Marika Vida-Arnold, consulting wine director for the Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park, holds a special pairing-dinner series dedicated to women in wine, aptly named Phenomenal Femmes. The event takes place at the hotel’s Auden Bistro & Bar up to seven times a year, and a portion of the proceeds goes to benefit the women’s shelter at Crossroads Community Services in New York.
Wine Enthusiast spoke to Vida-Arnold about Phenomenal Femmes, the status of women in the wine world today and what she calls being a “mom-somm.”
Tell me about the Phenomenal Femmes wine dinner series, and how it has been received.
This is our fourth year of the dinner series, and it’s not a “burn your bra” statement. It’s celebratory in nature. Just like the wine list at Auden, we’re seeking balance. My by-the-glass list there is women-driven, [but] it’s not in any way man hating or man excluding….Interestingly, more of our regulars at the series happen to be male.
How did it come about to give a portion of proceeds from the series to a women’s shelter?
This issue is close to my heart, and I wanted a tie-in to the women’s theme. I volunteer at Crossroads, sometimes I have dinner with the women or get them settled at night. This isn’t a Band-Aid. The women get real help and counseling, and Crossroads assists them to find jobs and move on.
How do you see the status of women in the wine industry today? Has there been a noticeable shift as you look back over the years?
It seems like the number of female sommeliers and wine directors have quadrupled over the past 10 years. Now there are lots of women winemakers, particularly in California. Merry Edwards was a pioneer. There were no jobs for women in winemaking in the late ’70s. If you wanted to get in, you had to start in the lab. So many industries back then were male-dominated….I’m amazed with what I’ve seen in the last 10 years, and I’m excited to see that path continue for women in the wine business.
Do you think barriers to entry still exist for women who want to work in wine?
It depends on how you qualify “barriers.” My short answer is no. It’s obviously doable to have a career in wine, and women are capable of doing whatever they want. But yes, we still have some perception issues. I used to hear from men, “What are you doing out this late?” when I worked on the floor as a sommelier. In this country, though, the proof is in the pudding. There are so many women working in wine, while other countries still have a long way to go.
Is there a particular challenge you’ve overcome personally on your career path in the wine industry?
Sommelier burnout. I’m a consultant now, and I do many different things. It’s challenging, because to a degree, I’m a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. But I couldn’t sustain that sommelier lifestyle as a 47-year-old mother with kids, given those long nights. I’m a “mom-somm”…I want to work in wine and see my children.
Women in the Wine World Sound Off
Theresa Heredia, winemaker, Gary Farrell Winery: “I’ve worked with some young, up-and-coming winemakers who feel very strongly about not being referred to as ‘female winemakers,’ because they work their butts off trying to be considered equal, to simply be referred to as a winemaker with great talent. Personally, I am honored to be referred to as both. I am, after all, a woman, and I have some unique qualities to offer as a winemaker because of this fact.”
Kathleen Heitz Myers, president/chief executive officer, Heitz Wine Cellars: “I have absolutely loved my career in the wine industry and am so grateful for the doors that were opened to me around the world. The diversity of those friendships, of course enhanced over a glass of wine, are what I treasure most. Now there is a new generation of young and passionate wine enthusiasts who need to bring their own vision, creativity and perspective to the wonderful legacy of wine.”
Dr. Laura Catena, managing director, Bodega Catena Zapata: “Because the wine world is often based on family businesses, there has been a real opportunity for women here, and many family businesses are choosing to put women in directorial positions, something that would have been unheard of at the time of my grandfather and great-grandfather, who founded the Catena winery in 1902.”
Kinou Cazes Hachemian, co-owner/brand ambassador, Château Lynch-Bages: “We, as women, tell our stories and share our passion in a way that opens the wine world to a bigger audience. We have contributed to desacralizing a male-dominated industry by opening new doors in a constantly evolving and sometimes intimidating wine market.”