The Journey of a Female Sommelier: From Paris to New York

      In     Vino
 Veritas

Marie Vayron: In Vino Veritas

It’s a common misconception that joining the family business stems from some sort of personal inertia. That if one were to make that choice, she must lack the passion or talent to pursue other paths. On the other hand, childhood is a defining period of life. The things we learn then stay with us forever. So why not pursue them into adulthood? Marie Vayron has been a variable at both sides of the equation and has come to a personal solution. Born onto a vineyard, she has since attended university, travelled to Paris and then to New York City, working as a writer and then in hospitality to conclude—yes, she loves wine and there’s nothing wrong with your heart being where your home is.

 

Interview: Jess Marvin
Editor: Jess Ramalhete
Photo courtesy Marie Vayron

AWT: You’ve had a long career in wine and you’re so young.

Marie Vayron: My parents make wine. I was born on a vineyard, but at first I didn’t want to work in wine. I wanted to be a journalist. I went to university for Communications, but then I realized that I was missing something. I was always frustrated and bored with what I was learning. I was missing something that made sense to me. So I thought again about wine, I was trying so hard to not be interested in wine. I saw all the children of winemakers in Bordeaux not wondering what they really like in life and just following a path. To me it felt too easy. Also, it’s a big deal to take over a winery, so before doing that you have to make sure it’s really what you want. I went to Paris and started to feel my connection to wine. Now that I’m in New York I feel an even stronger connection because I’m a bit further away from my roots.

 
In France, […] there’s less room for creativity. Here there’s a great level of knowledge, but everybody can express it in different ways.
 

AWT: It’s surprising for a person in wine to move from France, the supposed wine capital of the world, to New York for better career opportunities. How has moving changed your career?

Marie Vayron: I was living in Paris working in the wine industry but not as a sommelier. I organized wine events for French CEOs. I went to business school and got an MBA specializing in wine marketing and management. I was writing a radio show about wine called “In Vino.” It was a great position in the wine business, but not as a sommelier. The sommelier position was something that came with moving to New York. The market was getting very closed-off and slow in Paris (because of the economy). In 2013, I decided to move to New York to open more doors.

AWT: There are only 112 female certified Masters of Wine in the world and you are studying to become one of them. How is this position different from becoming a sommelier?

Marie Vayron: At some point in America you need to show your certification, but you can take different roads to get there. I’m not doing the Court of Master Sommeliers. I’m doing the Masters of Wine program. It’s not necessarily a school to be a sommelier, it’s a school to be a wine expert.

It’s very intense. I love the fact that I call myself sommelier because that’s what I currently do, but without having a proper sommelier certification. It’s why I feel the New York market is great. I’m not sure I would have been able to do that in Paris or anywhere in France.

AWT: There would be too much bureaucracy in order to more freely move in the French wine industry?

Marie Vayron: Yes, exactly. I needed to grow, I needed to expand my wine knowledge, my environment and I just thought that Paris was getting too close-minded. In terms of the wine market, New York is a huge platform for wine from everywhere.

AWT: Yes, but at the same time, because France is so hard, do you feel that the level at which they operate is higher? Has the bar here (in New York) been lowered such that anyone can work in wine?

Marie Vayron: Yes, I do think anyone can do it in New York, but you have to be good. In France, you have to be good too, but it’s more old-school. There’s less room for creativity. Here there’s a great level of knowledge, but everybody can express it in different ways. It’s what I love about New York. You have more room to be yourself, but you have to show that you have the skills and are knowledgeable. It’s a very demanding market.

AWT: How can one be creative in wine?

Marie Vayron: You can be creative in your understanding of hospitality. At the end of the day, my job is about hospitality and how to read a client in a window of about four seconds.

 
Wine keeps me grounded because we have this fancy view of it, […] But first it comes from the earth and that is a very hard job. It’s a job about humility.
 

AWT: That’s fast!

Marie Vayron: It’s about sensing the person you have in front of you. You can be wrong, but it’s something that you can train and practice. If someone mentions sweet, you think fruit, but then they say dry and you get a sense of [what they mean]. It’s all about something that is hard to explain, but can be felt. Our industry, hospitality, is all about feeling people, making them feel at home.

AWT: Dom Pérignon’s Chef de Cave, Richard Geoffroy, once said, “Wine is more than a beverage, it’s a way of understanding human nature.” You have a relationship with the wine as well as a relationship with the client. Is it a bit like match-making? Can we really find love in four seconds?

Marie Vayron: I love this phrase. It’s really true. For me, it reflects human nature. First you taste, you are putting something inside of your body. Then you have an interaction with your senses, your sense of taste. You can’t be fake with that. Either you like it or you don’t. Then if you don’t like it, you try to understand why. It may make a reference to other tastes you like and it can bring you back to a memory. Say it’s the smokiness, or a certain meat, maybe even something that your grandmother made.

AWT: Tell us about a wine’s connection to memory.

Marie Vayron: If the client is willing and open enough to express what she feels like while tasting, the wine memory is the first thing you can create. The client says, “Oh I can taste this, I can taste that,” and you start the exchange. It’s all about the human aspect to me, because you just talk for a moment and you focus on what you’re feeling right now. You try to express as much as you can and it’s very hard. We are not taught to express how we feel. Sometimes you try to imitate, which is the worst. Maybe you’ve heard people saying that there is a peach smell or lychee component and yes, that might be true, but you shouldn’t copy that. It’s more important to create this confidence in your clients, to let them express themselves as close as they can. Wine is the start.

Loving wine helps me in my daily life, because it’s so different. It’s a cultural product. It’s linked to me.

AWT: Linked to you how?

Marie Vayron: It comes from the earth and I feel deeply related to that. Wine keeps me grounded because we have this fancy view of it, especially because it’s consumed at wine bars and expensive restaurants. But first it comes from the earth and that is a very hard job. It’s a job about humility.

AWT: Are you going to take over your family’s vineyard?

Marie Vayron: My sister is making the wine with my father now. At some point I will go back.

This interview originally appeared in the Rejection issue. For more inspiring stories, check out Look Ma, No Hands! Risky Playground Design and Upping the Ante: Jessica Walsh on Creative Play.

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