More women are entering into jobs as sommeliers



Michael Tutton photo


When Anne Martin started out in the business just 10 years ago, she was one of the only female sommeliers to work in Toronto.


On a visit to a sommelier school in Chile recently, Gilberto Bojaca was pleasantly surprised.

“More than half of the students were female,” exclaimed Bojaca, founder of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers. “In Latino culture we are a very macho land. I was very surprised!”

Within the vast halls of the wine world, a sommelier is like the docent, guiding people through the many complexities of wine. Traditionally, however, sommeliers have almost always been male, which is mainly why Bojaca was so astonished.

“I think wine has been perceived as a male domain,” explained Anne Martin, who just 10 years ago was one of the only female sommeliers in Toronto. Although initially some people were surprised to realize that she was the sommelier, she says that any skepticism was easy to overcome through simply proving her chops. She has since gone on to do just that, becoming head sommelier at Canoe for two years and today owning a wine company, Anne Martin Wine Services.

“When you have wine knowledge, you really don’t have anything to be afraid of,” she said.

Martin is just one of the many women who have pounded down the door to this age-old boy’s club of sommeliers. Three years ago, the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers was just 31 per cent female, according to board member and sommelier Doris Miculan Bradley.

Today, half of its members are women.

“I think women are naturals,” said Bojaca. “They have all the attributes.”

He also notices some nuances between male sommeliers and those of the fairer sex.

“Men take it too seriously when they’re doing their work. You might get the impression that you’re getting a personal lecture,” he said. Some people also believe that women are born with better palates than men, but for Martin, a sommelier’s sex is irrelevant. “I’ve read that people generally find female sommeliers to be more approachable but I think like in any service-related business, it comes down to the people who do it,” she said.

Ultimately, wine should be a fun, relaxed experience and Martin makes this a priority as a sommelier.

“It’s terribly pretentious and there’s a lot of mystery around wine, but that’s silly,” she said. “It’s even more important to talk to sommeliers if you don’t know about wine.”

And as wine culture grows in popularity, more people are just starting to learn what a sommelier even is. This bodes well for any aspiring sommelier, regardless of how many X chromosomes they may have.

“Just 10 to 20 years ago, what was a sommelier? Nobody knew,” said Bojaca. “I think that we are in the verge of becoming a full-blast, established profession.”

spring sips worth checking out
For sommelier Anne Martin, the real challenge and fun is in finding a great bottle of wine for under $25. Here are some of her recommendations to her clients for spring sipping:

  • Vineland Semi-Dry Riesling 2005, Niagara. $13.15.

    "This wine never fails to impress me," says Martin. "Such great Riesling for the price and perfect for spring." She also recommends pairing it with Thai food.

  • Felix Solis "Los Molinos" Crianza 2001, Valdepenas, Spain. $10.20. "Here it is! My bargain red," says Martin. "It is light and lively. A perfect red for warmer weather."

  • Palandri Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, Western Australia. $18.95. "It is nice to see an Aussie wine that is a little more mature on the general list shelf," Martin says. "This one still has all the yummy berry fruit with some good mineral notes to give it structure. Very accessible."