Move over, men of the wine world, and make way for the sommelière

More women are taking on the traditionally male-dominated role of wine waiter, and Britain leads the field

That image of a stereotypical sommelier – male, balding, condescending and probably French – might just need a rethink. And it’s all down to a group of women who are dominating the new wine scene and proving you don’t have to be a suited old wine bore to make a living as an oenophile.

The change is most noticeable in some of Britain’s top restaurants, where women are now just as likely as men to help diners demystify the wine list. Gordon Ramsay Holdings and the steak group Hawksmoor are among those to employ female sommeliers. And last year’s Young Sommelier of the Year was a woman: Kathrine Larsen.

Emily O’Hare, head sommelier for the past seven years at the River Café in west London, has helped to blaze the female-led trail, which spans pop-up wine “sessions”, mobile wine bars and some of the capital’s hottest new wine bars.

Industry experts believe the wine revolution is the natural successor to its foodie forerunner. “People aren’t stopping at food; now they want to understand wine. And with wine there’s so much to know,” says Ms O’Hare, who at 33 is one of the older oenophile cheerleaders.

Charlotte Sager-Wilde, 29, who opened Sager + Wilde, an east London wine bar with her husband Michael last year, employs Paisley Tara Kennett as the bar’s general manager. Ms Sager-Wilde said: “There’s a cycle: in the 1990s it was about cocktails, then coffee, craft beer, and now it’s time for wine.

“I’ve seen a vast change in the kind of consumer that enjoys wine and the kind of wine they’re drinking: it’s not just house wine any more.”

She said Sager + Wilde had only just employed its first man; he follows eight female wine experts. “It was never intentional only to employ women. It just happened because everyone came to us via word of mouth,” she added.

About one-third of the mature students studying wine production or how to run wine businesses at Plumpton College, East Sussex, are women, according to its head of wine, Chris Foss. He said the college was struggling to meet demand from all the new English vineyards for its graduates, making wine a good industry for both genders.

Tomorrow’s inaugural London Wine Week, the first of its kind in the UK, is run by Emma Murphy, who used to run special events for Gordon Ramsay. “There are more women coming through across the board, especially as managers. They are leading new types of events, all aimed at making wine more approachable,” she said. One such example is London Wine Sessions, a one-day wine fest this Saturday featuring talks and plenty of tasting.

Ruth Spivey, 32, perhaps epitomises the new oenophile. The former model launched a wine car-boot fair to try to appeal to a new type of wine drinker. “Maybe girls veer down a more fun, approachable route,” she said. “Maybe because I’m a women, [wine] seems more approachable to other women.” That said, she isn’t aiming to attract only women, and the crowds at her events are “about equal”, she added.

If this is enough to make the archetypal red-trousered wine-lover of yore reach for his spittoon in disgust, he can take comfort from the fact that the changes don’t go down well with everyone. Ms Sager-Wilde admits she’s had “old-school” male customers questioning her knowledge and demanding to see her husband. “Some people are just very old-fashioned about wine in general and that’s a shame,” she added.

But Julia Oudill, 24, sommelier at La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels in London, says she’s finding working in the UK far easier than her native France. “In Paris, I had a lot of hostility; you’re not taken seriously as a young woman. They would ask to see the sommelier, even though I was one.”

She believes women taste wine differently from men. “The nose for a woman is more delicate,” she said. “We are more precise.” But she refused to be drawn on which gender was better. “It’s very important to have a balance between men and women, because women have a different perception from men.”

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?