Female sommeliers have competed in the annual Iron Sommelier Competition for years, but last night marked the first time that one has taken home one of the major award categories. Vanessa Treviño-Boyd of 60 Degrees Mastercrafted scored the Best Presentation award last night. She succeeded in the intimidating task of presenting her wine and wowing an elite group of dozens of event underwriters in a private room.
Treviño-Boyd used a creative theme called "Expressions of America's Leading Ladies," specifically referring to wines she felt were reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn, Meryl Streep and Scarlett Johansson. What does her win mean for other female sommeliers in Houston? "The Underwriter Room was the high-stakes room. You were put on the spot, you could either hang or not and there was no real hiding it. So, I think it means women here can hang, stay calm, cool and collected and then shine."
What did she present to win over the underwriters? "2009 Elderton 'Command' Shiraz, and Australia is not my strong suit either!" Well, you'd never know it.
The signs that female sommeliers were going to start making a better showing in the Iron Sommelier competition were already there. Five of the 13 competitors yesterday were women. Last year, Kelly McCloud of Camerata did very well in the People's Choice competition where attendees can vote for their favorite sommeliers. She did not win, but it was a good showing. Incidentally, McCloud's table this year featured female winemakers, including a sake. There are very few females who make sake in Japan. For that matter, McCloud was reportedly also the first competitor to feature sake at all.
However, it's hard to argue with bubbles. Steven McDonald of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse took home the title of Iron Sommelier and a big trophy. McDonald, who is an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Masters and is pursuing a Master certification, beguiled attendees with Pierre Gimonnet & Fils "Special Club" Brut 2005, Serveaux Fils "Cuvée Pinot Meunier" Brut NV and Vilmart & Cie "Cuvée Rubis" Brut Rose NV.
Evan Turner of TABLE on Post Oak perhaps had the best stories though, as he waxed eloquently and passionately on his theme of Modern Greek Reds to a rapt audience of attendees at his table. It's still a fight in Houston to acquire a wide range of Greek wines and Turner seems to be on a crusade to change that. His enthusiasm and the wines he had specially shipped for the competition won over many attendees. Ultimately, he landed in the second runner-up slot. Turner has been either first runner-up or second runner-up three times now. Wine Chairman Sean Beck (Beverage Director for Hugo's, Backstreet Café and Caracol), joked last night that Turner is his "favorite bridesmaid."
Turner doesn't seem to mind. "It is such a fantastic event!" he commented. "I love taking part." Is Houston going to start seeing more Greek wines in the future? "Yes. There is a lot of movement in that area. Within a year, I think you will see a massive explosion in Greek wine here. Trust me."
Some of the sommeliers use a secret weapon to seduce more votes from attendees: food. Sam Governale of Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar not only served some choice red wines from small, expensive and trendy Pritchard Hill in Napa Valley, but had a spread of Houston Dairymaids cheese and other goodies worthy of a king. Whether it was the wine or food, the tactic worked, landing him the People's Choice award.
Christian Varas of River Oaks Country Club, took the "Do you want some candy?" tactic with a spread of Junior Mints, Sugar Babies and old-fashioned hard candy sticks. However, the candy he was actually wanting people to try was the grown-up kind. His offerings of A Tribute to Grace Rosé of Grenache 2013, Lichen Estate "Les Pinots" Noir et Gris 2012 and Romano Dal Forno Valpolicella Superiore 2007 carried him all the way to the first runner-up spot for the Iron Sommelier crown. Varas has practically been a force of nature in these competitions. He was last year's Iron Sommelier and in 2012, he was the People's Choice winner.
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The real winners though were the families who have seriously ill children and are helped by The Periwinkle Foundation, which receives the proceeds of this competition. Over $36,000 was raised though the silent auction alone, and Sean Beck himself drew another $11,000 on top of that with his offer to take the winners on a three-day trip through Napa Valley.
[Update 1:03 p.m. 10-03-14. Sean Beck reports that the dollar amount raised for The Periwinkle Foundation from the Iron Sommelier
event auctions will likely be closer to $65,000.]
[Update 4:55 p.m. 10-03-14. The official post-event press release is out and says that after including underwriters, ticket sales and auctions, the grand total raised was more than $230,000. Also noted were the three judges for the competition: Antonio Gianola of Houston Wine Merchant, 2012 Iron Sommelier Ben Roberts with Republic National Distributors and Vince Henderson of Henderson's Selections.]
Will next year's Iron Somm be the first female one, or will the guys tenaciously hold onto the crown? We'll just have to wait and see.