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