The Millennial Somm Bringing Melanin to #WineTok
Isis Daniel makes humorous yet educational videos for the uninitiated wine drinker.
If you’ve ever stumbled across #WineTok on TikTok, you’ve seen a relatively small mix of aficionados and professionals churning out humorous or educational videos. Isis Daniel does both while being far more approachable to the uninitiated wine drinker.
Known around the internet as The Millennial Somm, Daniel’s first wine was a cabernet sauvignon. As her love for wine grew, sommelier and founder of The Wine Suite Maia Parish reached out to Daniel’s mother, Valencia Daniel — a speaker, diversity trainer, and at the time, a popular Periscoper.
Parish encouraged Isis to take her passion to a professional level and look into courses and certifications. Taking these suggestions to heart, Isis started making #TastingThursdays videos on Instagram where she tried different wines, learning right along with her audience. She is now a Level two Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) wine professional, and far from finished with sharing everything she knows about wine.
Rising like Champagne bubbles
When the pandemic kept this 26-year-old vino connoisseur from her work at a local wine bar, she began to do happy hours with wineries to keep up these relationships while also helping them bridge a technological gap and connect to a new audience.
During this time, Isis was active on TikTok, but Instagram was the heart of her work. Starting in January, she began infusing her TikToks with her wine knowledge, and her following started gaining steam. Her videos often feel like a cool sister is putting you onto something fresh, but the breakout star of her TikTok is absolutely Mrs. Suzanne.
The fur-draped, pearl-clutching Mrs. Suzanne is a mix of fabulous women in Isis’ life, namely her pillar of support and guidance, Valencia — at least on the surface. The wine snob’s personality, however, comes from the many unknowledgeable customers she’s come across in her five years in the hospitality industry. She takes the glamor of this character and uses it to dismantle stereotypes about affluence yielding expertise in wine.
“One gentleman was smelling the cork and I just told him ‘you'll get more information if you actually smell and taste the wine,’” Isis says, recalling a patron with a common misconception about checking if the wine is corked...exclusively from the cork. “Even when I asked him why, he couldn't explain why, he just knows that he's seen it.”
There are some TikTokers who try to be fun and humorous, but it’s clear that this comes fairly naturally to Isis. Continuing the family legacy of effortless public speaking, her less scripted videos carry the same warmth and engagement as her sketches, and people are responding. At the beginning of the year, she had less than 700 followers on TikTok. Now, she has more than 115,000 followers and has blown past a million likes.
The glow up is for everyone
It’s not just the nitty-gritty about wine that enters Isis’ curriculum. She also often highlights a wide range of diversely-owned wineries, an important signal boost in an industry struggling to be more inclusive. In a survey of 3,100 professionals in the alcohol industry at large, SevenFifty found 84 percent of respondents were white; in California, only 14 percent of lead winemakers are women; and there are only three Black Master Sommeliers in the world.
“As a Black woman in this industry, obviously I want to see myself, but there are not only Black and white people in America,” Isis remarks after, honestly, rattling off a more intersectional demographic list than I posed in my question. “We are so many different shades, so many different preferences, so many different palates...That's the key the industry has to understand, that if we are going to survive then we have to pivot we have to include everyone.”
On the consumer side, she often champions the importance of pairing wine with food, paying special consideration to how different dishes can completely change the way you feel about a certain varietal. With French cuisine still dominating how many people think about wine pairings, different cultural contexts can transform wine drinker’s expectations.
She also completely rejects the moscato to cabernet sauvignon pipeline many new (and veteran!) wine drinkers think they need to adhere to in order to be taken seriously. Surveys often find Black people, women especially, skew towards these sweeter wines and their maligned reputation can create an intimidating barrier to entry. Isis advocates pairing sweet wines with desserts for the staunch, dry wine crowd while encouraging sweet wine lovers to keep going back to their rieslings.
“I'm now focusing on preparing the next generation of wine lovers,” Isis says. “I'm all about demystifying and allowing the next generation to walk confidently in their wine preference.”