Interview With A Sommelier – Tonya Pitts

28th November 2023

Interview With A Sommelier Tonya Pitts

The World of Wine is beautifully showcased by an army of talented Sommeliers, who help the consumer discover their next favourite bottle, understand the different regions and pair a delicious meal with the right Glass of Bubbly.

In this feature, I speak with a woman who has helped many people to discover the vast world of Wines and Sparkling Wines, her name is Tonya Pitts, and let’s find out a bit about her life as a Sommelier.

Tell Us About Yourself

“I am currently the Sommelier and Wine Director at One Market Restaurant in San Francisco, CA. During the Pandemic, I started my own wine consulting business. I am still operating it while running the wine program at One Market. Recently, I was nominated and won The Wine Enthusist Wine Star Best Sommelier/Wine Director 2022. I was nominated in year 2021 as well. Also, I was one of several Sommelier’s celebrated in Ebony Magazines first annual Food and Wine Awards. I have been a sommelier and wine director for many decades in Northern California. I have always been a mentor and wine educator for my team and other professionals who have asked. Mentorship in the wine industry is very important to me. I had wonderful supportive mentors and it’s something I feel very strongly about passing on. It’s important to see someone who you can relate to in this position. It gives you hope and inspiration to try it for yourself.”

What Inspired You To Become A Sommelier?

“My first job was as a hostess in a French restaurant. The family meals at the end of the night were magical. They were filled with story telling about food and wine. While, I couldn’t drink I could listen. Then, one day I had the courage to pick up a glass, swirl and smell. The rest is history. I learned all I could about food and wine. I never saw it as a career for myself- I was a university student in a pre- law program. It wasn’t until I moved away and switched majors that I really tapped into my professional side with wine. I was urged by another female chef to take over the wine program at her restaurant. It was something I had not thought of for myself. I loved wine, it was definitely a passion but I didn’t see myself there. Frankly, it was something I wasn’t sure I wanted to do. There weren’t very many women nor people of color in the role of sommelier or wine director.”

During Your Time As A Sommelier, What’s The Most Surprising Thing You’ve Learnt?

“I have learned that food and wine crosses all barriers and it unites people. It creates community and strangers become friends who become family. I am always amazed by the structure and longevity of the liquid in side the bottle. I am always intrigued and curious about what is inside the glass. I am automatically pairing wine with food as soon as I taste it. I can’t help it. Then storing the information in my mind for another day as an example of such. I don’t play favorites when I am building a wine list, it’s all about the kitchen and the guests who walk in the door.”

How Often Do You Find Yourself Recommending English Sparkling Wine?

“Pre-pandemic, there were almost 1,000 selections on the One Market Restaurant wine list. We offered bubbles from around the world. One of my favorites and the selections were always readily available in California was Gusbourne Estate. I would alternate offering the Blanc de Blanc and Rose on the by the glass and in tasting menus. It was fun and interesting to pour the bubbles for guests who had never had English bubbles. Also, it was an opportunity to teach the guest if they were interested in learning more about bubbles. I even offered a summer wine school program for guests and I spent a week offering bubbles from around the globe.”

In Your Professional Opinion, Out Of Champagne And Prosecco, Which Do You Think Does A Better Job With Complementing A Meal?

“Both beverages have a seat at the table. It really depends on what is being offered. I am offering a special pairing of fried chicken with bubbles. Guess what, American Sparkling, Prosecco and Champagne are being offered as suggested pairings. It’s something I always offer but all the bubbles bring something special to the dish. I like the complexity of the different styles of bubbles and the uniqueness of pairing them with different textures, flavors and all sorts of proteins.”

What Advice Would You Give Inspiring Sommeliers?

“You never stop learning. Our palates and information are ever evolving and changing. Knowledge is power once you think you know everything it’s time to stop because we will never know everything. The world of wine is vast and we all have our specialities. That’s what makes us all unique in this industry of hospitality and wine. Also, if you fail a test, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. It happens to more people than you know. Keep trying, keep studying, keep striving, continue to drink wine, expand your palate and don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s a marathon not a race and you will achieve your goals in your own time.”

If You Sat Down For A Quiet Dinner, What Dish And Sparkling Wine Would You Choose To Enjoy Together?

“I am a purist in so many ways but these pairings made me rethink my usual or unusual offerings of Burgundy, Riesling, Gruner Veltliner and cool climate new world wines with fish and seafood dishes. Ultimate pairing and dinner companion, Toro sashimi and Champagne Louis Roederer Collection 243 and Champagne Louis Roederer Blanc de Blanc 2015- yes both on the table at the same time. These would ultimately be a symphony of textures, flavors and sensations across my palate. It’s really quite wonderful.”

Thank you, Tonya, for sharing your words, knowledge and experiences with us and we at Glass of Bubbly wish you the very best for the future!

Images belong to Tonya Pitts, Glass of Bubbly was granted permission to use them.

Oliver Walkey

Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.