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The thing about female sommeliers

Is it time to stop adding the “female” qualifier to sommeliers? Are their experiences any different from the men’s?

Growing old with wine

Celine Jung is head sommelier at Park90 wine bar, whose extensive list offers some of the most exclusive wines in the world. While she’s only been working in the wine industry for five years, she’s a bona fide hospitality veteran of 18 years and has a masters in hotel management from her home country of Korea.

While a brush with a Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico, with its “fresh red fruit and soft tannins”, came as a shock to Jung, it was the impetus for her shift towards wine. She might have fallen in love at first taste, but was truly drawn in by the stories of the wine’s provenance as well as the winemaker’s passion.

Having headed multiple beverage and wine departments at hotels in Korea – a country where female sommeliers are the norm – Jung reveals that some restaurants here prefer women taking charge of the wine. “It’s important to remember customers’ preferences, and female sommeliers can be better at this because they might be more sensitive to one’s needs. When I won the Best Sommelier for French Wine competition in 2016 in Korea, all five winners were women,” she shares, although she notes that at the end of the day, being a good sommelier boils down to extensive knowledge, good tasting skills and excellent service.

Jung has won several more wine competitions and is currently working towards being the first female Master Sommelier from Korea.

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All about the client’s journey

Like many other somms, Shamini Krishnan’s first revelation with wine came when she worked at Cut by Wolfgang Puck. Adam Crocini, the general manager then, brought out wines for the team to try.

Another experience Krishnan considers a turning point was when she joined chef Ivan Brehm at Bacchanalia. She learnt how to construct wine lists from him.

It was at her last role as sommelier at private member’s club 1880 that Krishnan encountered a slightly different clientele. “Many of the members already had extensive knowledge about wine, and every day was like walking into a new thing. It was challenging.”

This also meant that there would be members who came with preconceived notions about what a sommelier should be: male and slightly older. Krishnan has been instructed to wear her sommelier badge for special occasions, and shares that she has had to sometimes speak in “the right way” so as to not offend the guests.

There’s no resentment though. She believes that wine is all about the clients’ journey. It was these conversations that inspired Krishnan to build Crush, a brand that’s part pop-up wine bar, wine concierge and subscription service. With her infectious enthusiasm, well-chosen wine flights and killer playlist, she has built a base of loyal followers, many of whom have become friends.

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For the love of service

While working a desk-bound job in Japan, Miku Yamagishi found her true calling in the restaurant industry, with wine knowledge being a strong way to supplement her service-oriented journey. “There’s something new to learn in F&B every day. It’s not routine. Different things happen every day and I never get bored. It’s really fun for me.”

Working in restaurants in Japan, Yamagishi encountered natural wines and fell in love with the winemaking philosophy behind them. Today, she is the sommelier at Rebel Rebel, a natural wine bar in Singapore with a strong slant on Burgundies.

Japan, like Korea, has a fair share of women in the wine service industry. While she’s never been treated differently in her two years as a sommelier, Yamagishi has experienced skepticism about her abilities because of her youthful looks and small stature.

“When I first started my career, my mentor taught me something really important: think of the customer as a friend or family. That way, even when there are challenging customers, you’ll still find a way to provide the best service.”

The bottles that count

  • female sommelier

    The wine that made me completely addicted to wine was Domaine d'Auvenay Meursault Les Narvaux 2001. I had it almost 10 years ago and was amazed by its complexity. It's why I prefer white wine.

    For my 60th birthday, I'm opening a bottle of Tertre Roteboeuf. I met the winery owner Francois Mitjavile in 2016 and had dinner with him and his wife. The image of an old couple inviting a young Korean sommelier into their simple but cozy dining room to share wine and food stuck with me. If I'm married and 60, that's the wine I'll be drinking. It symbolises growing old and living happily with wine.

    I always have beer, especially pilsners in my fridge. Also white wines. My favourites are the chenin blancs from Loire. However, I've also fallen in love with riesling ever since coming to Singapore.

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