Tahiirah Habibi - An award-winning sommelier & managed some of Miami’s best wine programs
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for 5 years now. I started Hue Society in 2017. Before that I had another company called Sipping Socials and I did wine events. My wine career started at the Wine School of Philadelphia. After graduating I moved to Miami in 2011 and opened the St. Regis Bal Harbour. I’ve also worked at Micheal’s Genuine and Baoli before working for myself. During that time, I was named one of South Florida’s Top Five Female Sommeliers which was an honor for sure but strange that it had to be separated. In 2017 I moved to Atlanta and launched Hue Society where I focus on diversity by creating access and education through community events and representation.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
My aha moment came in college. I was in a lot of leadership positions, including homecoming queen, so I was always at a reception or social event during my senior year at Penn State. I realized that I had to learn how to conduct myself in this world pretty quickly and wine was a big part of that. Being able to sip on a glass and hold a convo was a big deal for a kid like me having no prior association with it. I saw how people respected it, and it was cool. That’s how I got into wine.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
My favorite part is teaching women how to use wine as power. Helping people to feel comfortable is so rewarding to me. Wine can be intimidating, but giving them back their power, both personally or professionally, is the best part to me!
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
I can’t count how many times people have questioned if I was really a sommelier or not, or how many people would be shocked that I wrote that wine list they loved so much. I had the same experience as a floor somm or a wine director. I’ve even been sent away from a table and asked for my male counterpart to take over. You would think management would be able to handle something like that but you know, customer service first, right?
Women are victims of the patriarchy as well, and often are harder/more judgmental of other women as a result. How can we as women become more aware of our own prejudice towards each and change that behavior?
I’m a big fan of fixing another woman’s crown without letting everyone know it was crooked. A lot of the behavior we exhibit is due to the messaging we receive. We are brought up to believe other women are our competitors, like the next woman can take your spot. Comparison is the thief of joy. We need to be aware of the assumptions we pass onto each other and be genuinely happy for one another. Shyt- it’s hard out here for a pimp (haha). But seriously, what’s for you is for you, the next woman is not a threat to that... there’s no need to try to dim her light, thinking your will shine brighter.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
We are stronger together! Let them underestimate us, but we should never underestimate ourselves. Putting on the next woman just helps to break that glass ceiling. If I'm empowered and I don't empower you, have I achieved the real goal?
What changes do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I hope women in the wine profession are so normal we don’t need separate categories to ensure we are celebrated.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
I’d say to know that it will be tough, you may cry (and that’s ok), you may feel like you are being shut out or you don’t belong, but NEVER GIVE UP! Find a tribe and lean on your sisters. There’s nothing like going through a difficult journey and having someone who can relate to your pain and still lift you up. Also, competition is silly— there’s room for us all.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equality is having women, black and brown people and those with disabilities in decision-making positions. It shouldn’t be a fight to the top.
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I hope that I'm leaving a legacy. I hope that someone feels inspired by my story and my work and, from that, they go and create space for themselves and the next person. I am very intentional about representation, opening doors and removing blockers. Economic access and inclusion lead to equality and I’m creating that.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
I believe women have to have a strong sense of self, being grounded and being persistent. People will constantly try you in this industry (any industry really). You can’t let other people define your victories.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
Julia Coney is a favorite, she a OG! I love how bold and progressive she is. Jennifer McDonald of Jenny Dawn Cellars has such an amazing fearlessness which I admire. The things she’s doing in Wichita are incredible! Master Sommelier Emily Wines is part of the reason I’m a sommelier. She was so gracious in the early stages of my studying and I'm forever grateful. Sarah Pierre of 3 Parks Wine Shop is my spirit animal in this wine world for sure. We came up through our careers in similar circumstances. I have so much respect for her as a woman and a sommelier. There’s so many more but these are just a few.