The days are gone when the drinks industry was exclusively a boys club. Today, more women are on the front lines of crafting, blending and selling spirits, beer and wine. And why wouldn’t they? Women have a keener sense of smell than men, a valuable asset in the food and beverage business. Meet two in Miami — one a craft brewer, the other a sommelier — who are paving the way for others to follow.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Maria Cabre is a woman of few words, probably because she is busy juggling multiple brewing tasks on any given day. The morning INDULGE caught up with her at J. Wakefield Brewery in Wynwood, she was on the production line, filling up bottles of the latest batch of beer.
She’s dressed like she’s headed to the gym, donning sneakers, gray leggings and a black tank top with neon pink and teal print aptly proclaiming, “The Thirst Is Real.” Giant stainless steel tanks watch over her as she fills bottle after bottle with the grace and precision of an Olympic synchronized swimmer, not a chip on her onyx and gold nails sparkling with rhinestones.
Cabre has been a part of J. Wakefield since it lived as an idea in owner John Wakefield’s mind. Cabre wasn’t much of a beer connoisseur back then. She’d worked as a pastry chef in some of Miami’s best kitchens and, with a child on the way, was seeking a change in pace. She thought a bakery might work with her schedule but couldn’t find one at the time. When a mutual friend suggested she meet Wakefield to talk beer, she gave it a shot. The two instantly hit it off.
STARTED AS A KEG WASHER
J. Wakefield opened December 2014, its brewpub in January 2015. While Cabre had started to learn how to brew in Wakefield’s house before opening, her first role in Miami’s only independently owned brewery was washing kegs. The staff consisted of three people: Cabre, Wakefield and an assistant brewer who helped out.
“One day the assistant brewer wasn’t assisting and brewing, and I saw that John needed help, so I just started asking questions.”
From there it was a rapid rise. She went from assistant brewer to brewer to her current position of head brewer and brewery operations manager.
“It kind of happened very quickly, but I guess John saw the motivation in me and the want to do this.”
Today, she’s clearly comfortable among the equipment, beer, men and malty-sweet smell characteristic of her workplace. Her job is multifaceted and includes ordering ingredients, planning the brew schedule, assisting with some of the recipe writing and organizing the brewery’s annual festival, which draws more than 140 breweries worldwide. She also travels to breweries to learn or collaborate on unique brews.
“They love craft beer over in Sweden, so we just went there for a really cool event,” she said.
Being a woman in a male-dominated industry has only propelled her to perform her best. When asked if she has felt any pushback from her male counterparts, Cabre doesn’t hesitate with her response: “If anything, I’ve found that the men have elevated me more than the women.”
Women, she explained, are befuddled upon learning what she does. But Cabre’s passion quickly helps them come around. “It’s not really a challenge,” she said, it’s more about breaking the expectations.”
Allison Slute is well-spoken, intelligent and really nice (spoiler: she’s Canadian), but it’s her spirited laugh that will first draw you in. The daughter of a bus driver (mom) and a truck driver (dad), Slute, who serves as national sales director for The Hirsch Collection, did not grow up in a household infatuated with wine. Her passion was a byproduct of something else.
“It was really in university that I started to get interested in wine, because I love to eat.”
It would take a few years for her to find her way in the wine industry. She entered the workplace at one of Canada’s largest banks, thinking it was a logical and safe choice for employment. The only snag was that she was miserable.
“I hit that mid-20s crisis, like, ‘I have 40 more years of work to go? There’s no way I’m doing this.’”
Around the same time, a woman walked into her branch in need of refinancing her mortgage. “She sat down, started looking at me and was like, ‘You don’t look happy,’” Slute remembered. Refinancing talk was put on hold as the women chatted about better career options for Slute.
ICE WINE TO HOT MIAMI
She began down the wine path and in 2007 landed a position at a family-run winery in the Niagara region that produced ice wine. Slute earned her sommelier certification and stayed with the company for eight years.
“I loved it,” she said. “I was traveling all over the place. To see the global wine market and how it is so different in every single country, it’s super fascinating.”
A relationship led her to Miami in 2015, and Slute began working for a PR firm that represented several European wines. She met Michael Hirsch, an Atlanta-based wine professional who founded The Hirsch Collection and offered Slute a job.
“He basically, out of nowhere, spilled the beans that he was opening his own import company and wanted me on board,” she said.
The Hirsch Collection started its portfolio in 2017 with Old World wines, mostly from France and Italy, that weren’t widely known by North American consumers.
“All of our estates are family businesses that have been around for ever and ever that for the most part have never been represented in the United States,” Slute said.
REACHING OUR POTENTIAL
She serves as the company’s foot soldier, spreading the word by knocking on doors, handing out her business card and opening bottles. Her first client was Michael’s Genuine, where she had been a patron for years. Now her roster includes local favorites like Alter, Amara at Paraiso, Stanzione 87, Macchialina and Casa Tua Cucina.
Slute said she’s found more roadblocks educating Miami about wine than succeeding in the beverage industry as a woman.
“We are well behind some other cities as far as wine is concerned,” she said. “You see a lot more rum and tequila and cocktails.”
Despite that challenge, and perhaps because of it, Slute remains smitten with the Magic City.
“I intend to stay,” she said. “There are some amazing things happening in the food scene here. We have a lot of potential in the industry, to grow and become a destination for people who love food and wine.”