On Becoming a Wine Entrepreneur Abroad: My Chat with Tanisha Townsend of Girl Meets Glass
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
Below is part three of my series on amplifying Black voices in the French wine industry and in French culture. I'm constantly looking for new people to chat with, so if you know someone who would be a fit for the series, let me know! I'd love to continue to amplify Black voices both now and in the future.
Tanisha Townsend is the woman I want to be when I grow up. She's the Chief Wine Officer of her own consultancy, Girl Meets Glass, a wine lifestyle and education agency. Now that's what I call a title and a business name! Based in Paris, France she creates wine and food pairing experiences for expats and tourists, hosts a wine podcast named Wine School Dropout, and teaches wine courses at a variety of universities in Paris. She aims to be both fun and educational, and a resource for English-speaking expats who find themselves new to French wine culture. Oh, and let's talk about all of her amazing certifications - she's passed the WSET Level 3, CSW, plus is Certified Specialist of Spirits AND a French Wine Scholar! Talk about #GOALS. I wish I had known Tanisha when I was studying abroad - it would have made my foray into French wine a whole lot easier!
Katie: What was THE WINE that got you into working in wine?
Tanisha: I don't remember the wine that actually sparked my curiosity in wine, just that it was from Maryland. But the wine that blew my mind and made me think I could actually have a career in wine was a Batard-Montrachet. It's a white Burgundy and I was drinking it in Burgundy. It's like a harp was playing in my mind when I tasted it. I was in the region with a group of wine educators studying with the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB). We were traveling through the region for a week, tasting, taking classes, walking through the vineyards, studying to become certified as Official Bourgogne Wine Educators.
KM: Where did you grow up in the U.S. and is your family into wine as well?
TT: I grew up in Chicago. My family are definitely not wine people! They still don't drink wine. My appreciation of it came around in my adult life.
KM: Did you learn French in school? What was the hardest part about learning the language?
TT: Nope! I took Spanish in high school and never used it. The hardest part is... everything! But seriously: conjugation and masculine/feminine. Why is this chair a boy or girl? As I started to focus more on French wines when I lived in the States, I took a couple of French courses in the evenings but nothing too serious. That didn't stop me from moving here though! My first visa was a student visa, [and while studying here] I enrolled full time in French classes. And tried to speak French every day. This is one thing I feel like that you can't rush. You can't necessarily study it more or cram - it takes time and tons of practice. You'd think being in Paris, I'd be immersed and practice opportunities would be all around me. Not really. Everyone isn't as excited to practice language as you may be, they aren't always helpful and patient as you try to search for your words or stumble or pronunciations.
KM: What was your first job in wine and how did you get to France from there?
TT: My first job was in wine marketing. I served samples of Bordeaux wines in grocery stores around DC and the surrounding county of Montgomery County, Maryland. France came years later I as learned more, completed more certifications, and taught wine courses at a university in Maryland. Actually, coming to France was a result of networking, a colleague I'd met some time earlier reached out to me and asked if I was interested in replacing her and teaching her wine classes at her school in Paris. I absolutely said yes and came over. This was technically my first job in wine in Paris. I later created tours of wine bars in the city and posted them online. Now I consider myself [many things]: 1) a wine educator, as I teach wine courses at universities in Paris, 2) a freelancer as I host a podcast, Wine School Dropout, create ebooks about where to drink/buy wine in Paris, write articles for online wine & spirits publications...and 3) probably a couple of other things that I'm forgetting.
KM: What's a fun upcoming project you are working on?
TT: I'm working on a wine bar guide for Paris, which will tell you where to go to get a good glass of wine, plus enjoy great atmosphere and stellar service. Oh - and I'll also be launching an educational YouTube channel - coming soon!
KM: What is your favorite French region or domaine?
TT: You're trying to get me into trouble here Katie! But whenever in doubt, I know I can select a wine from the Rhône Valley or Languedoc-Roussillon and be happy.
KM: Have you experienced racism in the French wine world, and has anything changed recently following the global black lives matter movement?
TT: I am all the minorities rolled into one in France - woman, black, and American! What could I possibly know about wine? But what has really saved me is the connections I've made in the industry. I definitely would not have gotten as far here if I didn't have other people introducing me, speaking up, teaching me the ropes, specificities of French wine regions and culture.
KM: Anything else about your professional experience you'd like me to add in?
TT: I'm the host of a wine podcast, it's small bites of wine info that you can use right away. Listen to Wine School Dropout podcast!
The next time you're in Paris, try attending one of Tanisha's courses or going on a walking tour of wine bars together - you can book them HERE. Stay in touch with all her adventures via Instagram @girlmeetsglass.