D.C. has a strong and growing community of women sommeliers. We’ll be highlighting these wine stewards each month in our new series Somm Talent. The first person we’ll be highlighting in this series is Erika Parjus who currently helms the wine program at Bottles Wine Garden in the West End.
Sommelier Erika Parjus finds some of her greatest inspiration in the same place most millennials arguably do: on Twitter. For Parjus, who just turned 26, the goal is for wine to feel approachable.
“Let’s be real. What 23-year-old who reads ‘kumquat’ as a tasting note is going to understand what that means?” she laughs.
Parjus was just 15 when she landed her first job in the hospitality industry at Spanish fast casual chain Cien Montaditos. Parjus worked in restaurants throughout high school, but swore that her life in the industry was over for good when she moved to D.C. for college in 2014. This declaration, however, proved to be short lived – just two days later, Parjus picked up a front-of-house role at Slate Wine Bar in Glover Park. Throughout college, Parjus held front-of-house positions at various notable establishments in the District.
“I remember being a server at Zaytinya when I was 19; guests would ask for wine recommendations and I was like ‘I have no idea. I legally cannot try any of it!’”
Parjus’s foray into the world of wine really began at RPM Italian in Mount Vernon, a restaurant known for its Italian-focused wine list. Parjus began as a “Cellar Master,” a position she describes as “a fancy title for what is essentially a stock room manager.”
Under the mentorship of wine director Nick Schulman, who saw her talent and potential, Parjus gained the kind of insight into the industry that most wine professionals usually pick up six to seven years into their careers. Only months into the position, Parjus’s role began to shift as her burgeoning wine knowledge allowed for more client-facing interactions. She eventually went on to get her Court of Master Sommelier Introductory Level One Certification in 2019 and began to split her time between managing the floor as a sommelier and alongside RPM’s beverage director.
It was during a stint at Boqueria that Parjus met some of her closest female peers in the wine industry – Alexa Jaenicke of Apero and Tail Up Goat’s Audrey Dowling, who were all working as hostesses at the time.
On D.C.’s network of women wine professionals, Parjus shares, “What I love about this community is that there are always new people coming in and everyone just immediately wants to bring them under their wing. We can all always count on each other to rally for one another.”
Earlier this year, Angie Duran, who Parjus first met while working at Centrolina in 2021, tapped Parjus for a new wine project at 2500 Penn. This past May, the pair opened Bottles Wine Garden, a casual wine bar in West End where Parjus serves as head sommelier. Duran encourages Parjus to always go with her gut, so it’s no surprise that the menu’s through line is Parjus’s wonderfully unpretentious ethos. Parjus is intent on sourcing biodynamic and sustainably made wines with an emphasis on female producers and sellers, but it’s in the tasting notes that her personality really shines through.
In lieu of the customary stuffy descriptors, you’ll find strings of emojis accompanied by cheeky quips like, “Yes, this is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Yes, it is bubbly. Yes, it is delicious and will change your life. Drink it; we wouldn’t put it by the glass if we didn’t love it”.
Parjus’s latest project is a charity dinner series collaboration with Ria Montes, the chef de cuisine at Estuary in the Conrad Hotel. Miss-En-Place, debuting August 30, will feature Filipino dishes by Montes paired with wines selected by Parjus, with the goal of debunking the common misconception that Asian food can only be paired with Riesling. Proceeds from the dinners will be donated to Indigenous Women Rising, an organization that advocates for Indigenous women’s health and safety.
When not working on these exciting new projects, Parjus can be found managing private collections at Domaine, a wine storage facility, or chatting with guests at Bottles where she insists that no question is too silly.
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