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Wine Enthusiast Podcast: Why Expanding Wine Education is Essential for a More Inclusive Industry

Certification programs can be a great experience for those who want to learn more about wine. However, to make wine more accessible, the wine community has been questioning traditional educational programs as they currently are.

With pricey courses and curriculum rooted in Eurocentric language, are certification programs creating barriers in the industry? Will expanding how we view education remove some of those barriers? I sat down with Layla Schlack and Larissa Dubose to discuss the wine education landscape.

Schlack is award-winning writer and editor and writer at large at Wine Enthusiast and Dubose is a wine educator and National Director of Beverages for airport concessionaire Paradies Lagardère’s Dining Division.

Wine certification programs are widely available, including at Wine Enthusiast. “The benefit of certification programs is to provide the student with a large amount of information on all aspects of wine, including tasting, within an organized and education-based framework,” says Marshall Tilden III, chief revenue and education officer at Wine Enthusiast. Tilden oversees the certification program at the company.

“Programs need to be sensitive not to limit how that information is communicated so they are as inclusive as possible, particularly as it pertains to describing wine,” Tilden adds. “While the goal for many programs is to maintain a universal language to describe wine so that anyone and everyone can understand, I welcome any way in which we can make that language as accessible and relatable as possible to everyone who chooses to put forth the effort to learn it.

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Episode Transcript

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.

Speakers: Layla Schlack, Larissa DuBose, Jacy Topps

Jacy Topps  00:08

Hello, and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast podcast. You’re serving drinks culture, and the people who drive it. I’m Jacy Topps. This week we’re taking a look at wine education. Certification programs can be a really great experience for those who want to learn more about wine. Speaking of, here at Wine Enthusiast, we offer our own certification program.

Jacy Topps  00:31

However, in an effort to make wine more accessible, the wine community has been questioning traditional education programs as they currently are. Are certification programs creating barriers in the industry? Will expanding how we view education remove some of those barriers. I sat down with Layla Schlack and Larissa DuBose to discuss the wine education landscape. Layla is an award winning writer and editor and Larissa is a certified sommelier, and wine educator. So listen on, as we examine the relevancy of certification programs, why expanding education can lead to diverse perspectives, especially in wine media, and how certification programs could be contributing to the elitist, oftentimes problematic language surrounding wine.

Jacy Topps  01:26

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Jacy Topps  02:37

Hello, I’m Jacy Tops. My first guest today is Layla Schlack. An award winning writer and editor Layla is an editor at Whetstone media and wine reviewer and writer at large here at Wine Enthusiast. Before working at Whetstone, she worked here as managing print editor. Welcome, Layla. I’m so happy to have you today.

Layla Schlack  02:57

Thank you. I’m so happy to be here. Thanks for having me. So this isn’t

Jacy Topps  03:01

your first appearance on the Wine Enthusiast podcast. But for newer listeners, can you tell us a little bit about your wine journey and how you got into wine?

Layla Schlack  03:11

Sure, I actually was not trying to get into wine. I’ve been editing magazines for about 15 years, and I’ve done travel magazines, and I’ve done food magazines. And you know, I was applying for jobs and Wine Enthusiast came up. And I always liked wine. And I was kind of an adventurous drinker. And I kind of ended up being the default person who would pick a bottle for the table when I went out for dinner, that sort of thing. But I had no formal education and kind of limited in formal education but because Wine Enthusiast also covered to travel and food and because I had all of this print magazine experience, they took a chance on me. And so I came in, you know, editing those topics that I knew better. And obviously through working on the magazine, I learned a lot just from being in the office. But then I also did some W set training as well.

Jacy Topps  04:01

Okay, I’m actually that person at the dinner table to where everyone wants, like, Oh, who’s gonna work the bottle of wine, it’s gonna be JC so you do have some certification.

Layla Schlack  04:14

I have passed levels one and two of W set and I completed the coursework for level three and then just kind of haven’t gotten around to completing the exam, which is terrible and I I guess I probably should but on the other hand, I’m I don’t have plans to pursue a W cet diploma. So to me, I feel like I got what I needed from the course by learning the coursework and I still have those materials, and I’m less concerned about the certification than the knowledge.

Jacy Topps  04:44

Okay, so why did you decide to pursue certification in the beginning?

Layla Schlack  04:51

So I think when you’re new to the wine world, like I was, I would go to advance and dinners and things and people would assume that I knew a lot about wine. And for me, the more I learned about wine, the more I feel like well, I’ll never know everything, there’s just a lot to know. And it’s changing a lot. But I wanted some formal education so that when I was in those situations, I would know the language. And I would just feel a little bit more confident being parts of conversations with people who were M W’s. And Ms has and had had further certification and deeper knowledge than I did. I think, with any sort of niche interest learning the vocabulary can take you a long way in terms of kind of feeling confident and feeling like you belong there.

