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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Erin White: Priestess of Pairing

by Blair "B-Rex" Loup

Erin White, sommelier at August in New Orleans
Erin White, sommelier at August in New Orleans
You know that moment when you tell a customer, “If it makes you feel any better, I used to be a man,” because they said they'd prefer wine suggestions from a male sommelier instead? No?

Well, maybe not, but James Beard Award nominated sommelier at John Besh’s August Erin White does.

After over 30 years in the industry choosing and serving wines to some of the culinary world’s most A-list celebrities, Erin is an absolute authority on wine.

The job of a sommelier is one that takes great skill. The ability to pair wines perfectly across each dish and at the right price point for each customer is a dream few dare to chase.

If you watch the documentary ‘Somm’ you’ll learn that the journey through different levels of certifications can leave those that attempt it burnt out and alone.

While some choose to make wine their life, Erin chose to make wine a part of her life; she calls it the “earn and learn,” an approach that started with working at a wine bar, eventually getting an assistant sommelier position, and ultimately landing her where she is today.

At this point in her life, Erin has her priorities in line.

She rides her bike to the restaurant, works long hours on the restaurant floor and in the wine cellar, and then takes home August’s bite-sized, heavenly pralines to her security guard so he’ll let her swim laps in the pool in her building after hours.

“My philosophies about life are very much like my philosophies about wine. I think things need to keep a balance. I think your life needs to be balanced for any sort of longevity,” she said.

There were times in the beginning of her career where she wasn’t given the freedom to exercise that balance. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Erin explained maître d’hôtels wanted nothing to do with women in fine dining. She was forced to work ridiculous hours with no time off throughout her pregnancy and early stages of motherhood to simply earn the right to come to work every day.

Today, she has astounding relationships with Executive Chef Todd Pulsinelli and Pasty Chef Kelly Fields that foster true collaboration.

When talking about her love for wine, Erin said, “If you make a list of all of the things I love, it all incorporates into wine. There’s an artistic sense of color, fragrance, food, cooking, and people; for me, it all kind of funneled into one category.”

This post is part of a monthly series spotlighting Louisiana women in the business of booze. Previous features include: