Six years ago, a friend invited Wanda Mann ES’89 to lunch with a prominent winemaker from Argentina. “It was the first time that I sat across the table from a winemaker and learned about their process and passion,” she said. “I was fascinated and from that moment on I wanted to learn as much as I could.” She began taking classes and going to as many wine tastings that she could fit in her calendar. Her interest in wine soon became incorporated into her popular lifestyle bog “The Black Dress Traveler,” originally intended to be a creative outlet as a general lifestyle blog for close friends and family. It’s the place where she shares everything from how to properly drink champagne with wine importer Alice Loubaton to picking the perfect baguette with Eric Kayser of Maison Kayser. (You need the perfect baguette to serve with some Côtes du Rhône Red et frommage, n’est-ce pas?)
“I always get uncomfortable when people refer to me as a wine expert because wine is very humbling,” she said. “It is a lifelong study and I have no regrets about devoting so much of my time to wine. Sometimes the travel is grueling. And it is important to find balance so that I don’t neglect my relationships and health.” While wine may be humbling, Wanda is the epitome of modesty with respect to the level she’s reached in her career. Wanda earned the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) credential from the Society of Wine Educators, a rigorous exam that tests a candidate's wine knowledge and mastery of key elements within the worlds of viticulture and wine production with topics ranging from physiology of taste to wine’s contribution to health, this certification is widely recognized and regarded by the international wine and spirits industry.
Travel is another of her passions, and she loves learning about a place through local winemakers and chefs. Her travel often brings her to places where she doesn’t speak the language. Because of SYA those experiences are exhilarating, not intimidating. “I find that I adapt very easily. I drink wonderful wine, travel the world meeting the people who make wine and have the honor of sharing what I learn with my readers,” Wanda said.
She has traveled with her ever-growing collection of little black dresses (and many other colors) to numerous wine regions, including Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and Argentina. In 2017, Wanda served as a judge at the Napoli Wine Challenge at the Vitigno Italia wine festival in Naples. Also in 2017, she was inducted as a cavaliere into the il Sovrano e Nobilissimo Ordine dell’Amarone e del Recioto. One of her most cherished wine moments happened a few years ago when she attended a wine tasting with a highly-acclaimed winemaker. Wanda said, “Several prominent wine writers were in attendance and I was certainly the rookie in the group. After the tasting, I received an e-mail from the winemaker telling me how impressed he was with my observations and that I had a real talent. It was a humbling and gratifying moment.”
With a less-than-traditional career path, Wanda credits SYA for nurturing her resolve to follow her passions and not let others dictate her choices. “SYA has been one of the most influential experiences of my life. Even as a little girl, I had a strong fascination with Spain. SYA made that dream came true,” she said. “The year that I spent in Barcelona, as a nerdy sixteen-year-old, boosted my confidence and showed me that I was more fearless than I imagined. SYA was such a positive experience that I actually spent my junior year of college in Spain!”
She’s found recognition in the wine industry by creating her own platform and doing it her own way. She’s been quoted in several leading magazines and syndicated on The Daily Meal and featured in this “StainMaster Story” on Better Homes & Gardens website. “Is it perfect? No. Is it authentic? Yes,” Wanda said. “If you wait to be perfect, you’ll never get anything done. We’re all works in progress. Sometimes the pursuit of perfection is a crutch that inhibits us from taking that first step towards our dreams.” Her advice? “Just go for it. I’ve made mistakes along the way that made me stronger. And I’m sure I’ll make mistakes in the future. Mistakes don’t scare me, they strengthen me.”
Her philosophy is that wine is more than a beverage: it is history, art, geography, science and culture. "Never boring, there is always something new to learn about wine. Wine is a bridge to knowledge and also a bridge to communication. I really believe that so many of the world’s problems could be solved if people shared a bottle of wine together. Why not make everyday a celebration with a beautiful glass of wine?" says Wanda.
About Wanda Mann ES’89
A native New Yorker with a strong Southern heritage — and the daughter of a professional chef — food and wine have always been an integral part of Wanda’s roots. She attended SYA as a junior from Phillips Academy (MA) and graduated from Pomona College majoring in anthropology and culture studies. She is a blogger and a Certified Wine Specialist. Follow her: Blog, Twitter and Instagram.
- Featured Alumni