Jacy Topps  05:33

Okay, so you were actually questioned about your credentials, when you would go to these events,

Layla Schlack  05:40

I wasn’t questioned about my credentials so much is that it would just be kind of, in the course of conversation, people would be talking about wine and winemaking and, and regions and bottles and vintages and I didn’t have I didn’t feel like I had anything to contribute. I was nervous that somebody would ask me a question that I couldn’t answer, like, this was all kind of informal dinner table sort of stuff. It wasn’t like anyone was grilling me. It was much more again, just about wanting to feel confident in my place there and, and be able to be a part of those conversations and being able to, you know, share a little tidbit of information about that sub appellation that everyone’s talking about right now.

Jacy Topps  06:20

So just for a little background for our you know, for the listeners, I wanted to talk to Layla, for a media and editorial perspective. Because, you know, it’s through food and beverage media that consumers become familiar with wine language and pairings and trends and are introduced to producers. So why media wields a lot of power? And so I just had some questions. And I wanted to kind of delve deeper with into wines, modification and media. So Leila, do you think that when it caught like, you’ve worked as an editor and you’ve commissioned pieces to freelance writers, there are people who are formally trained who are certified and people who aren’t formally trained? Do you think that matters? Or Or should it matter, or didn’t matter when you commissioned pieces?

Layla Schlack  07:11

I will say that when I commissioned a piece, I was not asking any writers if they had training or what their certification level was, you know, some people put it in their email signature. But beyond that, and some people would come up when I googled them. But beyond that, it wasn’t particularly something I was screaming for I was I was much more interested in the story ideas they were pitching, but kind of philosophically speaking, I think it’s super important to have a mix. Like I definitely felt, before I had any sort of formal wine training, that I was an asset as an enthusiast who did not have the training, because I could say, hey, maybe we should define this term in this story, because I don’t know it. And I think it’s important to have to think about who your readership is, and to have editorial contributors who sort of mirror that. So, in Wine Enthusiast, a lot of the times we’re speaking to the trade, and we’re speaking to people who know a lot, and so we don’t want to do any stories that are going to seem overly simple to them that that are going to seem overly obvious to them. On the other hand, we do have a lot of readers who are just starting there, to learn about wine, even casually even to become the person who orders for the table. And we don’t want to intimidate them either. So and then there’s a whole range in between there. And so I think the best way to kind of speak to all of those readers is to have also contributors who fall along that spectrum contributors who are just learning about wine and stumble upon a great story or have some, you know, related area of expertise, like food or like agriculture, like travel, as well as people who are deeply entrenched in the wine world know, all the players know, all the terms can get really granular and geeky if we need them to and then arrange in between as well.

Jacy Topps  09:00

Yeah, I agree with that. And so do you feel that that’s the same as far as the actual editorial staff? Who the publication is hiring? Who is sitting at the table and making decisions?

Layla Schlack  09:13

Um, you know, I kind of do, yeah. I think that when you’re in a room with everyone who has the same sort of education level, it’s very easy for those folks to lose sight of what questions someone might have, who just, you know, stops into their local big box store once or twice a month to pick up a bottle for friends and doesn’t want to pick up something bad. Like, I think the editorial staff for sure should kind of reflect. I mean, the editorial staff should know wine for sure, more so than maybe freelancers need to and certainly more so than readers need to but they shouldn’t be so interested. The entire staff shouldn’t be so entrenched that they lose sight of those more casual readers or those newer readers and what questions they might have and what in from Question they might find useful.

Jacy Topps  10:01

Yeah, I agree. And I, you know, my personal background is, I was a bartender at high end hotels for like over a decade. So, I am not certified in wine, but I do know the language. And I do have the confidence in and having conversations at events. But I’m always asked when I go to events, you know, or tastings or trainings, well, what is your background? What are your credentials? Who made you the expert? And then I explained to them what my training is. But that’s still not good enough for that. It’s like, well, oh, well, I think you should check out, you know, this, this training, and I’m like, Well, I’ve already had my training. And I just kind of feel like, like, why is my training considered less than, as opposed to someone who’s certified? I don’t think that’s right. And I don’t think that’s, I think that’s where wine becomes too exclusive. And exclusionary?

Layla Schlack  11:03

Yeah, I agree with that. And I would argue that, in fact that, although you don’t have certification, you have, again, that kind of finger on the pulse of like, how are people drinking? What are they looking for? What questions were they asking you? And that’s really, really valuable in forming the stories that you both write and edit.

Jacy Topps  11:21

Yeah, I agree. I mean, like, I had to sell these bottles to consumers. So it’s a very different I mean, consumers aren’t really interested in soil composition. They’re interested in what’s going to pair with their food. And I think that, you know, but I’m never I’m never at that point where I’m like, Well, you know, this training doesn’t mean anything. I think that’s just, it’s the wine industry has a long way to go in as far as like accepting other to other forms of training.

