals. In recent years, however, women have succeeded in disrupting the traditionally male-dominated industry.

While women still only make up about 15 percent of all master sommeliers, in the Bay Area, enterprising women with a passion for good wine are making a name for themselves and changing the face of the industry. We sat down with some of the most powerful women in the local wine world.

Shelley Lindgren, A16 and SPQR

Shelley Lindgren (pictured above), owner and wine director at A16 and SPQR, has hospitality in her blood. “When I was young, my role was to make sure that everyone in the family was happy, and I was always the cook," she recalled.

Since her humble beginnings, Lindgren has racked up an impressive amount of accolades: she is a James Beard Award nominee, winner of Gourmet's 2009 Sommelier Award, and her cookbook, A16, was named Food + Wine's Cookbook of the Year and won a Julia Child / IACP award.

Known for her selections of Italian wines made with lesser-known grapes, Lindgren travels to Italy twice a year where she always favors a glass of Cesanese from Campania. “You can drink Cesanese with everything," she says. "It's like wearing a black dress—you always look amazing."

Parting words:

"It's necessary to keep moving forward and keep believing in your own dream and in your own skills. To accomplish that takes time."

Emily Wines, Senior Director of National Beverage Programs at Kimpton Hotels

Emily Wines (yes, that is her real name) originally wanted to be an artist, but it was the experience of working in a restaurant to support her artistic lifestyle, that led her to her true passion: wine. Today, she's one of just 135 master sommeliers in the world.

As a beverage executive at Kimpton Hotels, Wines has a room in downtown San Francisco filled with bottles of wine from around the world. Her favorite? “At home we drink a lot of Champagne like the Ruinart, or the Gruner Veltliner, dry Riesling, Nebbiolo, and Pinot Noir. I tend to prefer lower alcohol wine so I can drink more."

Parting words:

“Wine is a cultural business and working in the industry, as a sommelier, you have the opportunity to travel, know, and meet wine makers and discover that everything they produce is coming out of their own culture. That is very special to me."

Petra Polakovicova, Wine Director at Epic Steak

Polakovicova discovered her talent for wine tasting when she moved to San Francisco from Slovakia 20 years ago. Now the Wine Director at EPIC Steak, she thanks her mother for instilling her with a sense of hospitality. "We used to always have a lot of people over at the house, and she taught me how to take care of them, make sure they were always happy, and cheer them up." These days, her cabinet is stocked with Gruner Veltliner and Mont Brut Champagne - perfect for entertaining.

Parting words:

“I love to translate wine into real life. Nebbiolo is an elegant and beautiful woman but when you taste it, you discover that it is also very powerful. Like Angelina Jolie."

Haley Guild Moore, Director of Wine and Spirits at The Stock and Bones Company

Haley Guild always knew she would end up in hospitality, but it was a year spent working at A Cote in Oakland, under wine director Jeff Berlin, that taught her to love wine. “He was always able to make you envision the villages and landscapes where the wine was produced. The more I listened to him, the more I wanted to be like him."

In 2012, Moore joined The Stock and Bones Company as the Wine & Spirits Director overseeing all five restaurants: Town Hall, Salt House, Anchor & Hope, Irving St. Kitchen, and Corners. Her favorite wines to serve? Occhipinti Frappato produced by the Sicilian Arianna Occhipinti, Morgon by Lapierre and Foillard producers, and Bruno De Concilliis, a producer from the Campania region in Italy.

Parting words

"Wine has a magic power to connect people from all around the world. Drinking wine is a trip in itself."

Chaylee Priete, Wine Director at Slanted Door

Chaylee Priete started her career at a bar in Atlanta where her boss told her she had a good nose for wine. Since then, her wine choices have always been very eco-conscious. “I like to choose producers that are ecologically responsible and care for the environment." As a working mom with a set of twins at home, Priete is no stranger to a hectic schedule. “Currently, I'm writing five wine list and raising children. My dream is to have a bottle shop where my kids can run around and help out."

Parting words:

“What I like the most about this industry is that it is very creative and precise. There's a story behind each bottle."

Bianca Jimenez Rivera, Sommelier at SPQR

Bianca Jimenez Rivera worked in bars and restaurant around San Francisco before becoming the sommelier at SPQR, where she works under mentor Shelley Lindgren. “Shelley is very passionate and her knowledge is huge," Jimenez Rivera said. "She always pushes us to take this wine journey as a spiritual and personal growth because of the opportunity to get in touch with different cultures." When she's not at the restaurant, her favorite pairing is roasted chicken with Calabretta, Etna Rosso. Sounds delicious.

Parting words:

"This job is very demanding because it requires you to work every single evening. If you don't see the beauty in welcoming people and sharing with them your passion for wine and food, then it's not for you."

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