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Anna-Christina Cabrales: Unifying Somms Over Conversation

Anna-Christina Cabrales: Unifying Somms Over Conversation

Nelson Gerena

Anna-Christina Cabrales’s wine journey started “totally by accident.” Formerly a corporate project manager, Anna’s passion for food and cooking motivated her to look to a career change. 

Anna graduated from the Classic Culinary Arts program at the International Culinary Center and became enamored with wine; she returned to complete ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training program. Upon graduation, Anna worked briefly at the Food Network and Blue Hill at Stone Barn and eventually landed a position at Morrell & Company in NYC’s Rockefeller Center as an Assistant Sommelier. 

While at Morrell, Anna worked her way up to Beverage Director and General Manager and expanded the by-the-glass selection to more than 150 carefully-curated wines. In 2014, The World of Fine Wine voted Morrell Wine Bar’s list “Best By-the-Glass Wine List.” In 2015, Wine Spectator awarded the program, with well over 1,200 selections, the Best of Award of Excellence. 

Fast forward to 2020 and like many businesses, Morrell Wine Bar was forced to close due to the COVID pandemic. Finding herself out of work like most of her peers across the hospitality industry, Anna decided to focus her energy on connecting her fellow sommeliers and food and beverage professionals via social media. 

Over the past six months, Anna has become a driving force behind initiatives such as Sommation_live and Wine Unify—the latter provides financial and educational opportunities to underrepresented minorities. She has led dozens of discussions focused on a wide range of important and sometimes uncomfortable topics, including cultural appropriation, mental wellness, and personal finance. 

When asked what keeps her going, Anna replied, “I love this community so much. If I can make just one person feel good or give them something to look forward to, then it’s worth the effort.” 

In this installment of our “CHANGEMAKERS” series, Nelson Gerena sat down with Anna to learn more about her wine journey, the exciting initiatives she’s currently involved in, and her hopes for the future wine industry.

What was your “a-ha!” wine experience – the one that made you love wine or inspired you to get into the industry? 

This is such a funny question to me because my first “aha” wine is a category I don’t drink as much anymore. It was a bottle of ’82 Bertani Amarone that I had on a blind date. I think I was more interested in the wine than my date. And yes, there was a second date with the wine, not the guy… 

What is your all-time favorite Filipino food and wine pairing?

Lumpia Shanghai with Champagne, all day every day! My all-time favorite in general? Steamed (female) crabs and Krug. 

I know you’re a big fan of bubbles! If you could share a bottle of your favorite vintage Champagne with any three people, living or deceased, who would they be?

My mom, who I just recently realized, is where I get my palate. She didn’t know she loved Champagne either until I had her try Provost. Maggie Henriquez from Krug because I’m such a die-hard fan, and she’s beyond inspirational. And the third is a Chef Ludo Lefebvre who makes me laugh so hard and whose spirit I gravitate toward. He inspires me to work hard and laugh harder. 

Who have been the most influential individuals throughout of your wine journey?

Roberta Morrell former owner of Morrell Wine Co., Jeremy Noye of Morrell Wine Co., Rita Jamet of La Caravelle Champagne, Kathy Morgan MS, Dana Gaiser MS, just to name a few. I know I’m missing a boatload of people here.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your career to date?

I didn’t have any mentors to start. In fact, the person who was supposed to train me left on my second day of work. I was on my own to figure out not how to sink. There was no option to drown. 

You’ve been very busy over the past few months! Can you briefly tell us about the exciting initiatives you’ve been working on? 

How is it that now that I’m unemployed, I’ve been busier than ever? Two of the things I’ve realized about myself during this time are that I’m quite resourceful and love to connect similar people. I started my own project called #talkingwithmymouthfull, where I went live six days a week to interview everyone up and down the hospitality chain. By May, I changed this to what I have now called @sommation_live where I’ve roped in a few sommelier friends to build up their community and showcase how well-rounded we have to be in this profession. We cover all sorts of subjects beyond wine and have now grown to a group of ten! Apart from that, I serve as a mentor and board advisor for Wine Unify and still teach classes with the Sommelier Society of America—both virtually and in person. 

You recently wrapped up your four-part series ‘Reimagining the Language of Wine’ via Wine Unify. What would you say was your number one takeaway from these discussions? 

That the conversation comes back around full circle: we have to be hospitable towards each other. By learning and listening from each other, we build perspective and learn to appreciate each other. This is how we create an inclusive community. 

Wine Unify recently launched an awesome awards program. Can you briefly tell us about this effort? What’s the intent? And where can folks go to learn more and apply? 

Simply put, this is to welcome in individuals who want to come into the wine community. Ten awards will be awarded shortly. Here’s more info: https://www.wineunify.org/welcome

Thank you for all that you’re doing to be a champion of change in the wine industry. What are one or two actionable steps we can all take as individuals to help support diversity and inclusion in the wine industry?

Read, ask questions, and gain perspective. If you’re going to learn, don’t be so quick to talk, but ask. Remember you’re there to learn. Also, share events, wine, and opportunities with those that normally wouldn’t have access, especially if they were part of your restaurant team. 

What advice would you give the younger Anna just embarking on her career in wine? 

Believe in the energy that you bring to the table and you will build a community. 

What are your hopes for the future of the wine industry? 

I look forward to what ingenuity the future leaders of our industry will bring. My hope is that they’ll do “the right thing” and be thoughtful and authentic in their decisions moving forward. I can only hope that those decisions will lead to the community that we need.