Layla Schlack  11:50

Yeah, I would agree with that. And I, you know, I think that something happens with wine specifically, where sometimes when people are just very enthusiastic, they don’t really know how to express that without turning it into like, it’s kind of throwing facts at you and quizzing you, because they’re just excited to talk about it. And obviously, that’s not what’s happening all the time. There is still a fair amount of elitism in the wine industry. And certainly, for both of us, as women, for you, as a black woman, like, there are definitely settings in the wine world where we’re going to be either taken less seriously or ignored completely. I actually prefer the ladder if I have to choose but and I don’t know, actually that education would fix that. I don’t I wonder if you know, if you said yes, actually, I have a W set diploma with those people say, Well, then why didn’t you go after an MW like, I don’t know. Yeah, how much of it is about the training? And how much of it is just about kind of moving goalposts?

Jacy Topps  12:50

Yeah. Yeah, I kind of agree with that as well. Because I mean, also, like now I’m, you know, I’m going to wine trips, and I’m going to dinners and, you know, these are kind of glamorous dinners and lunches. But the point of these are training, I’m training, I’m on the I’m training on the job. So I’m learning new things every day. So I think that is a form of education as well,

Layla Schlack  13:14

Very much. So yeah. And, and again, to go back to those readers in those consumers who are newer to wine, a lot of them their first contact with any sort of wine education is going to be something like an in store tasting. So again, when you’re having these experiences where you’re tasting with someone in the trade, rather than sitting in a classroom, that’s going to more closely mirror your readers experience.

Jacy Topps  13:39

Right. And I do want to kind of get away from, you know, the idea that formal education is the default. Because I mean, formal education in this country has been a privilege, especially to people of color. And I think that when you start saying it’s the default, or that’s the must or Oh, requirements, then that’s a very slippery slope. That’s, I feel like that that’s gatekeeping in the industry.

Layla Schlack  14:05

Yeah. I mean, I think it’s not reasonable to expect every single person who’s interested in the wine industry to pay for those education programs out of pocket. You know, it’s not usually a situation where somebody’s saying, Oh, well, I can get my MS instead of my bachelor’s degree, right. Like, it’s not like these are technical schools, where you’re asking people to put up money that’s gonna kind of set them up for life. This is fundamentally asking people to pay hundreds or 1000s of dollars for Yes, something related to their career in a lot of cases, although I would argue that in those cases, it should be their employers paying for the education which was, which was the case for me Wine Enthusiast did pay for the W set training that I received. But you know, if somebody is a freelance writer, if somebody is writing newsletters, if somebody is is, you know, pouring demos, if anywhere in between like, I don’t think it’s reasonable to say, Well, why didn’t you devote this many hours and this much money to this to this program?

Jacy Topps  15:13

Yeah, you know, I really would want I want for this industry for not to matter. Or I want I want, I want basically, for any industry, including this industry, where certifications, or degrees aren’t attached to your value. I think that’s kind of what boils my blood about the whole thing. It’s like it’s certifications and degrees, you know, in this industry and other industries, kind of, it’s attached to your value. And I don’t think that’s right, I think there’s a lot more than, you know, than a certification, which is great to have, if that’s what you want. But you you can offer a lot more to the industry than that.

Layla Schlack  15:55

Yeah. And I also I think that the type of education that you are doing, and that I did do and still do sometimes with these tastings and master classes, I don’t think that’s less her than like I, I think saying that, you know, these formal certificate and diploma programs are the only way is kind of like saying, it’s not like saying everyone needs a college degree, even it’s saying everyone needs to be an English major, right? Because these are, they’re structured in a very specific ways. So you come away understanding wine and a very specific way, that’s different than you do if you’re if you have a service background, if you have a hobby background, like if you’re someone who’s looking at Wine more from the perspective of what tastes good to me, and will taste good with this dinner I’m making tonight. Yeah,

Jacy Topps  16:43

I think both are valuable. We need both. Yeah, both are valuable in both bring perspective, it’s just that only one is valued more. And I think that that’s the wrong perspective. And that’s the wrong point of view.

Layla Schlack  16:57

Yeah, I completely agree with that. And it’s, it’s disappointing that that’s kind of still the case. You know, I think, I think the wine industry has, obviously still has a long ways to go. But I started at Wine Enthusiast in 2016. And those seven years, I’ve seen some pretty big shifts in, you know, who gets attention, who, in the national media who’s kind of welcomed into the wine world, in terms of representation, but there is still this baseline of you need to demonstrate a level of seriousness, you need to demonstrate that you can afford to be here, you know, like, it’s it, the education taps into all of those things. It’s saying, I’m someone who, again, could spend all this money and could dedicate all this time to learning the soil type of of every, you know, of every crew and burgundy. And, and I would love to, I would love to learn the soil type of every crew in Burgundy. I’m not knocking that at all. But well, first of all, I personally would have trouble retaining it. And second, it’s not something that has ever been manageable for me in terms of my time, even if I could get financial support for it.

