With her enthusiastic, individualized approach and a magnanimous charitable streak, Tonya Pitts is a prime example of how sommeliers can impact the wine world far beyond the confines of the restaurants whose lists they shepherd.
Pitts currently is wine director of One Market in San Francisco, where she manages a list of around 500 labels. She has over 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry, starting out at the iconic restaurants Stars, from chef Jeremiah Tower, and chef Judy Rodgers’ Zuni Café. For more than two decades she’s been a sommelier and wine director, telling the stories of both benchmark and under-sung regions and producers, while championing diversity and inclusion on and off her wine lists.
She has long supported female, Black and Latino winemakers, but Pitts is also an enthusiastic mentor, advocate and ambassador for women, BIPOC and LGBTQ people within the hospitality sector of the industry. That said, she is committed to being a welcoming presence and source of information for everyone, whether longtime sommeliers or newbies looking to transition from other restaurant positions.
“Few others can boast a career as impressive as Tonya’s, but what resonates most with me are the hundreds of people she has mentored and lifted up throughout her career,” says Victoria James, 2020 Wine Enthusiast Wine Star Sommelier of the Year. “She is the mama bear of the wine world and a shining ray of positivity and light—I’m so glad there are women like her in this business that I can look up to and learn from.”
Among her many roles in the industry, Pitts is on the advisory boards of Wine Unify, Winebow’s Women in Leadership Wine Symposium and United Sommeliers Foundation. She is also the hospitality program lead for the Bâtonnage: Women In Wine mentorship program. She is a frequent judge for wine competitions, hosts tasting panels for the trade as well as the public and is a passionate public speaker. As a consultant, she works with wine brands on all aspects of their business, from tech sheets to marketing to addressing social, environmental, and wellness concerns.
Ultimately, Pitts says, it’s about meeting people where they are in their wine journey and getting great wine to as many people as possible. “A good sommelier is listening and paying attention to what the guest says, [so] trust is built, and you can give them what they want immediately or give them an ‘aha’ moment with something new,” she says. “It’s purely about the guest experience. You never know who is sitting in front of you as your guest. You treat everyone the same with dignity and respect, and it all flows from there.”
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