Updated: Mar 7
Women are increasingly getting into the business of wine and becoming sommeliers. But working as a restaurant’s resident wine expert is not necessarily a sommelier’s only option.
Wine With Our Family recently had the opportunity to speak with two female sommeliers who opted to take a different journey and became their own boss. Carrie Lyn Strong of Strong Wine Consulting and Brianne Cohen of Brianne Cohen Wine & Events took their wine expertise and became successful wine consultants. They offer services such as virtual and in-person wine tastings, classes, and wine gifting advice. They also judge at wine events.
These two entrepreneurs on opposite coasts (Strong in the New York area, Cohen in Los Angeles) each took a different path to wine expert but some of their experiences are strikingly similar.
Here’s how these female sommeliers became their own boss and what we can learn from them.
From Conventional Job to Entrepreneur
Strong, a “country girl” from New Hampshire didn’t grow up thinking she’d become a sommelier, but ended up in New York City, began working in restaurants, and became a bartender. She moved up the ranks, becoming a “floor sommelier,” wine director, and manager at several top-notch restaurants.
Cohen’s entry into the wine world was a little different. She was an event planner for LBGT organizations and other nonprofits. Inspired by the movie Somm, she turned to wine as a hobby, earned her sommelier credentials, and decided to focus on wine. She didn’t want to be a restaurant sommelier and instead began writing about wine and running wine tasting events at corporate businesses in places like Silicon Valley.
The pandemic and ensuing shutdown led both to pivot. “All of us lost our jobs,” says Strong. That’s when she became a consultant, offering services online. “It was an amazing experience in restaurants but it was time to move on,” she says.
Cohen also segued into remote work. “It was the birth of my new business,” she says.
As in any industry, being one’s own boss is not for the fainthearted.
“It’s daunting to not have an existing salary. But I love it all. I meet amazing people and love “aha” moments. I want to be the person who helps you learn and explore just for the enjoyment. If I do that it feels like I’ve done my job. It’s very exciting,” says Strong.
Challenges of Being a Female Sommelier
Of course, being a female sommelier in any capacity can be difficult in such a male-dominated profession. Less than a third of sommeliers are women, and the industry has a history of sexual harassment and discrimination, a problem that is well documented. Sometimes female sommeliers are not taken seriously and/or passed over for promotion.
Both Strong and Cohen were not immune.
“There are a lot of cliquey boys’ clubs in the wine industry and that’s hard to handle,” says Strong.
Yet there are benefits of being a female in the profession.
“Women consume more wine than men. I can communicate [with them]. I’m approachable and relatable. I don’t wear a blazer with my [sommelier] pin since it creates gatekeeping," says Cohen.
Guidance for Wine Consumers
So what advice do Strong and Cohen have for us wine drinkers?
“To up your wine game when possible step out of the big box [store] and into your local wine shop. There’s more variety and at the same price point. You’ll be exposed to more wine and the people are there to help you out, they're not just salespeople,” says Cohen.
And we should experiment and have fun.
“Be exposed to as many new wines as possible – a region, producer, country. Cultivate a sense of excitement and learning,” says Cohen.
“Don’t be intimidated. Trust your own palate and be open to new experiences. Don’t necessarily rely on other people’s tastes regarding what to enjoy. If you love it, drink it,” she says.
We hope you enjoyed learning about Carrie Lyn Strong and Brianne Cohen, female sommeliers who became their own boss. I find them both inspirational.
Are you a female sommelier who became her own boss, or do you know one? Were the experiences similar? Let our readers know! Email us at email@example.com.
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