Jacy Topps  18:11

Yeah, yeah. 100%. I mean, it’s super time consuming. Yeah. So as you know, you’re also a wine reviewer, for Wine Enthusiast, and has your certification training come in handy when it comes to reviewing wines.

Layla Schlack  18:32

I will say that this is both from from WSET. And again, just from working at Wine Enthusiast that, you know, the biggest revelation to me about wine reviewing and quality assessment is it’s so much based on structure. And so I think, just kind of learning, you know, deductive tasting, and how to talk about things like texture and structure to a wine had been enormously helpful in terms of writing reviews. That said, I think, I think a lot of people still just want to know, like, does it taste like cherries or strawberries? Like, I think that my background in food has been maybe equally important, because I can talk about flavors, and I can talk I can imagine what flavors will pair well together. And so usually when I’m tasting wine, the first place my brain goes is what would this pair with and that does involve both, you know, textures, structure stuff, and tasting flavor notes that are present. And so it’s mostly right like the the formal training and also just kind of being immersed in Wine Enthusiast is just that reminder to say like when you’re assessing quality, remember to bear in mind these structural components like body and length and intensity and complexity and all of this and not just talk about you know what you want to drink this wine with?

Jacy Topps  19:50

Right? Yeah. 100% one final question, Leila. When you’re relaxing. What’s in your glass? What do drinking these days

Layla Schlack  20:01

Oh gosh I would most things i i kind of change it up all the time but you know I I’m a I’m a cool climate sort of drinker I drink a lot of Alsace Riesling Of course. And while we are in this sort of shoulder season allergy time of year for me, I’m drinking a fair amount of bubbles. I’m drinking some crema dal, SAS and then just some kind of funky pet gnats because I find that bubbles help clear up my allergies which is completely unscientific and definitely

Jacy Topps  20:38

review. That’s awesome. Leila, thank you so much for joining us and talking with us today.

Layla Schlack  20:47

Thank you for having me. It was great talking to you.

Jacy Topps  20:55

You You’re invited to a unique opportunity to travel through South America without ever leaving New York City. Join Wine Enthusiast on Thursday, May 4 2023. In the Georgia room at the free hand hotel for an exclusive wine tasting event. With authentic food and live music. You’ll have the chance to taste wines from nearly 50 of the best wineries in South America. All serving 90 plus point wine. Explore the flavors of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and beyond in one unforgettable evening. Don’t miss out on this incredible experience. Book your tickets now and get ready to savor the flavors of South America. Use promo code we podcast 20 WEPODC a s t two zero to get $20 off at Wine Enthusiast, sip events.com Hi, welcome back to our discussion about wine certification programs. My next guest is Larissa boats. Larissa is the National Director of beverages for parodies lager there, I hope I pronounced that correctly. Dining division, as well as the founder and the resident wine Educator of the lotus and the vines. She’s also one of Wine Enthusiast. 2022 future 40 tastemakers. Welcome, Larissa, thank you so much for joining us today.

Larissa DuBose  22:29

Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Jacy Topps  22:32

So a little background, I would love to hear about your wine journey. How did you get into wine professionally?

Larissa DuBose  22:41

When we were talking about this conversation, there’s just so many layers, the layers and the layers, right? I got into this industry. Ironically, it was around this time, 13 years ago. So I will tell you that today is actually the anniversary of my mom’s heavenly entrance. And it was maybe about a week prior that I found out that I got the job to be an on premise sales representative. And I remember that being the last time that she was really, truly engaged with us, she had breast cancer, and it had continued to get worse. And so at that point, you know, we knew that we didn’t have a ton of time. But when I got the job offer, I remember we were all in the car. And we were all like yay. And she passed away a few days later. And I know that she passed away a few days later now because she knew I was going to be okay. My mom was a fighter. And she did everything she wanted to do up until her very last breath. And so I’m very excited. I thought it was very apropos to have a conversation like this with you today on her anniversary. So I got into this industry at a very dark space in my life. I was literally trying to figure out how I was going to make it through without my mother, my best friend, my calf and my everything. And this industry embrace me when I originally started in the industry. This is back in 2010. I was on premise and working in PG County, which is outside of the Washington DC area. And at that point, I was dealing with more spirits in what we will call house wine accounts. There I eventually, you know, started to learn more. This is actually where my wine education journey began. It began honestly working with the distributor that if you chose to use they would really invest in your wine education. And so it started there. Fast forward to 2012 I had an incentive trip that allowed us to go to Napa and Sonoma for the first time. And that was when I officially got the wine bug, the stuff that I had been reading about in the books and the pictures and everything in between. I finally got to put boots on the ground and experience it and see it and I remember there was this moment at a winery and we He climbed up this hill. It was at the top of the hill that you could see the Russian River meandering through the property. And it was just this glorious moment. And I shed what we call a glory tear. You know what the glory tear is that one tear. Like, this is a very trip, let me not ugly cry in front of all of us for, you know, my colleagues. But I just had this moment where it all came together. And I remember thinking, your mom’s really proud of you right now riff, you know, and so I knew at that point, I didn’t know what wine was going to be in my career. But I knew that it was going to be a significant point in my career at some point. And that’s really how it started. So 2012 is when I had that aha moment. And then fast forward, my husband and I moved to Atlanta in 2014. That’s how I got into the supplier side of the business working for a Napa Napa Valley Wine company as a sales manager, regional sales manager. And I pretty much stayed in that space of the supplier, regional sales manager space, up until my new role that will be a year next month with parodies Lagardere as their national beverage director. So I went from the outside and came back in. I did the reverse. Oh, yeah. Well,

