“Accidentally, here I am.”
That’s how Maiah Johnson Dunn says she started her journey into wine. To be fair, it’s the way many wine professionals get their start.
Maiah was drawn into wine just about five years ago when she first started dating her husband. She was living in Boston. He whisked her away to Keuka Lake, where wine culture reigns supreme and serves as the backbone of many businesses.
“I just had the most incredible time,” she says of that first visit to a winery in Keuka Lake. “Then I started writing a little bit about wine in my free time. I was working in events full time and then ended up moving to upstate New York and keeping my events job. Then we had a pandemic.”
When her job disappeared, she used the opportunity to write about wine full time. She wrote for various publications, including New York Wine & Grape Foundation. One of her pieces about how Wagner Vineyards approaches DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) is personal. Wagner was already “on a journey towards better service for all guests,” and she wanted to urge other wineries to take steps.
“A big part of my wine journey began after I shut down my wine Instagram account called @ChasingGrapeness on Blackout Tuesday in 2020 after George Floyd’s death,” says Maiah. “I posted about why on my personal Instagram account. This seemed to create waves in the Finger Lakes especially, and from what I’m told, made people think a bit harder about the consumer experience onsite.”
In addition to writing, she’s now the Beverage Education Manager at New York Kitchen in Canandaigua, where she oversees the tasting room and leads guests through wine, beer, spirits, ciders, and more.
NYWGF recently awarded Maiah the Consumer Award in the 2022 Unity Awards, an award that recognizes enthusiastic support of the New York wine industry and exemplifying the use of wine as part of a happy, healthy lifestyle. The award makes sense. Her goal is to make “wine real and accessible to everyone.”
Through her job at New York Kitchen, her Instagram account, her writings on her personal website Maiah.com, and her writings for other publications, she does just that.
She aims to empower consumers and make them feel comfortable about the wines they enjoy while introducing them to new wines.
“On my website, I have this line that says I’m telling heart-forward stories about New York wine. I’m the kind of person that leads with my heart,” she says. “One of the things that struck me about the Finger Lakes is just the connection to people after tasting through the product and totally opens up the experience in a way that you would not have if you were at a liquor store trying to pick out a bottle.”
Maiah was impressed by the way you can “taste the heart in the glass” of the wines coming out of New York. It’s the heart in the glass that inspires the stories she writes and inspires the way she introduces people to New York wine and other beverages.
“I try to make people feel good about their choice in wine. One of the questions I get asked the most is ‘What is your favorite wine or what is the best one?’,” says Maiah. “I can’t take credit for this answer, I stole it from Julia Coney who I consider a mentor, but I always say, ‘It’s the one in my glass.’”
New York Kitchen works much like a tasting room with 12 intimate seats around the bar and a newly added 51 outdoor seats. Visitors can taste a variety of beverages, hit different AVAs at once, and pick and choose what they want.
For Maiah, the “happy, healthy lifestyle” part of wine that she focuses on when she works with consumers goes beyond not overconsuming.
“It’s also about exploring wines so you don’t get stuck in a rut,” she says. “Only drinking the same things that you’re comfortable with.”
She also educates about New York wine. She lets them know the state is third in producing wine behind California and Washington.
“There’s something to be said for that,” Maiah believes. “We need to embrace what’s happening here because it’s really impressive.”
All of what Maiah does fits in perfectly with the award that she is still “blown away by.”
“It’s such an honor. I feel like I’m just talking about New York wine as something I fell in love with at the same time I was falling in love with my husband. It’s all kind of wrapped up in sort of this messy passionate love, but I’m so honored that I was recognized with this award,” she says. “It means a lot.”
The Unity Awards were created in 1990 as a way to recognize, encourage, and celebrate cooperation among grape growers, wineries (and their staff), researchers, retailers and others to advance the entire industry. The winery and grower community in New York state has a rich history of working and succeeding together despite facing a variety of challenges through the years. Recognizing the longstanding and bold spirit of our community members and their numerous achievements, the New York Wine & Grape Foundation is proud to continue honoring industry leaders & champions of New York wine for more than 30 years.