Tip #1: “Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.”

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Victoria James, the beverage director at Cote Korean Steakhouse in New York City, is considered something of a prodigy in the restaurant industry. After landing her first job in a greasy-spoon diner in New Jersey at 13, becoming a certified sommelier at age 21, and landing a spot on Forbes’ 2018 30 Under 30 List at age 27, James is soaring to the top of a male-dominated industry. Last year, she even literally wrote the book on rosé, appropriately titled Drink Pink: A Celebration of Rosé. To find out how she got where she is now, we met up with James at Cote, where she shared her best career advice and gave us a tour of her wine cellar (psst...it’s painted pink!).

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How She Become a Sommelier at 21

James’s path into the wine industry is somewhat unexpected (she reports she grew up in a household where wine came in a box), but when she was bartending at age 18 or 19, she discovered a dusty old copy of Wine for Dummies. It was the first time she realized that beverage could hold a sense of place. From there, she decided to drop out of her psychology major at Fordham University and started taking wine courses with the Court of Master Sommeliers. After passing the test, she became a sommelier at Aureole in NYC at just 21. “It was a whirlwind year,” as James puts it—and she hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down since. Now the Beverage Director at Cote, she oversees a team of four sommeliers, determines the wine list, and is in charge of everything from wine, to spirits, to tea served at the restaurant.

Her Best Career Advice

James admits that the restaurant world is a male-dominated industry, and that it’s “not necessarily the most accepting.” Her advice for young women looking to enter into the field? “Work hard, just get out there. Travel to vineyards. Study as much as possible, and surround yourself with people that are smarter than you, and always, always be learning.”

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