Jacy Topps  26:14

congratulations on the year. And thank you so much for sharing that story with us. And now it’s, I know, that’s really hard to talk about sometimes. Yeah, it’s an amazing story.

Larissa DuBose  26:25

And I feel good about it.

Jacy Topps  26:34

So, um, so you are certified. Can you tell us? What exactly are your certifications and wine?

Larissa DuBose  26:42

Okay. So start out with my first major certification, I’ll say I had some certifications through the distributor that I worked with in Maryland, but unfortunately, at the time, they just didn’t have the more global credibility, if you will. So my first globally recognized certification is through the Society of wine educators, that’s the certified specialist of wine. I am level three with the Wine Spirits, Education Trust. I am a certified sommelier for the court of Master Sommeliers. And through the wine scholars guild, I completed their master level for champagne.


Yeah, yes.

Jacy Topps  27:26

So how are your experiences in these programs? I mean, like, why did you choose to become certified? Or was it a choice? Was that something that you chose? Or was it employer mandated? How does that work?

Larissa DuBose  27:38

It was something I chose. And this is one of those layered questions because each different certification pulled something out of me, triggered, challenging, whatever the case might be, right? These exams were not necessarily easy, but I learned something about myself each time. And I really learned to get out of my own way, right. Imposter syndrome is something that I work through daily, and I am hell bent on ensuring that my daughter who’s seven, will not work through the same things that I work through on a day to day. And I will say that there were times during my different courses where that imposter syndrome would light up a bit. And I’ve come to learn that imposter syndrome is not necessarily a me thing. It’s somebody that never knew or expected to see someone that looked like me walk in a room and show knowledge and show, you know, whatever is needed, that they just didn’t expect. They project something on me, they have to ask that that superduper hard question that Aha, that actually moment, right. And that’s a projection and it’s reflection on them. But the way that I’m built, I always internalized it right. And so there were definitely pockets of time we’re going through these different certifications would allow that impostor syndrome to flare up. So that being said, I chose this life. It wasn’t a corporate mandate. I chose violence. You know, like I went through WSD at level three answer to find the same year. I don’t know I just I chose violence that year as a newer mom and everything in between a wife and a professional. Everything that was going on that year. I chose to do that. But I did it because I had a goal in mind. Specifically, going back to 2017, it really dawned on me that when I’m looking around the room, when we go to these trade shows these tastings, these wine events, when I do the when at the time when I was you know leading wine dinners and going to these fancy, fancy shmancy country clubs, I kept realizing that I’m the only one in the room and I didn’t like it. I wanted there to be more people that look like me in the room. So in 2017 I I remember having very having several conversations with some black wine professionals. And I like and what I kind of like I felt like I saw in the future. I’m like, There’s a wave happening with wine and wine etiquette and wine knowledge. And I likened it to like the travel noir movement right now, Instagram, social media, everybody’s traveling and posting their content, right? It’s a huge wave, you didn’t see a ton of that specifically with black wine professionals in the wine world. And I figured, well, why can’t I start talking about wine and just sharing the little bit that I know, to be able to give those little, you know, snippets and clips and clues to help more people that look like me feel comfortable. And so in that realization, I said, Well, I got to study to show myself approved, I can’t be out here, just speaking foolishness and craziness. Because wine is factual. You can really say a lot of things that are wrong and mislead people. And I never wanted to do that. So that’s why for me, the certifications were really, really important. The certifications, were going to help me as a professional, because when I came to Atlanta, and I went to the supplier side of the business, I realized I’m like, well, if I’m supposed to be the professional that knows about these wines in these regions, I gotta up my game a bit. And so that’s what really led me to go after certified specialist of wine. Because when I moved to Atlanta, that was a certification that I saw with the distributor that I worked with. So as a supplier, we work with distributor managers, sales reps, the like, and we go on what we call ride weights. And so I would be the one that would get in the car with a sales rep, obviously, pre COVID. And we would go from account to account and I would be the one to really die do a deeper dive into the whys in my portfolio, that then what the sales representative would normally do on a day to day. And I realized that you know what, this will make me a more credible sales professional. But ultimately, for the lotus and the vines and the platform that I was building, I wanted to be able to ensure that whatever I was putting out there was factual and that I was really helping people in that misleading them. And so fast forward from 2015 to 2017. That’s when I’m like, Well, you know, what else is out there? So I really started to look into widespread Education Trust, I started to look at to the court of Master Sommeliers just to see what you know, what those look like, and what particular paths, you know, I’ve studied that was, and you know, my crazy self decided, well, let me just try both. See which one’s right. You know, court of Master Sommeliers is very theory driven. Now, excuse me is very service driven, of course, you have to have the theory in the tasting as well. Whereas WSD t tends to be more theory driven. And so at some point during level two in the intro course, for certified ws at level two in the intro course for certified, I realized that, well, if I’m going to do WSU at level three, my theory will be point four, if I decide to go after certified for the quarter Master Sommeliers. So that’s how I wound up doing to sort of two pretty significant certifications within a year. And that’s really what the background of it was, like, I’ve for my lotus in the vines platform, wanted to make sure that I was giving plenty of good quality information. And then from a professional side, I wanted to make sure that if I’m going to be going into an account, I want to speak like I know what I’m talking about, I want to speak with confidence. And I want to speak factually. And so that was the catalyst for me really going after my certifications.

