A weekly interview series about the work and dedication of sommeliers from all around the globe. This week we interview Jennifer Huether MS. Jennifer is involved in educating and mentoring sommeliers and supporting women in the industry, Jen’s real sweet spot is generously sharing her knowledge and tips with the average person who simply craves to know more about what they’re sipping.
Jennifer Huether : ‘’One of my greatest joys has been utilising my wins and opportunities to give back, motivate, hire and empower other women in my field. ”
Why is it so important to help other women in the field? Do you think there are still some limitations for women in wine?
Wine has been an industry that has been particularly male dominated. When I started my studies and career in wine In Toronto I could only name one other women I knew working as a sommelier (in a metropolitan city of millions of people). While I was supported by my boss, teachers and family at the time I felt isolated. For years I only had men to study with until I happened to run into two other women at a Master Sommelier exam in the US who were from Canada also (but In Montreal). We started to study together, and I finally felt like I could relate as one of my study companions (the incredibly talented Veronique Rivest) was also a mom. When I had the opportunity to hire sommeliers in my role at MLSE I hired two women, they are still in the wine business today and thriving. I realized that not only was there not role models at that time for women, but there was little access to mentorship and jobs and this clearly this needed/still needs to change. We need to lift each other up and support each other Instead of seeing each other as a treat or competition even if our foothold Is week. The world needs more women to create positive change-in general!
And yes, women still do have many limitations. It's one thing to make It to the table, but another to be welcomed and seen as an equal. We have also had a major set back with Covid-19 as this has not only impacted our industry especially, but the women behind it. As they say 'she-session' and Its real. I also see women not receiving the same mentorship and job opportunities. Having children in our industry can be seen as problematic. Trying to juggle it all still falls more heavily on the side of women. We also know that our BIPOC community in general and the women in this demographic are particularly struggling. I am actively doing my part by volunteering with non-profit organizations such as femmes du vin and Vinequity to help raise scholarships, mentorship and opportunities. It is so important to take action In any way you can.
You were Canada's first female Master Sommelier. Has this influenced the path of other passionate women who struggle to get a seat at the table?
I hope so. I have been told by several Canadian women over the years that this has been the case. I never have seen myself as a trailblazer but more as a support for women wanting to get into wine. They ultimately know that a women will understand their struggles and can often relate to me as a working mom and sometimes just feel more comfortable reaching out to a women. It has given me such joy to be even a nugget of encouragement or support through their own journeys and It's amazing to look around and see so many more women in our industry now. While we are still a minority in the world of wine, particularly in the top jobs, and there is more work to do.
What was your greatest lesson during your MS study?
The biggest lesson in the end was that it was not about getting the pin, but that it was about the growth in the journey. Over the six years I spent attempting my MS learning, receiving mentorship, studying with incredible talent I grew so much as a human. I was in the moment of course so focused on working hard enough to pass. In retrospect that effort and putting myself up to the task of being evaluated over and over again made me better. It made me more compassionate as well and most importantly more humble. The journey is better than the destination in ways. It also proved to me who you are and how you act at any stage of your life is more important than any title.
With an eye on all things sustainable, you are in talks to publish the world’s first book dedicated to plant-based food and wine pairing. Can you explain to use why these two subjects are dear to you?
We look around our planet earth and see the change in the environment. I have young kids, I think about what they are inheriting. I also think about what it is I can do in a small way to be a part of positive change. By eating plant based myself and by supporting the wine growing regions of the world that becoming more aware and more sustainable I see this as very relevant on so many levels. My goal is to make eating plant based just as fun and delicious so that we don't have FOMO about not eating meat. I also make no judgements on people's' individual choices. I see my goal as displaying that you can focus on being more green and still have an amazing meal and bottle of wine.
Can you tell us more about your project ‘’The Social Herbivore?’’
The Social Herbivore is all about showcasing that regardless of whether your Vegan, moving towards plant based or having a guest over who is-we have got you. It's about elevating the experience of food and wine and culture In what has been seen historically as either radical or boring or granola. It doesn't have to be that way and we are here to shine a light on making it all fun, delicious and accessible. We are currently working on a Vegan Food and wine matching book and it's been a riot, can't wait to share!
Are you a big fan of Vegan wine, and why?
I am! First off, most Vegan wines have been created by a 'less Is more' approach to wine making thus not over filtering/fining the wines. Many top wines would naturally fall under this category. I love also how wineries are recognizing this growing demographic of the population and making it easier to identify wine that would qualify as Vegan. Knowledge is power and just like someone who had an allergy or aversion to an ingredient for example would want to know what the ingredients are in the food they are purchasing, the same rings true here. Lastly to ignore this large and growing demographic would be silly from a sales/marketing perspective.
What’s your guilty pleasure wine?
Ahhh! Love this question. Rich, creamy Chardonnay please! Of course I love Chablis but I also love my richer styles from California and Australia. My go to at home is also value driven reds from Italy, how can you go wrong?
Which winehouse deserves more credits?
Well so many but I must go Canadian here of course! I hope all of you reading this get to taste some of the great wines being made in Canada, and if you do please look out for Leaning Post wines. The cutest couple in wine making here making some of the most remarkable wines (oh and they are also Vegan friendly). This is a family who works so hard and it's conveyed into every bottle they make.
Who is your biggest wine inspiration?
Madeline Triffon MS. Talk about a women who did trailblaze for all women studying with the Court of Masters after her. She has dedicated so much of her time to supporting and mentoring women and does so quietly. She Is a true hero in our industry and her professionalism yet accessibility inspired me tremendously.
Which MS should I interview next?
Melissa Monosoff MS. She is one of the brain trusts behind the Court and I would love to hear more from her personally!
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