“You Don’t Need to Know a Lot about Wine to Enjoy It!”

If Tanisha Townsend has her way, the multitude of pleasures inherent to wine – producing, tasting, and sharing – will one day be free of judgement and accessible to all. Through teaching, writing, and her Wine School Dropout podcast, the Chicago native, adopted Parisian, and Girl Meets Glass founder is committed to that mission. Along the way, she is positioning herself as a crucial voice not only to foreign wine consumers but to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) wine professionals in the making.

France-Amérique: You had a previous life in IT and cybersecurity in the U.S. before shifting to wine full-time. What was it about the wine industry that made you certain it was the right career move?

Tanisha Townsend: I knew I was getting into the right industry because I kept getting opportunities to travel, taste, attend events, and learn – all opportunities that weren’t presenting themselves to me in IT, an industry I had been part of for years. When I was accepted into the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne’s wine educator program, I was able to come to Burgundy to study for a week before I even had any wine certifications! This was the game-changing moment when I knew the industry would offer roles well beyond that of a sommelier or winemaker, and that I could really make my mark.

The wine industry remains very insular and male-dominated, particularly in France. How have you made a place for yourself despite persistent imbalances?

I made a lot of connections through networking events, conferences, and seminars in Europe before I carved out my niche. Since I was in another country, I made it a point to attend as many as I could. In France specifically, the community is still very hard to break into and I don’t think I’m there yet. But my reach is broader: I teach the market of wine, international business, and import-export at several universities, largely to French students. But the online audience for my wine content is made up of expats. Wine producers and vignerons love that because it’s been a missing piece for some of them. Once I figured out that this was my strong suit, I was able to thrive.

There are people who love wine but couldn’t fathom speaking about it or getting more involved because it feels inaccessible. What do you think the barriers around wine have been and how are you working to break them down?

Mainly that people think they need to know a lot about it to enjoy it; that you must be able to speak at length about tasting profiles and regions to enjoy wine. My take: You don’t! If someone wants to drink a gin and tonic, they don’t stress over the tasting notes or whether there are hints of citrus or lavender. They just drink the gin! When I speak to people about wine, I tell them that I want them to walk away from the experience with a couple of sentences they can use to order wine in a restaurant or wine shop. A few words around taste, flavor, and what food they plan to pair it with will go a long way.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about a particular wine or wine region since you’ve been living and working in France?

I’m surprised by how much terroir really affects wine. How the soil, temperature, rainfall, and sunlight impact one vineyard in one way, yet the vineyard directly across the road, so to speak, can also taste different because of these very same factors. It’s through living in France and having the opportunity to taste a lot of wines and visit all the wine regions that I was able to really wrap my mind around the specificity of terroir.

The second season of your podcast, Wine School Dropout, highlighted stories of BIPOC individuals working in wine around the world. What did you take away from their experiences?

There is so much more diversity in the industry than consumers realize! And there are so many different paths of entry into wine. Between the internet and social media, there are jobs that exist now that didn’t five years ago. To work in wine isn’t just as a sommelier or winemaker. Those discussions also demonstrated that while we didn’t have someone to look up to in the industry before getting involved, we’re committed to being that person for the future wine professionals of the world.

Can you share a few of your go-to tasting tips?

Hold the wine in your mouth for a few seconds before you swallow it. Really think about what you’re tasting; how the wine feels on your tongue. Think about the fruits, spices, or floral aromas you get from the wine. If you don’t like something, think about why! Ask yourself what it is that you don’t like. Going forward, this will help you to pick a great wine for yourself every single time.

Interview published in the October 2021 issue of France-AmériqueSubscribe to the magazine.