Jacy Topps  33:34

Wow, that I mean, kudos to you.

Larissa DuBose  33:40

Not for the faint of heart, that

Jacy Topps  33:44

cannot handle.

Larissa DuBose  33:47

I give all I give all the appreciation to my family, they truly, truly hold me down and support me with all my crazy ideas. And yeah, doing all of that in 2018 was, you know, a lot.

Jacy Topps  34:00

Well, I mean, and I like what you said about impostor syndrome, you know, like that really does affect and impact everybody that every industry not just wine, right? I mean, you’re gonna lism like everything. So. But so and you know, formal education and training really does have a place in wine industry. It can be a great thing. Like you said, there are factual things right. There are things to learn wine regions and grapes and soil composition and fermentation. But I think there’s been a lot of conversation as far as formal training and not being so inclusive. And I think that’s been in kind of in conjunction with language, and how in the language that is taught in formal training, is their exclusionary language and why do you feel those exclusionary language and wine I don’t know

Larissa DuBose  34:58

if I’d say exclusionary? I I just say that it needs to broaden. Right. So, you know, look at it from this perspective, like when we talk about from an a flavor profile for Cabernet Sauvignon, right? So, BlackBerry, black fruits are typically where we’re going to go when we’re talking about Cabernet when we’re talking about the fruit components of a wine. So that being said, you know, BlackBerry, black, cherry, you know, blue fruits, all those things those, most individuals should have at some point in life experience those, right. So that’s necessary from a factual stance, I think where the area of opportunity is when it comes to the current curriculums that are out there is that we need to begin expanding that vocabulary. Right. So, you know, if I smell something and I think about sorrow, which is, you know, a Caribbean drink that is made from hibiscus, the hibiscus flower, am I wrong? I’m not know. Right? But that’s not on, you know, that’s not on a grid. However, you know, there are other fruits that I can get from that as well that are more I guess, kind of across the gamut. So really, when it comes to for me, the key is really expanding the vocabulary and from the understanding like I joked about this last year on social media. Yeah, I never I just had a gooseberry honestly, like two three months ago for the first time gooseberry is a term is a is a fruit that I just didn’t grow up around and many people in you know, my culture in my, my circle of the world just weren’t exposed to gooseberry. But that’s such a signature aroma and note when it comes to Savio Blanc, so what did I do? I ordered gooseberry extract off of Amazon. Oh, I’m like, I’ve never had a gooseberry. Let me at least smell it. So if I’m gonna use it, I’m not using I’m not using it in the wrong context. Right, like, girl girl, gooseberry? And this why? What are you talking about? You’ve never even had one. So I can’t I don’t know, the last time I’ve had a current. But these are terms and notes and flavors and aromas that are you know, a part of grids. And so I think that there’s a great opportunity to really begin to expand that comp to expand those those descriptors so that it is more inclusive to individuals that come from not Eurocentric parts of the world. So that’s really what it is for me.

