Maria Bastasch, 3.8.19
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
While I’ve been working in food and beverage for many years, I have been involved in wine specifically for the last five.
Originally from Los Angeles, I moved to DC to work in Economic Development. I have always worked in restaurants and found myself doing so again in DC. I was happy to discover a dynamic and emerging industry that sought to balance food and beverage with community engagement. Bars and restaurants here are regularly involved in large fundraising events and eclectic campaigns that draw attention to important issues and problems facing the industry.
I am the Wine Director of Maydan and Compass Rose restaurants where our wine menus focus on lesser known regions of the world and low intervention producers that compliment our equally diverse food menu.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
There were a series of breadcrumbs that lead me to my status quo. One moment that stands out was an interaction with a bartender at a fabulous wine bar that is now closed. For whatever reason, she kept asking my thoughts on the wine- as in tasting notes. I didn’t have any concept of a grid or even where to start, but I loved the conversation and how open she was to my responses. Previous to this moment, I would sheepishly skirt through tasting notes and wine facts for work, it was actually a source of insecurity. This interaction changed that space for me.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I love the moments where I am able to connect a person with a wine that means something to them, think of me like a wine match maker. This goes for staff, and customers, as well as friends. I think there are few greater joys than sharing a story that is then realized through the senses. Wine is a medium for human connection. I love encouraging people (especially those that I work with each night) to feel in this medium, to spread that confidence with their guest, and to share the stories of each bottle. I seek to create a safe space that is inclusive and encouraging for us to explore food and wine together.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
The patriarchy has dominated the world of wine for some time, but I seek to create a counter narrative that is stronger. I pride myself on the fact that I run a wine program for female owned and operated restaurants. I love that every week I work with our staff (Mostly femme identified individuals) to expand our knowledge base and discuss ways to better connect over wine.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
Break down the division of “knower” and “non-knower”- because wine is a complex and vast subject, those that know more have more power. Inclusivity and kindness need to lead every interaction, especially when we are engaging with other women and otherized members of society. At both spaces, our weekly wine class is filled with mostly women, gathered around a table, sharing and listening to each other’s’ experience.
What communal benefits do you think we’ll see by bringing more women into leadership positions?
We have this opportunity to open up the arena and, in turn, create a more dynamic environment. Typically, we are listeners- wine needs more listeners. I am over the days of eccentric bold neckties talking at me. I am over this conception of wine hierarchy based on geolocations. I am hopeful that more women being in leadership positions will open up the conversation and force us to be challenged in new ways.
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I hope to see more of us, period. We are still fighting for equal pay, opening up the career opportunities is one path to parity.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Do not allow anyone to make you feel small for not inherently knowing something, work hard, and come work with me!
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Well, one indicator could be equivalent numbers of female to male master sommeliers.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I am giving young women the opportunity to grow within this field. I work with many women lead wineries, especially in the global south and emerging markets. Basically, I want to create a small force of badass women selling the wine of badass women winemakers.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
Outside of what we have already outlined, empathy is probably the most crucial. We need to begin to perceive the world through the lens of the other before we can be good at what we do. We need to empathize with our customer and one another .
A thick skin and a sharp palate don’t hurt either.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
This is probably the most difficult question because there are some fantastic individuals that come to mind.
Kathy Morgan, Master Sommelier and our local DC badass who lead my level 1, so I love her.
Pascaline Lepeltier, also a Master Sommelier, is on the top of my list for women I want to take to dinner primarily because of what she is doing for the world of low intervention wines.
Felicia Colbert, another local wonder woman of wine and a friend. Whether it was a “pour me a glass of something delicious after a rough shift”, or a bit of advice, she has always been supportive and kind.