Chief Normal Wine Person, Wine for Normal People
Hailing from New York, Elizabeth Schneider lived in Boston and the U.S. Virgin Islands before heading south for business school at UNC Chapel Hill. Eventually, her husband’s job brought her to Atlanta, where she now resides in Morningside. Schneider founded her blog and podcast, Wine for Normal People, in 2009 in the hopes of demystifying wine. She’s also a certified sommelier and consults with restaurants around the country on which wines they should serve.
What was your job before becoming a wine expert?
I worked at Reebok in Boston for a little over a year doing busy work that almost made my brain fall out. Then I had a great job at Forrester Research in Cambridge. They are a high-tech strategy and market research firm. My time there ruined me for corporate life forever—no better culture, more stimulating colleagues, a more fun environment or more interesting project work could ever stack up to my time there during the tech boom. The culture of that place made every other corporate environment look horrible.
When did you fall in love with wine and know that you wanted to study it?
It was in Boston. I tried to teach myself about wine but failed miserably. Then I took a class at the Boston Center for Adult Education with a guy named John Miller who worked for a distributor. He changed my life. He presented the material so well and so understandably, and showed me wines I never knew existed or would have discovered on my own. That was it for me—dreams of wine entered my head and never left.
Tell us about your podcast: What does a typical episode include?
It’s mainly an educational podcast. My husband, M.C. Ice (to protect his own professional identity—he’s in real estate and moonlights as co-host), a co-host or a guest and I tackle a wine region, a topical wine issue (what influences the flavor of a wine, politics of wine, etc.), a grape, etc., and we drill down. We talk about it like we’re hanging out drinking with you, and you just asked a question about the wine region or grape. All my guests are vetted: I have a no-jerks policy, and I generally won’t have people on who get a lot of media coverage. I find the smaller producers much more interesting and laid back. No one wants to listen to some pre-fab marketing message that a PR agency cooked up. I gravitate toward real people, and that’s who comes on the show.
What’s the best part about your job?
Wine travel and getting to know the amazing people who produce wine.
What’s your most memorable career moment to date?
Having lunch with Jane Anson and Elin McCoy, two female wine writers who are infinitely talented, brilliant and humble. I was in awe.
What’s the most stressful part about your job?
I do a lot of public speaking for corporations and associations. That I love, but the logistics and planning of events is always stressful. Sometimes I feel like I’m planning a mini-wedding each time.
What’s the coolest work-related travel experience you’ve had?
My trip to Germany earlier this year with the Wines of Germany had to be it. Riesling was the first wine I fell in love with, and getting to try the greatest wines of the Rheingau and Mosel regions, and seeing the unbelievable landscape was breathtaking. Seventy percent slopes that end in a huge river—I can’t believe people have hand-harvested these lands for so long. The people were so kind, so interesting and I learned so much about German wine that I didn’t know before. Here’s a tip: There is a lot of dry German Riesling out there, so if you think it’s all sweet, you need to look again.
Who inspires you in (or out of) the wine world, and why?
Actually, my husband is my biggest inspiration. He is not afraid to take chances, and he doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He is so nice but still really good at his work. He’s also totally encouraging and a great dad. I call him all the time for a pick-me up when I’m feeling bad or need a shot in the arm of motivation.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to do what you do?
I’m making this job up as I go along, so I’m not sure there is someone who could do what I do, but if you want to be a wine expert or wine writer, I’d say don’t get caught up in the industry telling you that you need this certification or that class. Before the certification craze, there were still experts, and really esteemed ones, too. Study, drink a lot of wine, learn about it and keep a level head.
What’s the one thing people always ask you when you tell them you’re a wine expert?
The questions are all over the map. Most people ask how I got started, but people’s questions are quite personal relative to where they are with wine (novices ask more about grapes, more experienced people usually ask about places/regions, generally).
Do you have a favorite wine?
It changes all the time, but right now I’m loving wines from Piedmont, Italy. For the whites, Arneis from the Roero region. For reds, the beautiful, exquisite Barbaresco (although it’s expensive, so I only have it now and then).
Favorite ATL restaurants for wine sipping?
I’ve got two little kids, so I don’t get out too much these days, but I love the wines at Barcelona for Spanish and Sotto Sotto for Italians.
STORY: Lia Picard
Photos: Nathan Bolster