We Dig: Seattle’s Young Lady Sommeliers

by | Oct 13, 2015

Move over boys, these female sommeliers are taking over a wine list near you. In the past, men have taken the lead in the sommelier field—124 men currently hold the certification of Master Sommelier within the United States versus only 23 women, according to the Court of Master Sommeliers. Although the number of women is marginal for Master certification, a younger, hungry generation of female sommeliers have stepped up and are shedding a light on the trade as more women are climbing the ranks to get closer to this senior title. For this three-part series, we’ve found three stellar female sommeliers in the Seattle-area that are changing assumptions on who a wine consultant is.

Cara de Lavallade || Sommelier || Barking Frog|| Woodinville, WA

Q: When was that moment you wanted to pursue a career as a sommelier?
A: I was working for a large hospitality group in a corporate dining room and every week my manager would sit down with her wine reps and taste through a bunch of wines. The dining room was on the 16th floor of a building downtown and they would always sit by the window with the most amazing view of the water. Every time I saw that, I thought to myself: “why am I not doing that? That is clearly the best job.” I started chatting up the reps after that. Turns out sitting by a window drinking wine is only about 1-percent of what a sommelier does, luckily I really like the rest of the job.

Q: Now that you have an established career as a sommelier, what are further aspirations you want to accomplish with your expertise?
A: I love teaching. I love breaking wine down for people so that it ceases to be this intimidating mystery. I love working with people who are inquisitive and hungry to learn about wine. Going forward I’d like to focus more on training my staff, on wine education in general, and I’d like to get back into writing as well.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would want to give other women who are working towards being a sommelier?
A:You know more than you think you do! Also, the sommelier community can be very competitive and attracts those with a competitive nature. For me, it was always more about finding out how I could be better than myself, not better than those around me. Wine is a personal journey, and a path that works for one person isn’t necessarily the best for another. Explore many options with your wine education.

Q: Any particular wine you are pouring more than others at the moment?
A: I’m pouring a lot of 2005 Tranche Syrah by the glass right now. We are getting a screaming deal on it and the wine is tasting amazing. I love to be able to pour older vintages of Washington wine by the glass. They are so much more food friendly with some age.

Q: What’s your favorite cheap beer and when do you like to drink it?
A: The people who are close to me know about my relationship with Bud Light Lime. When do I like to drink it? Literally at any moment. But especially on boats.


Mackenzie Parks|| Wine Captain and Wine Director || El Gaucho|| Seattle

Q: When was that moment you wanted to pursue a career as a sommelier?
A: I was shipped off to Germany to attend a wine school there as a “garnish” for my culinary degree that I was about to finish—I was lucky enough to travel throughout several regions of Germany, Alsace, Burgundy, Rhone, Beaujolais, Champagne, Switzerland, Austria. I could not help but be mesmerized by all of the wonderful things I discovered on this trip, and as much as I love the kitchen and will always have respect for what chefs do, I had to change up my career path the minute that I landed back in the States.

Q: Now that you have an established career as a sommelier, what are further aspirations you want to accomplish with your expertise?
A: I am diligently working towards my Master Sommelier certification with the Court of Master Sommeliers and hope to accomplish my Master Cicerone and Master Sake certification as well someday, while applying all of that knowledge to whichever beverage program will allow me to in the time being.

Q: Any particular wine you are pouring more than others at the moment?
A: El Gaucho is constantly looking for small production wineries and wines in our own backyard—we are lucky enough to be able to take full advantage of being in such close proximity to wine production and are always on the lookout to find these wines as well as excited to recommend them to our guests once we acquire them. These limited production wines are wines that most folks who are locals might not even know about, much less our travelers from outside the state. This makes these wines a unique experience and something that most folks are happy to take a recommendation on.  I am particularly fond of Washington State Merlots right now and push them whenever I have a chance.

Q: What is your favorite unconventional food and wine pairing?
A: Tequila shots and fried pickles—oh, wait we are talking about wine here? Super spicy chicken wings and some sort of Auslese [German Riesling] deliciousness. Pho and Alsace Pinot Blanc. A5 Wagyu [beef] and Krug Grand Cuvee Champagne.

Q: What’s your favorite cheap beer and when do you like to drink it?
A: Fat Tire.  I’m a Colorado girl—it’s a nostalgic thing.


Cortney Lease|| Company Wine Director || Wild Ginger and The Triple Door|| Seattle

Q: When was that moment you wanted to pursue a career as a sommelier?
A: Ages ago, when I was attending the University of Washington, I fell into wine as many of my colleagues did—through their restaurants. I was working at The Triple Door as a server/cocktailer, and was pulled into the industry through staff education training. I moved to England from 2005-2006 and gained more exposure to wine and spirits, as the only jobs I could get were working at wine shops and pubs. I passed my Wine and Spirits Education Trust intro and [Court of Master Sommeliers] Advanced in London, returned stateside and begged for a job at Wild Ginger.

Q: Now that you have an established career as a sommelier, what are further aspirations you want to accomplish with your expertise?
A: I want to continue learning, all the time. Learning about wine production, regions, businesses, agriculture, geology, history, science—you name it. Wine is so connected with other industries, there is no limit to what you can study. It’s one big horizon. I also want to work in these industries, to truly understand the process. A personal goal is to pass the Court of Master Sommeliers Masters exam. I am currently an Advanced sommelier, but I want to master my trade. I want to mentor new somms and introduce excellent wines to new and familiar guests. Someday, I will make my own wine.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would want to give other women who are working towards being a sommelier?
A: Honestly, the same advice I give to all the sommeliers joining my team. Work hard, get your hands dirty and check your ego at the door. Being a sommelier is about service: listening to your guests and helping them find a special bottle or glass which will help make their evening special. It’s not a glamorous job—you spend more time stocking and counting inventory than attending high-end events. The biggest lesson you learn is that your personal style and taste may not be what your customer wants. Your job is to find out what someone else desires, not teach them about your own.

Q: Any particular wine you are pouring more than others at the moment?
A: I’ll never say “no” to a glass of Egly-Ouriet’s Les Vignes de Vrigny from Champagne.

Q: What is your favorite unconventional food and wine pairing?
A: Luckily for me, my restaurants have a plethora of unconventional food. We have a killer vegetarian dish named “Rama Setu,” a red curry which has a lot of rich, textured spice and flavor, and is excellent with a white Southern Rhône Marsanne/Roussanne blend.

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