Jacy Topps  37:29

That’s so right on. It’s that so right on forest floor. So, you know, like, as a reviewer for my, you know, for Wine Enthusiast myself, I just, you know, I understand that these reviews are for consumers, you know, like when you will consumer walks in, and they see it, you know, a rating Great, okay, and they read the review, who wants to hear that they’re wanting smells like forest floor. And even, you know, like, even if that may be a positive thing to the everyday consumer. That’s let me pair my meatloaf with forest floor. I don’t understand why that’s

Larissa DuBose  38:15

okay, from that perspective, I totally get it. Yes. That’s exclusionary. You’re not making me want to try this as an everyday consumer. Yes.

Jacy Topps  38:25

Even if like you smell that, and this reviewer and I’m not saying they don’t because their lawsuit, you know, like, it’s, it’s very subjective. Right. Why

Jacy Topps  38:32

would you write that? Because it’s a review is supposed to pay for a consumer. Yeah. So

Jacy Topps  38:38

I just, I’m, I was confused by that. When I read certain reviews. You know, no offense, was written that

Larissa DuBose  38:48

despite like, instead of forest floor, like maybe like a wet fall day, right when you walk outside, and those leaves are starting to really start to break down and it’s the fresh rain, and so you have that kind of that mustiness,

Jacy Topps  39:01

that’s more. That’s what we, you know, like, we’re laughing and we’re joking about it, but I feel like it’s supposed to be approachable. And I think that’s what the industry is missing the accessibility and approachability that comes in language. Absolutely. That’s just my opinion.

Larissa DuBose  39:26

I am right there with you. It’s hilarious. But yeah, that makes sense to me. Well, I

Jacy Topps  39:32

mean, so as people in wine are these conversations started in the training programs, like how do we get to the point where these training programs are listening to us and our expanding language and wine and are making wine more approachable?

Larissa DuBose  39:52

That’s another great question. I there’s a few things that come around it right. So when we think about certifications and as a wine for Professional and if they’re necessary, right? So they’re not have unless you have tenure. If you have tenure in this industry, then you you can completely be a knowledgeable and know a lot. Why professional and successful in this industry. This is the issue. And this is where the area of opportunity is in the gap is, when we’re looking at it from a, the newcomers and our, you know, our bipoc community, many individuals are just now getting our you know, seeing interest because there’s representation that wasn’t there before, you can’t be what you can’t see is what we say all the time. Right? So wow, I saw this individual, whether it was on social media, this article, I read, whatever, I saw them on TV on the news, wow, I didn’t even realize this was a space that I could exist and thrive in. How do I get started, it’s very hard to be new in the industry without a certification, right. And so there is an interesting dynamic there. When it comes to we there’s there’s, again, layers, all the layers to this, right. So when it comes to the training, and the curriculums, at some point, they are going to have to listen because you know, the room is changing. And as the room changes, those voices are going to speak up because they have to win because they should, right. And so but this is also a ship, and ships don’t turn very quickly, chips move very slowly. So I know that there are organizations that are you know, doing the work to, if nothing else, like increase the diversity within their, you know, their curriculums in their organizations. And then from there, that’s when you really start to have these authentic conversations about changing the narrative when it comes to one language. And so then you have the other side of you have these communities that are popping up all over the country, right, where we’re getting together as BiPAC individuals, and we’re creating that language together, right. And so because this is a newer thought process, whereas before, it was always well, this is the wine language, this is what it is. It just is what it is. Now, these communities are coming up all over the place that are saying, well, if we’re all together on one accord, and we’re you know, we’re smelling these wines, we’re tasting these wines. And what we’re sharing is factual because it’s coming from our experiences. And now you have strength in numbers, because you have like, I would have never got that note when I’m smelling a wine. And I see you across the table, throwing a note out there that I would have never even turned on. Had you not said it, but you just unlocked the core memory for me. We know that there’s this is something that’s real. And so these communities now begin to come into these certifications and take these certifications. From there, that conversation again, is introduced. And I it’s there’s no end all be all answer. But I know that the work is beginning. And I know that there’s so much more to be done. But I’ll be really honest and say I don’t see this being like a something that’ll happen within the next year or two. Right? This is a ongoing conversation that will take some time and I don’t do I actually the the virtual patience is something that I pray for every day. I think what keeps me motivated is that no, I don’t see the shift yet when it comes to certifications, changing the notes and that are necessary for to qualify to get a point for a wine tasting. However, I genuinely believe that the work that we’re all trying to do right now will by the time my daughter is a legal drinking age. This will this won’t even be a conversation, right. So that’s what keeps me motivated. I definitely don’t want it to be that many years before we see significant change. But I do believe that by the time she’s a legal age to drink, that the change will have come.

Jacy Topps  44:03

I love your optimism. It’s wonderful.

