Allison Hinson - Sommelier of The American Hotel at Sag Harbor, NY
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
Nearly every job I’ve ever had has been in restaurants/hospitality, but I’ve been in roles focused on beverages for about 4 years. I was a bit of a nomad in my younger days and have worked/lived in Germany, Alaska, Colorado, Georgia (my home state), Kentucky and I’m currently the Sommelier at The American Hotel in Sag Harbor, NY.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
Absolutely! I did not grow up in a household that drank wine and 5 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the difference between a Merlot and a Pinot Grigio. I was working a winter serving at The Little Nell in Aspen, CO where I was just dumbfounded at the depth and breadth of the wine program. Not a skier, I spent a very snowy winter studying wine grapes and learning everything I possibly could. Listening to Carlton McCoy (their Wine Director at the time) talk about wine was all I needed. I was hooked.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
My favorite interactions are with the people who have no idea what to do when presented with our wine list (a hulking 100 page binder). Maybe they “don’t know anything about wine” or “don’t know where to start”. But if I can take the intimidation factor out of the equation and find them something they love, then I am on Cloud 9. I’ve done my job, and I’ve done it well.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry?
The one I run into most often these days is ageism. Working in a very old school demographic, a good portion of our clientele has been drinking wine longer than I’ve been alive and a good many first interactions are marked by a palpable skepticism that I could have anything to offer them. When I do, I count it as a win. When I was running a whiskey focused beverage program, my favorite question I’d get asked is “who’s the guy who picks all y’alls Bourbons?” Surprise - it’s ME!
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by advocating for diversity and inclusion?
How boring would our jobs be if we only had 4 wine grapes to choose from? Diversifying the wine industry is so central to creating a future for ourselves. I personally have zero interest in belonging to a boys’ club or one that excludes anyone. Every single person out there is a fresh set of eyes and perspectives, and every single one out there brings something to the table. By diversifying, we create a more well-rounded competitive industry, which buoys us all.
What changes do you hope to see in the wine industry in the next five years?
I’d love to see less barriers to education. I am continually impressed by those working to make it more accessible, but I think we have a long way to go.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
More transparency and accountability. Less quid pro quo. Less people in positions of power wielding it over others because they can.
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I have an obligation to share any and all knowledge or resources that I have, because someone shared with me. I am determined to lift up and empower anyone I possibly can. I make it a point to be a resource for anyone that is interested, whether that be teaching beverage classes, leading study groups, or helping someone chart a course through certifications.
What message do you have for anyone now entering the wine profession?
Be malleable and open to coaching and teaching, but don’t feel like you have to dilute yourself or be someone you’re not to be in this industry. There’s room for everyone, and niches are being created that we didn’t even know would exist 5 years ago.
What other industry heroes do you admire and why?
I first have to shout out Vanessa Price for her tireless effort in everything she does, and for always finding time to answer a random question, wine-related or otherwise. I also admire Carlton McCoy for using his position of power to advance equality and access to education within our industry. If my first introduction to fine wine had been by someone different, I doubt I’d have chosen to dive in headfirst. And Leigh Ann Miller, for her neverending encouragement of and belief in every single person on her team, and showing me how to navigate this industry with integrity.