Sommeliers are the highly qualified, expertly trained professionals who curate wine lists, make pairing recommendations and pop up tableside to answer your burning questions about vineyards, varietals and everything in between. In our Somm-One You Should Know series, we’re introducing you to a handful of incredible women who’ve made this business their business.
Laura Fiorvanti is a restaurateur, Master Sommelier, and co-founder of Corkbuzz, a series of education-focused wine bars in New York City. As one of just 25 female Master Sommeliers in the world, Laura’s passion lies in paying it forward and energizing a new, more inclusive generation of sommeliers.
Laura developed a taste for hospitality at an early age. Raised in part by her grandmother in Bayside, Queens, Laura was often tasked with working the room at Sunday suppers — she poured drinks, collected coats, and brewed after-dinner espressos for her grandmother’s guests. “The art of hospitality exists in a home before a restaurant, and I think the passion for it comes from your [desire] to take care of people, which is what she did,” Laura says of her Grandma Rose. “I knew that I wanted to own a restaurant because I wanted to recreate that.”
That innate desire to serve people led Laura to get her start in food and wine. After earning a degree in hotel and restaurant management, she moved to Manhattan and worked as a bartender at the BR Guest restaurant Ruby Foo’s. Laura soon zeroed in on wine, working her way up to become a sommelier at Blue Fin, another BR Guest eatery. She was 21 years old, just legally able to drink the wine she was pouring. By 25, Laura was named partner and wine and spirits director for the group, overseeing wine lists for its 20 restaurants around the country.
Things came full circle in 2011, when Laura opened the first Corkbuzz location alongside her co-founder Frank Vafier — who also happens to be Grandma Rose’s son. Together, they created a unique atmosphere that combines the relaxed vibe of a wine bar with the educational opportunities of a wine school. Corkbuzz offers “an approachable yet varied selection of wines from the classical to the esoteric” and a rotating seasonal menu of small plates designed to complement the flavors. Corkbuzz’s tightly-knit team of sommeliers host public and private classes, trade dinners, and seminars both virtually and IRL. “Everyone can learn about wine,” says Laura.
Laura is a regular contributor to industry publications like Food & Wine and The New York Times and has been named one of Wine Enthusiast’s Top 40 Tastemakers Under 40 and Sommelier/Beverage Director of the Year. She’s also brought her talent and expertise to the screen, being featured in documentary series like Somm 3, Blind Tasting Sessions, and Legends of the Vine.
In addition to taking pride in her work, Laura isn’t afraid to take a stand. In 2020, she resigned from the Court of Master Sommeliers in the wake of sexual harassment, abuse, and discrimination allegations within the esteemed wine organization. “The Court’s inability to be an inclusive, proactive organization that represents and protects all its members is unacceptable to me.” Laura said at the time. She was one of several women to pledge their solidarity with the survivors.
“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” says Laura. “You only have one name in this business, so protect it, do the right thing even when no one is watching and have integrity.”
Laura’s dedication to her craft and her commitment to making wine accessible and inclusive have made her one of the most respected and influential figures in the wine industry. Her legacy at Corkbuzz will undoubtedly continue to pay homage to her beloved grandmother, and inspire (and educate!) wine lovers for years to come.
You can follow Laura via Instagram.