Ame Brewster, 11.30.18
Ame Brewster is a treasure in our industry. She first cut her teeth in wine 20 years ago while working in NYC restaurants and today is creating positive change in the Texas wine industry as the Director of Operations for Fall Creek Vineyards. Yeah Ame!
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I have been in the restaurant/wine/beverage industry since 1998 when I first started bartending to help pay my way through Cornell University. Through a mix of luck and curiosity, I landed a job as a somm in NYC at a high-volume, Italian restaurant owned by Mario Batali, which was merely meant to be a way to pay the bills as I did non-profit work for an NGO.
I worked my way through several amazing wine programs in NYC, including Alto and Corton, and met amazing winemakers and somms and tasted/served many of the iconic wines of the world.
I relocated to Texas when my daughter was born, and while seeking a wine job that let me be home in the evenings with my kids, I stumbled upon the Texas winery scene. I have now worked at Fall Creek Vineyards for over 3 years and am the Director of Operations. I am involved in every aspect of the winery operation and have gained such appreciation for the business of wine.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
Despite over 15 years in the wine industry, I was convinced until a year ago that I was going to go back to school for my masters degree in political science. Last year, I had a chance to do harvest and work in the winery with the winemakers a little bit, and I realized “I love this! Maybe wine IS my career.”
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I would say there are a couple things. One that I’m really proud of and that I greatly value is elevating the Texas wine industry. There are so many hard-working and talented people doing amazing work here, and I'm a part of it. I get to help put Texas on the map, further develop the scene, and raise awareness of the Texas wine industry.
I also really love the day to day interaction with my staff and guests and using my knowledge to make wine approachable to them. I think it’s so common that wine can be intimidating and elusive, and I love making it an everyday language for people.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
Definitely, especially when I first started in NYC in 2003 as a somm, before all the big trendy food shows, wine documentaries, certifications, hip wine personalities, the few guests who knew about somm culture considered them stuffy old French men.
When guests came through the door, if they knew a thing about wine, assumed that the somm was a man. I was young, short, a woman, and definitely not stuffy and French, and people would say, “No, I want to talk to that guy.” “That guy” was a busser or a server and he could definitely NOT tell you which vintage of Petrus to drink.
There weren’t a lot of women somms at that time. I only had one female boss for those first 10 years and she was not in the wine industry. I felt like I had to prove myself every single day.
Even now, I’ll be commanding the tasting room and people will walk right past me and walk up to the one guy in the room and ask if he’s the manager.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
I feel like I’m very conscientious of this. I might have the tendency to be overly sensitive to this issue because of my own experiences. I am eager to hire, promote, and educate women in whom I see potential.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
I think guests will have a more well-rounded experience. Women are often times more intuitive, better listeners. It’s not universally true, and I don’t intend to stereotype, but because women have had to fight to get where they are they are more likely to lean in and hear what you have to say and care. This is what makes a great somm, hearing what the guest wants and providing a memorable experience. Also, a greater diversity of people and talent will check the egotistical culture found in so many food/beverage work environments.
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
An equal number of women as men in every aspect of the industry and for them to be paid fairly. I also hope for more female mentors to support aspiring women in the wine world.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Don’t play games. Don’t change who you are to try and fit into the system. Be who you are and change the system.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equality is equal opportunity so the person who is most capable gets the job, but the people who haven't had the same opportunities to prepare themselves for that job, those opportunities need to be created and supported.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
First and foremost, I talk about it. I talk about my experiences, positive and negative. I don’t try to pretend inequality isn’t a real, every day issue.
I go out of my way to elevate the women in my circle. By mentoring them as much as I can to give them all the tools that I wish that I had. I am the queen of straight talk. I don’t like BS. Here’s what you need to watch out for. Here's what worked for me. You can get through it. Don’t give up.
I will also add that I’m a mother, and I find ways to support women with children in my operation, so they have more opportunities. I think you can be a mother and still be a badass in your profession.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
Persistence. Curiosity. Compassion. And open mindedness.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
I always struggle with this kind of question. I am not prone to having idols or heroes. I admire all the women who have worked hard, dealt with adversity, pushed ahead, succeeded or failed. I really haven’t met a successful woman in wine who had it “easy”, and it seems unfair to name just one. Platforms like this are such a powerful way to give them all credit!