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.
Tonya Pitts is a philanthropist, mentor, and globally recognized titan of the food and beverage industry. She is the sommelier and wine director for One Market Restaurant in San Francisco and was recently named Sommelier of the Year at Wine Enthusiast’s 2022 Wine Star Awards. Over the course of her decades-long career, Tonya has become known as the person who “catapults wineries, winemakers, and brands into the mainstream.” Her consultancy focuses on addressing social, environmental, and wellness concerns with wine brands and partnering with wineries to deliver tasting sessions for enthusiasts.
Tonya got her start working as a host during college in St. Louis, but after relocating to the Bay Area, a star was born: she landed jobs at Stars and Zuni Café, and after three years at Bizou she was running the wine program for Chef Loretta Keller. Tonya became a certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers and a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International. She joined One Market in 2008 and her diverse, dynamic programs have been racking up industry press and Wine Spectator awards ever since.
As a sommelier and wine director, Tonya manages a list of around 500 labels including women and BIPOC winemakers. With so many wines to curate (and even more tastes to consider), she has created a signature style that balances observation, expertise, and performance art. “A good sommelier is listening and paying attention to what the guest says,” Tonya says. “Trust is built, and you can give them what they want immediately or give them an ‘aha’ moment with something new.”
Tonya brings each bottle to life by unveiling the story behind it — the origins of the grapes, the personalization by the winemakers — during the uncorking process. Her tasting sessions and pairing suggestions are designed to give people a “transcendent and memorable experience” no matter where they may be on their wine journey. “You never know who is sitting in front of you as your guest,” she says. “You treat everyone the same with dignity and respect, and it all flows from there.”
Vast knowledge and an impressive CV aren’t the only reasons for Tonya’s superstar status; known as the “mama bear of the wine world,” she’s been a champion for diversity and inclusion in the industry before it was cool. When One Market expanded to include retail and art gallery space, Tonya established Women in Wine, a group by and for women to improve representation in the industry. Her efforts ultimately led to the launch of Tonya’s Summer Wine School, featuring varietals made by women.
Tonya is the proud product of mentorship from women chefs and restaurateurs, and she pays it forward by giving young women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people their deserved seat at the table. In 2016, she began a professorship with the University of San Francisco Hospitality Department, educating students on food and wine pairings. Tonya also leads the Bâtonnage hospitality mentorship program and is an ambassador and advisory board member for Wine Unify, a Napa Valley-based organization dedicated to mentoring those from marginalized communities who embark on education and careers in the wine industry. As a storied sommelier and wine expert, Tonya’s commitment to making change for the better serves as inspiration to a new, thriving generation of women in wine.