Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Ascent of the Female American Sommelier - Interview with Rebecca Murphy - Pt.I

Rebecca Murphy at Il Sorrento 1974
Last week, with the post, You've Come a Long Way, Baby! - The Ascent of the Female Sommelier, there was lively discussion about the history of the sommelier in America. With that, the role of the female, then, as now, has evolved, changing the social landscape. The wine business has long been a bastion of uniformity – mainly white, mainly male - and one which outsiders often see as an impenetrable boy's club. But there are those who have driven a wedge into it and blazed their own unique trail. Rebecca Murphy is such an individual. I’ve known Becky for 30+ years and have watched her ascent into the wine world to where she is now a revered and iconic force who has changed the history of the wine business in America. Becky started out as a sommelier, moved up to a corporate wine director and then started her own consulting business, which encompassed wine trade events, one of the most important wine competitions in America, and years of writing about wine. Becky, to use a well-worn phrase, is a Renaissance woman. But she is also a formidable person, one who had to fight and defend every position, every dream she had, using the sheer force of her will. Here is part one of a two (or three) part series. It’s longer than the average attention span of a blog reader. But it’s an important story and one I hope, with the help of Becky’s own words, to share with those of you who have the time and patience to endure the length. After all, it is the story of one person’s life in wine – and it took them a lifetime to get to this point.

Where did you start as a sommelier? Were you America’s first female sommelier? Was this your first foray into the wine business?

It was definitely my first foray into the wine business. I don't know if I'm the USA's first woman doing this job, if I'm not I'm one of the first. And I'm pretty sure I was the first woman in Texas. I've been looking through some newspaper clips. I certainly didn't read about other women and when I started I needed a job and I went to work for Mario (Messina of Il Sorrento in Dallas). My first husband I were getting a divorce and I moved back to Dallas because my in-laws were there and they've always been there always been very supportive. I needed a job and I my only real professional experience as a flight attendant. I had two five year-old boys, so that wasn't going to work. And so Mario gave me a chance, gave me the opportunity, to work as a cocktail waitress. And there was a young guy working there (as a wine steward) who was a college student and went back to school after I was there about three months I told Mario that I'd like to have that job and he said, “Rebecca, you can't carry the boxes.” Of course, because he kept the wine up (in the cool room) in the attic. I finally said just let me just let me come in on my night off for a few times and do the job, and if I don't make a fool of myself or you, I want the job. And that's pretty much the way it went.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

You've Come a Long Way, Baby! ~ The Ascent of the Female Sommelier

Dallas, Texas USA - 1980 - Sommelière Sharman
When I starting delving into the world of Italian wine at an Italian restaurant as a server, we had a sommelier. She was all turned out in a hot pants tuxedo (required uniform by the owner) and she kept her tastevin busy, clinking through the night, hustling and selling wine, one bottle at a time.

She was a force of nature. Very tough lady. She had to be. Her world was filled with macho narcissists, who had little or no regard for her talent or her strengths. But she was a selling machine.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Franciacorta Guy and his Mission to Win in America

Giulio Galli, enjoying a panino with his Franciacorta, at Il Sogno in San Antonio
What is it like to take on a project like Franciacorta in America, to grow its base? Over the past decade, one man has made that his mission, to win over sparkling wine lovers to Franciacorta. And his efforts have yielded positive results.

I’m sharing some panini and a bottle of Bellavista Rosé with Giulio Galli, the Franciacorta Guy, and we’re talking about his strategic plan. From the information given to him by the Franciacorta consorzio back in Italy, the wines he looks after (as American partner to Italian owner Vittorio Moretti), Bellavista and Contadi Castaldi, account for 40% of the sales of Franciacorta in America. That would make him and the wineries he represents one big bad mother. He’s the guy with a business plan who has worked it for the past decade and, by most accounts, has been successful.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The World Fumes and Spews, but the Wine Business Goes On

Why I got into the wine business

Me during my first visit to Carlo Hauner -
Island of Salina, 1987- A kinder, gentler volcano
Last Friday, while handing out Italian wine maps to salespeople, I got to talking with one of the young ones. She will be turning 30 on the day before me, next week, sharing the same birthday as a friend in New York, arguably the finest wine writer in the country and whom I had the honor of accompanying on a recent journey to Sicily. He just published his first of four articles from the trip, and I was fortunate to have my photographs of Etna published alongside his well chiseled piece, “Etna Fumes and Spews, but the Winemaking Goes On.

Memories have recently been rekindled, one as a result of having that conversation with the young wine salesperson, who is the same age I was when I started in the business. The other, as a result of the recent tragic events in Dallas, which have all of us here stunned and saddened beyond words.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

What I love (and hate) about Sicily

We live in a world where every word can be a polarizing one. In the past week, I have felt the sting of words, and some of my readers have as well. While some see it as a line drawn in the sand, with a duel to the end, I see it as the beginning of a longer conversation. So, I will begin with a volley.

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