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For decades, the wine space was dominated by men. Now, women are claiming their rightful seats at the sommelier table. In this series, meet the author and illustrator of a newly-published wine guide, say hello to Raider Nation's sommelier, and learn about the evolution of local women in wine

Crushing It

Aya Nomoto poses in a winery next to a few bottles of wine
Ronda Churchill
Ronda Churchill Photography
Aya Nomoto is photographed at French Cellar by Partage wine bar Wednesday, April 26, 2023, in Las Vegas. Photo by Ronda Churchill for Desert Companion

For the women of Las Vegas’ wine scene, it’s less snoot, more story

When Las Vegas began its gastronomic boom in the mid-1990s, a woman in the wine trade was harder to find than Dom Pérignon in a PT’s Tavern. Today there is no shortage of female tasters, sellers, and sommeliers ready to convert you to the world of Bacchus. You’re as likely to buy wine from a woman-owned online retailer such as Kelly Ford Lau’s as you are from a restaurant such as Ada’s Food + Wine, where lead sommelier Kat Thomas will guide you through an eclectic list of beautiful bottles from all over the map.

“When I started working in restaurants, I was immediately drawn to wine service as the most interesting part,” says Aya Nomoto, who trained at top Chicago restaurants before Breakthru Beverage brought her to Las Vegas 10 years ago to develop fine wine and sake accounts. Nomoto is astounded by how many female wine professionals have joined the ranks since she arrived but points out that most sommeliers are still salesmen. “They may be most of the somms,” she adds, “but 80 percent of the people in my tasting classes are women.”

Lau came up through the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration (now Hospitality) at UNLV and got her baptism-by-fire at the Bellagio during the early aughts, when it had the largest hotel wine program in the world. New Jersey-born Thomas rose through the ranks at Michael Mina and the Aria before moving off-Strip. Japan-born Nomoto uses her bilingual background to great advantage as the wine industry boom creates demand for knowledgeable international salespeople.

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Women aren’t necessarily better tasters than men, Nomoto says, but they are more detail-oriented and pick up more nuances. Local wine writer Marisa Finetti echoes this, saying she got hooked on wine by female sommeliers talking about it “not in a geeky or snooty way, but by telling me a story.”

Taken together, it all represents a shift in the wine world. “Women in wine in Las Vegas are a tight-knit community who really love what they do,” Finetti says. “It is much more than just a job to all of them.”