An interesting outcome of this highly unusual year has been my growing interest in individuals who are paving unique paths to success. At some point in TC’s recovery I was enlightened by the idea that getting our lives back doesn’t necessarily mean we have to return to life exactly as we knew it. Sometimes a catastrophic event provides us with the blank slate we need to make real changes in our lives, the type of change we might be too scared to pursue otherwise. I consider this mindset one of the “gifts” in this experience. I now understand that it’s never too late to do, create, believe, or change anything. The biggest obstacle we’re likely to encounter in our pursuits is ourselves. With that in mind, I have been paying extra attention to people who are carving out their own niches. I want to know what drives and inspires people to make big changes in their lives. What lessons can we learn from their bold actions? Today I will introduce you to one of these very people.

                                “We don’t swirl to be snobby,” 
                                                            -Alison Marriott, owner of Bon Vivant DC


After several years working in politics, most prominently on the 2008 Obama campaign, Alison Marriott decided it was time to call politics quits and pursue a calling that, until that point, had only been a hobby in her life. Alison and her husband Matt moved to Capitol Hill with the intention of doing what many Washingtonians aspire to do: change the world. For Alison this meant pursuing a master’s degree in politics or international relations. For Matt, it was a steadily climbing career as a stockbroker. These were the plans with which this pair of high school sweethearts set out after graduating college.

Before long, however, Alison and Matt were each met by their own crisis of heart. Both felt unsatisfied and overly stressed in their careers. As Alison simply puts it, “I realized I’d be happier doing what I loved.” Since leaving politics two years ago, she has gone on to work as a wine distributer and earlier this year Alison founded her own wine consulting company, Bon Vivant DC

So why wine? And for the French illiterate, what is a bon vivant

Alison’s speaks vivaciously as she explains her love affair with good wine. “The true definition of a bon vivant is a person having cultivated, refined, and sociable tastes, especially with respect to food and drink. I compare wine the most to art because it’s so subjective. Wine is tied to memories and experiences and celebrations. It truly can be a sacred act.” 

Alison’s refined wine palate can be partially attributed to growing up in a family of wine drinkers. As southerners, love was often expressed around the dinner table in the form of good food and good wine. These days she is the ultimate bon vivant, the graduate of a comprehensive education in wine growing and tasting that put my days as a Boone’s-Farm-drinking college freshman to shame (I wisely keep silent about my history with boxed wine).

But the work of a wine enthusiast is often associated with a degree of pretentiousness that can be intimidating to wine novices. I was curious to know how Alison helps beginners and mid-level winos like myself feel comfortable with the jargon and rules of proper wine tasting. On this note, Alison becomes very serious. “There are no stupid questions,” she insists. In fact, Alison loves questions. The joy she derives from her current work stems primarily from providing wine education to open, eager minded folks who have a budding interest in wine.

“We don’t swirl to be snobby,” Alison explains when I admit my own trepidation about “looking stupid” in front of more experienced wine drinkers. Patiently, she encourages me to give my glass a real swirl, allowing the wine to properly oxygenate. After we sniff, she dispels the advice that changes my relationship with wine forever: “Let the wine touch each part of your tongue before you swallow.” 

The result is magical. My glass of chablis suddenly tastes as if it’s been given new life and I find myself able to take in a dozen subtle flavors at once. I can’t believe how dynamic and rich the taste has instantly become.

One of Alison’s gifts as a wine connoisseur is helping people to find wines that most resonate with their palate. Among her tidbits of advice? “Try before you buy,” and “Try a little of everything.” According to Alison there are at least 50 wine tastings every weekend in D.C., many of which you can learn about by asking your local wine store (Schneider’s of Capitol HillP&C Market, and Chat’s are good places to start).

As skilled and knowledgeable as Alison is, the transition to starting her own business has not been without its challenges. In making the shift away from her intended career toward a lifelong passion, Alison says, “I felt superficial and selfish.” If not for a conversation with trusted friends, she may not have decided to make the leap at all. Instead, Alison was given a valuable piece of advice. “They told me, ‘We need more people to do what makes them happy in this world.'”

Still, something as major as a career shift can feel scary. These are the fears that too often hold people hostage in their own lives. But beneath them, Alison has identified an important, underlying truth: “Change is never comfortable,” she explains, “but it doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do… and it doesn’t mean there’s not a learning curve.”

Happiness can take many forms in our busy world. From overcoming a fear, to mastering a new skill, to finding success in something brand new, big risks often result in big payoffs. For Alison, her new career is a chance to put her passion into practice on a daily basis. And on those occasional days that she feels a tinge of worry she’s not contributing to world in the traditional sense, she remembers her friends’ advice and one very true statement: “Wine makes people happy. And drinking better wine makes people even more happy.”


Dining at Ambar (Capitol Hill’s new eatery), Alison chose this smooth sauvignon blanc from Moldova. Delish!

7 thoughts on “

  1. I too am a lover of good wine, mostly full-bodied reds. Another venue that holds great regular wine tastings is Bell Wine and Spirits, on M St, between 18th and 19th Sts, NW. I have learned about many good wines there. If you happen to be in that neighborhood, you just might time it right and happen upon one of their tastings.


    1. Haha, love it Amy! I’ve started a wine blog on my website, so if you have anything you’d like to see addressed, let me know! Love Annapolis, btw!


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