Lindsay Thomas, 4.19.19
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I’ve been in the business 12 years but started focusing on wine about 6 years ago. I was a server in NYC at a number of restaurants. A couple of them had large programs and good education opportunities which started to deepen my understanding of wine and spirits.
I left restaurants for a couple of years to get a Masters degree in International Affairs, but I found myself gravitating back to the service industry. I stumbled into running a wine bar in DC, but knew I needed a mentor to really help me understand the business side of things. That’s what brought me to Houston - managing Camerata under David Keck.
After that, I really wanted to work with a large program that focused on the classics, surrounded by people who are smarter than me. That is what brought me to the sommelier position at Pappas Bros Steakhouse in the Galleria, which is where I am today.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
Wine has always held a particular fascination for me. I love that it can connect people to different cultures and areas of the world. I love that it can be very intellectual and at the same time wholly pleasurable. As an eternal student, I love that there is always something new to learn about the world of wine. When I was working at the wine bar in DC, I was just bartending on Friday and Saturday nights while looking for work more in line with my Masters. However, the wine director position opened up and I realized “Okay - this is where I am happiest.”
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I love the joy that I can bring to people by introducing them to a great bottle of wine, and creating a warm and hospitable meal that will be remembered as a meaningful experience. I sometimes get caught up in thinking about this profession, and fretting over not necessarily changing the world with my daily work. But a little bit of joy and laughter over a table full of food and drink can go a long way in the world, and it is my true pleasure to help spread however I can.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
I’m very fortunate that I don’t think that I’ve experienced any truly abhorrent prejudice in my professional life. However, I do experience daily small prejudices that have weighed on me over the years.
I still experience surprise from guests (both male and female) when I approach a table and they are confronted with a female sommelier. Many people still are taken aback when I tell them I have a Masters degree. I’ve been ignored at trade tastings when I’m surrounded by men at a table. The most frustrating experience that I’ve encountered more recently is that I have not been able to foster relationships as freely with guests as my male counterparts.
More often than not, when I give my business card to a guest they take it as a sign of something beyond professional no matter how direct I am regarding the purpose of giving them my card. I’ve got a handicap that I feel might negatively affect my ability to generate revenue for the restaurant.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
I think being self aware of how we’ve been socially conditioned and working against that is very important. I still have trouble speaking up when I know someone is wrong, or asking people to do work that I know needs to be done because I don’t want to be seen as a nag or overbearing. I also think that “imposter syndrome” is a big thing for women and something that we need to reassure ourselves about constantly. We deserve to be in these leadership positions, we are every bit as capable as men, and we’ve all done the work to be where we are.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
I think that in wine, as in everywhere, the community benefits from a network rich with multiple viewpoints and experiences. We grow, evolve, and improve when we are surrounded by those that challenge us and inspire us. Working to ensure that women are represented as well as men in every facet of this business will lead to better innovation, communication, and representation of the population as a whole. We will be able to engage a wider audience, provide role models for those who want to be part of the wine industry, and encompass a wider set of values and traditions in the way that we work.
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I hope to see men and women represented equally in leadership positions - winemakers, CEOs, importers, distributors, wine directors, Master Sommeliers, Masters of Wine, educators, etc. I want to see women headlining as many events as I see men. I also don’t necessarily want to see lists or events highlighting female winemakers or wine writers or whomever - I want it to be a foregone conclusion that we will be represented and celebrated without needing to be highlighted.
I am grateful for the attention specifically being brought to women now, but it is often by women for women. I want this industry to get to the point where it is so equal that there is not a tasting, a dinner, a restaurant, an event that you can show up to that won’t automatically feature a number of women.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
I highly respect my male mentors and greatly appreciate everything that I have learned from them. However, I think that it is important as a woman to find a female mentor. We, as women, have had unique experiences coming up in this business and I think that it’s important to learn from each other how to navigate the landscape.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Basically, how I responded to question 7. Women and men employed and compensated equally in all sectors of our business.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I try to be a resource for my female colleagues in whatever that means to them. This looks like many things from answering questions about the industry, to assisting with exam preparations, to recommending them for opportunities, to showing up to their events whenever I can.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
Women who are innovating - those who have ideas for what they want to do, how they want to do it, and then go and figure out how to get it done. Women who are true to themselves and stick to their values, despite the disadvantage it might cause or the business it might lose. Women who teach, lead, support, and encourage others to join them.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
Melissa Monosoff, MS. She is a powerhouse of a woman who is whip smart, clever, and compassionate. She’s tackled so many things and continues to approach her life with an energy that I envy.
Mary Gorman McAdams, MW. She is an incredible fount of knowledge and leads with ease and elegance. She has always been a source of enthusiastic support for her colleagues, and I learn something new every time I talk to her.
Cathy Corison. I can only imagine the fortitude it required and requires to do things the way that she wanted to do them in a place and a time that wasn’t set up to necessary welcome her in the role that she has.
Finally, any woman who is a mother in this industry. I’m exhausted and in awe just thinking about it.