Today’s post is a chat with Wanda Mann of Black Dress Traveler. I met Wanda about five years ago through a mutual friend. In the intervening years, I’ve seen Wanda everywhere in the wine world and have come to appreciate her craft and her joy in what she’s doing.
1. How did you get into the wine business?
I consider myself a wine aficionado who won’t stop talking about it! I love wine and have found great joy in sharing what I learn with my readers. Writing has been a lifetime passion and several years ago I became fascinated by all of the captivating stories in the wine world. I’m honored that my readers are traveling on this wine journey with me. My father was a classically trained chef and he greatly influenced my interest in wine and food.
2. Your handle is black dress traveler, are you interested in fashion? Do you always wear a black dress?
When I first started my blog, The Black Dress Traveler, in 2008 it was a lifestyle blog that also featured fashion and beauty. But once I started writing about wine, it felt so natural and invigorating, writing about lipstick and fashion couldn’t compare. I don’t wear a black dress every day but I do believe the little black dress is a timeless and universal symbol for classic elegance and I always bring a LBD when I visit wine regions.
3. With the consumer in mind, what do think are the essentials for making a convincing article?
Consumers don’t want to be talked down to and made to feel bad for what they don’t know. Information needs to be presented in a way that is conversational and relatable. My readers also seem to share my interest in learning about winemakers and how their philosophy and approach influence what’s in the bottle.
4. What has been the hardest part of the wine business for you in terms of gender issues, if any?
When I first started, the wine writers scene in NYC was dominated by traditional print media and many of the gatekeepers were older men. When relatively young women bloggers like myself started having a bigger presence at important industry events, you could sense some skepticism from some of the more established male wine writers. But there is a very strong support system amongst women in the wine world and the smart men recognize that we are an indispensable part of this business. When women succeed, everyone benefits.
5. What trends and changes have you seen since you started? What do you see happening in the next 5-10 years in your sector of the business?
Social media has been a major game changer in the wine business. It isn’t enough to write a great article, I have to spend a great deal of time selecting the perfect photos and crafting catchy captions for Instagram and other social media platforms. But the beauty of social media is that it really expands the reach of my message and provides great insight into current trends. For example, I think a great part of the rise of rosé wines can be attributed to how beautiful those glasses of pink wine look in social media photos.
6. Where are women going to be in the industry in the next 10 years?
Women will continue to be important influencers. I’m excited by all of the young women entering the industry now as writers, sommeliers, publicists, retailers, importers, and winemakers. I think that in ten years it won’t be as shocking to see women in these powerful roles.
7. What are you currently interested in? Does Spain or Italy really have your heart?
As my first love, Spain will always be very special to me. I lived in Barcelona for a year when I was 16 and another year in Toledo (near Madrid) in my 20’s. That time in Spain planted the seed for my understanding that wine is more than a beverage but art, a cultural legacy, and something that brings people together. Italy is one of the most captivating places that I’ve ever visited and the wines never cease to amaze me. Don’t make me choose, I love them both!
8. Do you think wine education is essential even for those writing about wine?
Absolutely! But I think that there are many ways to pursue wine education. Like many in the wine industry, I’m primarily an autodidact. I try to learn as much as possible by attending tastings, reading, and talking to others. But as a writer, I wanted to make sure that I had a good foundation in the essentials of wine and I opted to pursue the Certified Specialist of Wine credential from the Society of Wine Educations. The day I passed the exam was one of the happiest in my professional life. Having that core of knowledge has helped me tremendously in my writing. Education is always a good thing and writers should find the path that works best for them. We don’t all want or need to be Masters of Wine but knowledge is a powerful tool.
9. Who is the average wine drinker today? What do they care about?
Wine drinkers today are represented by every social demographic and that is so exciting. People who never had a serious interest in wine are suddenly obsessed and I love it. I think they care about branching out of their comfort zone and love discovering new regions and new wines. They want to visit the wineries, touch the grapes, meet the winemaker. People are not viewing wine as a product but a lifestyle.
10. What secrets can you share about pairing wines with food?
Drink what you like with what you like BUT don’t be afraid to shake things up a bit. For example, Champagne has been put on a pedestal as a wine that is reserved for toasting special occasions. But Champagne can also be fun and if you’ve never had Champagne with perfectly crispy and salty French Fries, you’re missing out!
11. What is going on with sustainability? Do organics matter to you and your readers?
People do care about sustainability and organics because I think no one wants to drink a wine where the workers and vineyards were overly exposed to pesticides and chemicals. It is fantastic that more and more winemakers are making planet-friendly processes an important part of their winemaking.
12. Any thoughts on state of diversity in wine world?
In many ways, the wine world has been a reflection of society at large. We’re living in a time where women and people of color are making great strides in the industry but there’s still a great deal of work to be done. Perhaps one day people won’t be surprised to see someone like me, an African-American woman, with a passion for wine and a growing presence in the industry. Women and people of color are important consumers of wine and should have a seat at the table as wine professionals also. Wine is for everyone.