Founder/CEO, The Online Wine Course; Cofounder/President, The United Sommeliers Foundation
Excited and knowledgeable consumers are good for the industry. Wine professionals who have access to support and education can generate this sort of passion in their customers. Those two principles are what guided Cristie Norman to create The Online Wine Course and cofound The United Sommeliers Foundation.
Norman became a certified sommelier at the age of 21 and joined the team at Spago in Beverly Hills, California, that same year. It was there that she started forming connections and creating learning opportunities with and between other sommeliers.
“I saw that there was a lack of community,” she says. “There were different levels of people, and they kind of worked independently. I felt like that was a problem, because you need people who are better than you to taste with you in order to improve. I wanted to create a mechanism to improve people’s tasting and improve their skills as professionals. And I attracted a lot of people. People came out of the woodwork, literally 100 miles north and south or more.”
Seeing the value in and desire for educational programs, Norman created a series of YouTube videos called “Adulting With Alcohol,” and then launched The Online Wine Course.
The course was developed to make wine fun and accessible. For just under $150, participants have access to four-hour course made up of videos, worksheets, timed quizzes and a final exam. It builds students’ vocabulary, explains the difference between certain wines, how winemaking affects the final product and basic varieties, and then goes on to discuss the major winemaking regions of the world, as well as food and wine pairings.
“We want to give everybody a chance to learn about wine, because there’s wine for everybody,” she says. “It can be something that’s inexpensive, and people can love that wine. Or it can be really expensive. Everybody has their own wine journey.”
This consumer-facing program hasn’t kept her away from her network in hospitality, though.
“When the pandemic hit, I was the person people came to when they lost their jobs, or when their restaurants got closed, because I was the person who would help people find jobs,” she says. “I saw firsthand how dedicated the somm community could be, and I care about our wine industry.”
That moment is what led to the creation of The United Sommeliers Foundation. Using money raised through donations and auctions held in conjunction with Acker Wines, the organization helps fund emergency grants to those who are in financial crisis. Norman also offered free education for a limited time.
“I think we need to address all of these different parts of the industry and bolster the people of the wine industry and make sure they have resources to support them,” she says. “And then also, on the other side, we need to have more consumers.”
For her commitment to making wine accessible to all, and to supporting those in her industry during unprecedented challenges, Wine Enthusiast names Cristie Norman Educator of the Year. —Layla Schlack