Larissa DuBose  44:05

I’m trying. She’s you know, with an app that’s being very honest. She’s the one. She’s the one that I do this for. I mean, you can look at the last three years, the last three crazy years. And while we’ve seen a lot of strides in our industry, there’s still a lot of work to do. There’s still a lot of gaps. There’s still a lot of disparity. And it’s really frustrating. It’s really easy to get weary in well doing. But I look at her and I know that this work will pay off that I know that it’s beyond optimism is radical, it’s radical hope like I believe it with my whole heart and being

Jacy Topps  44:46

so as far as you know, like there are some restaurants and publications and other companies and wine where certifications are required or like they are Highly like they highly want to be certified. How do you feel about that? I mean, like, what if you are trained in wine other ways? I mean, me personally, I spent 10 years behind the bar selling wine to consumers. So so I’m not certified. But that I feel like that doesn’t mean that my training is less than but I know there are many in the industry that do. So how do you feel about requiring certifications

Larissa DuBose  45:29

requiring it is a slippery slope, because it’s like you said, and I mentioned it earlier, you do not have to have certifications to be a successful mining professional, you have to have the tenure, right? To get the to get the big job, the tenure has to be there, right. I know, individuals without wind certifications that could tuck me under the table when it comes to wine. Right. So the other side of that is, if you’re going to require that I have some type of certification to get in the door, then the expectation is that you should be covering my desire to continue my education, right. So many companies, you know, won’t cover your certifications, even if even though excuse me, you desiring to learn more, you desiring to you know, up your your knowledge level makes you a better professional. And they benefit from that, right. So there’s two sides of it. I don’t like the whole idea of requirement, the requirement thing is, it’s a slippery slope, and you open yourself up to a lot of side, I honestly, the reality is, is there are a lot of professionals out there that don’t have a certification, don’t need a certification, and will do amazing things. The other side of it is, like I said before, for somebody that’s newer in the industry, that’s where those certifications are helpful. Because if you didn’t have 10 years selling wine to somebody, then you have to have something as a foundation. And that’s kind of this weird balance that we have happening right now. Because there is an influx of individuals that want to get into the wind space, but you have to have some type of foundation in order to get into the door, right? Unless you really want to start from the ground up and get tenure, but tenure takes time. So it’s like, do you want to ramp up real quick? Why certification will help you ramp up the tenure? It’s there? It’s available, but it’s gonna take time?

Jacy Topps  47:25

Yeah, I agree with that. I think that there’s many different ways to, to be trained. And yeah, that, you know, certifications take money. And it’s also time consuming. And you know, what happens if you decided that you wanted to be in wine at 40? You know, you have a family you have I mean? So a lot of people don’t have time or the money to go into formal certification. Does that mean they don’t deserve to be in wine if they’ve had training as a server? Or, you know, so I think that’s like you said, it’s a slippery slope and I and I agree, it’s a very slippery slope. So I just have one final question for you. When you decide to sit down after a hard day’s work, and open a bottle what’s in your glass? What are you drinking?

Larissa DuBose  48:20

More than likely, it’s something bubbly sparkling wine, champagne is my love language. I definitely would drink champagne every day if my budget allowed that. However, you and I both know that there are amazing sparkling wines from all over the world that fit the bill just as well. And so yeah, I believe that bubbles should be enjoyed anytime a good day a bad day a no day and in between day, you should celebrate you should celebrate life is short. You know life is short celebrate you deserve there’s a song that lives in my head rent free called I deserve and I sing it. But it’s usually going to be bubbles. If it’s not bubbles, it’ll more than likely be a Rosae my everyday drinking wine is you know, light. easy drinking, not too much thought that has to go into it. I just want something that’s a I won’t. Porch pounder is such an overused term at this point. But I hang out with the patio slippers and the porch founders after a long day.

Jacy Topps  49:29

On that note, Larissa, thank you so much for joining us.


Thank you. Oh, I’m

Larissa DuBose  49:35

so happy to have this conversation with you. Thank you so much. Thank you for all that you do, and I can’t wait to see you in person one day. Hopefully. I’m gonna hug you real good.

Jacy Topps  49:47

I grew up in Atlanta, so I definitely

Larissa DuBose  49:52

let me know let me know. Awesome. Thank you so much, my dear. I’ll talk to you soon.

Jacy Topps  50:01

Why and certification programs do have their place within the educational landscape. However, given that the current vocabulary curriculum is rooted in Eurocentric language, maybe it’s time the industry stopped thinking those programs are the only way to learn about why. As the wine community continues to grow and become more diverse, so should the educational landscape. What are your thoughts? If you liked today’s episode, we’d love to read your reviews and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out to remember, you can subscribe to this podcast on Apple, Google, Spotify and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. You can also go to wine mag.com backslash podcast for more episodes and transcripts. I’m JC Tapps. Thanks for listening.