During one of Tom Sietsema’s weekly Q&A chats in late July, the tenured Washington Post food critic struggled to name a single female sommelier in the D.C. area. Spotting a missed opportunity to shout out talent, a simple Google doc was born to identify local women leaders in wine.
Sietsema’s summer snafu has snowballed into something special. In a matter of months, the crowd-sourced list has ballooned to 300-plus female sommeliers, winemakers, experts, consultants, retailers, and educators across D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. The grassroots group, dubbed Women of Wine (WOW), hosted its first sold-out event in October at Bottles Wine Garden. To make more room, the second one will be at Union Market district’s sprawling La Cosecha food hall on Sunday, December 11 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
WOW’s female founders include three sommeliers (Vanessa Cominsky at Prestige Ledroit; Erika Parjus at Bottles Wine Garden; and former Maxwell Park partner Niki Lang, now a wine consultant and realtor); Angie Duran, director of operations at Bottles Wine Garden; and Tammy Gordon, a consultant at Weygandt Wines.
The growing spreadsheet includes a Google map tab to pinpoint women-run wineries and restaurants with female-led programs. Members list their Instagram handle as their contact information. It’s a one-stop industry resource that surprisingly wasn’t available in D.C. until now.
“It became bigger than the Tom story,” says Gordon. “It became this whole positive thing. I’ve met so many women in wine from sourcing the list and following people on it.”
The list has also laid out the groundwork for the makings of a brand new nonprofit in the new year. WOW’s three-pronged mission is to “create community” via social media and hosted events; “educate more women in wine” by funding scholarships for wine certifications and providing mentor-mentee opportunities; and “support industry career growth” with a job bank and connecting women to media and industry trips.
“You find these groups in tech, science, and all different types of industries. It’s natural there should be one for wine,” says Gordon.
Restaurateurs can turn to the list to reach out to potential hires or inquire about buying bottles. If an everyday customer wants to track down the particular wine they liked at a restaurant, they can DM its sommelier.
The group also gives newly certified sommeliers a chance to get their names out there.
“Since COVID there’s been an influx of talent. We’re getting everyone together who have never even met each other,” says Lang.
The perk of a post-pandemic world is the return to face-to-face interactions that were limited to at-home Zoom tastings just two years ago, says Duran.
Wine experts “sometimes don’t get the credit for all the time, money and energy they invest into their craft,” says Duran. Her months-old West End wine bar Bottles Wine Garden caters to serious oenophiles and novices alike with curated picks from both pioneering and rising wineries around the world.
“Erika [our sommelier] is always putting out something fun and surprising me. She’s always tasting and trying to put things on people will be excited about,” says Duran.
Lang says the group plans to meet with nonprofit facilitators and lawyers in January to get its 501(c)(3) status rolling and figure how to dole out donations towards things like scholarships and education. WOW is currently gathering feedback on current industry needs and how the nonprofit can help.
At WOW’s first event in October, 12 female sommelier names picked out of a hat discussed their pours of choice. Two iconic local sommeliers — consultant and Charlie Palmer alum Nadine Brown and Cork’s co-owner Diane Gross — each shared a wine from their selections by the glass.
“I was blown away by how many people wanted to be there and support it and just the energy in the room,” says Lang, of WOW’s 130-person inaugural event. “We really want to keep momentum going and spread the word.”
The second event is designed to be more of a meet-and-greet party alongside pours from La Cosecha’s resident Latin wine bar and retailer Grand Cata: