A Sommelier’s Journey…
By:  George Addison
Wine is bottled poetry.

— Robert Louis Stevenson


When I think about wine, I always think about love, good times, friends or intimate relationships.  The thought of love and romance seem to go willingly hand in hand.  Adding poetry to that mix just seems to be a natural way to enhance the moment and to savior the memory.  It’s the starting point to experiencing life, different cultures and personal growth from a totally different perspective.

Searching for Cloves and Lilies: The Wine Edition. Photo Courtesy: R. T. Rousseau

That’s part of the experience that author Regine T. Rousseau had in mind when writing “Searching for Cloves and Lilies:  The Wine Edition.”  In this book she takes the wine novice and seasoned wine connoisseurs on a journey through love, lust and heartbreak all paired with wine and personal stories that illustrate familial and romantic relationships as complex as the intricacies of a fine wine.

She challenges the reader to look at wine pairing differently and to look no further than the moment at hand for optimal enjoyment.  The wines Rousseau features parallel her writing and create a unique wine list that’s exquisite.

Rousseau, is a proud African-American businesswoman, poet, author and Sommelier of Haitian descent.  I asked her to share a little bit of her story as a Haitian American.  She said, “I’m from Haiti, but I was born in Chicago but moved to Haiti when less than a year old.  My parents are Haitian.  I grew up and lived in Haiti until the age of ten years old.   Now, I’ve been in the United States for quite a while.”

From Career to Entrepreneur

As a Sommelier, Rousseau is a trained, knowledgeable wine professional who specializes in all aspects of wine service, wine and food pairing.  The role is strategically on par with that of a chef de cuisine.  She received her Level II Certification from the International Sommelier Guild, and is an Executive Bourbon Steward from Stave and Thief Society.  The rigors of certification are challenging and is compared, by some, to be comparable to what a lawyer would go through attempting to pass a state bar exam.  Rousseau explained her certification experience this way, saying, “There’s various programs.  I went through a program called the International Sommelier Guild.

Another very popular program is the Quartermaster Sommelier’s and then there’s one called WSET,  I’m ISG and that program has three levels.  The level two certification, just to give you some idea, had a hundred multiple choice questions.  We had to write four essays without any idea what they were going to be on and then you had the task of six blind tastings on six different wines and you must be able to guess where they’re from, the grapes, etc.  It was challenging to say the least.  But this is what you must do right, to get that certification and to be seen as an expert in your field.  I enjoyed the process.  I love the learning.  It’s hard and it’s not for everyone.  You must be tough-minded to complete the process.  It’s something that you earn.”

The successful owner and CEO of the Chicago based wine demonstration and event planning company “Shall We Wine,” Rousseau shared what drew her to this particular industry and career path. “The reason I went into this industry is because years ago I fell in love with wine.  I was living in Besancon, France, and I was fortunate enough to get invited to a wine shop.  They had a Bordeaux tasting in my honor as their guest and I fell in love with the culture of wine.  I knew what I was tasting was delicious, but I fell in love with everyone sitting together as a family drinking wine and listening to the father talking about the wines and introducing each wine as if it was another guest at the table.  I fell in love with that and it took me some time to figure out how to make it a career, but I finally figured it out.”

Regine T. Rousseau – Poet, Author, Sommelier and CEO of Shall We Wine. Photo Courtesy: R. T. Rousseau

When further asked about the role of people of color in this industry she said, “let me say this, there are more African-Americans in the wine business than we realize.  Don’t get me wrong, the numbers are still low and there are still a lot of opportunities to open up this career path to African-Americans and people of color.  There are programs being put in place to make sure that this opportunity is being presented to more African-Americans.  So, for me, I was very fortunate.   I met someone when I was in my early twenties who really introduced me to this career and introduced me to wine sales.  Prior to meeting her I had no idea that people went around and sold wines to restaurants and to retail stores.  That was my introduction.  I think it’s also one of those careers that, in the 90’s, not many people knew about.

Also, I was fortunate because she brought me into the industry and I was working for a reputable company with amazing fine wines.  I was selling during my first job in the business the best of the best.  That really set me apart and set me up for what I’m doing today.  Back then I honestly don’t remember any of my colleagues that were African-American.  I wasn’t even aware of any other African-Americans in sales or Sommelier’s.  Of course, they were around but we were so disconnected.  There was no internet back then so we didn’t know of each other.  I can’t say from my experience that being African-American was holding me back in any way.  What I did notice was the surprise factor – even still today.

There’s still the surprise when I walk into these events and I’m the Sommelier and the presenter.  When I walk in, I am the CEO.  There’s still that surprise because people don’t expect that an African-American woman owns her own business and they don’t expect that an African-American would be the wine expert.  But, I can tell you this, when you open your mouth and you present well and you give people valuable information, I feel like all the surprise wears off.  It becomes the great equalizer.

People, who are wine lovers, are all about sharing information.  When people realize it they say wait a minute, she does have valuable information and she has done her homework, she has her certification; then a lot of the doubt and surprise washes away and the conversation can begin there.

As an Entrepreneur I started with events first, but it seemed like a natural fit to pair my passion for wine as well.  Once people understood that I had a passion for wine and loved to talk about wine, they started booking me for wine tastings and they started booking me for events.  When I propose to my clients to consider not just doing a traditional party, but a party with a wine pairing or wine tasting, or we do something spirits related, they love it.  I began doing these events for friends and for clients.

Fast forward to 2013 when I opened the promotions company.   Now we do demos in retail stores.  But, for me, it’s still the same thing.  In a retail environment we’re pretty much putting on a mini wine tasting for our clients.  These events are just taking that same experience to a broader, deeper level where you can have a two to three-minute conversation with someone and you can give them some general information about the wines you’re presenting.  But, when you take it to a corporate setting, you have hours to give them more information.  I did an event for thirty attorneys where each Sommelier had their own room and did food and wine pairing presentations.  The demo and events company is perfectly aligned to create a deeper opportunity to present.

A Book That Makes A Difference

In Searching for Cloves and Lilies:  The Wine Edition, there is a pairing of wine and poetry.  I asked Rousseau what was it that made her take this direction when writing the book?  She replied, “wine has a mood and poetry has a mood.  When I thought about pairing wine and poems, I looked at the mood of each.  I match the mood of the poem with the mood of the wine.  One of my favorite pairings is a poem called “Dot” which talks about the ending of a relationship.  It talks about the time, the pain, the process of waiting for that relationship to end.  There’s a wine called Amarone.   You take these grapes and you have to let them dry out for a hundred days.  When I thought about the effects of time, the waiting and the drying out, the painful process of this relationship ending, Amarone, for me, was the perfect pairing for this wine because the grapes would go through the same process as someone who is working through the end of a relationship.”

I further asked what inspired the title of the book?  She added, “there is a poem where I am describing one man, two women and how he sees these women.  This is a true story and I was looking at one woman as Cloves the other one was his Lily. The line in the poem says… I search the air for your scent of Cloves and Lilies.  I use Cloves and Lilies because both are beautiful fragrances but are really opposites.  You’ve got someone who’s floral and delicate, and you’ve got someone who’s spicy and earthy.  That was the relationship with each woman.  What’s cool about this in the 2nd edition is you also see this is what happens when you are a Sommelier and you’re evaluating wine.  You’re searching these wines for these nuances when you smell a wine.  You’re searching for these hidden flavors and you’re looking for what the wine will reveal.  I think the title is really appropriate for the wine pairing segment.”

Searching for Cloves and Lilies: The Wine Edition. Photo Courtesy: R. T. Rousseau

In addition, I asked Rousseau what were her expectations and mindset when writing Searching for Cloves and Lilies:  The Wine Edition?   She said, “I never intended to write a book.  I’ve always been a writer, but never really took myself fully as a writer;  I just simply like to write.  I would write articles for newspapers or blog posts, but I really wasn’t thinking about writing a book.  I started with these short poems that were gifts I would give to people.  I was in a room with five women and we were talking about the show “Sex in the City” and the conversation turned from the show to our bodies.  We’re in our twenties and everybody looked good but, as you know as some women do, we were starting to complain about things that we didn’t like.  And I remember wanting to change the conversation.  So, I said, tell me something that you like about your body and I don’t even know how the whole thing came together, but I decided some days later to write a poem for each of these women about the body part that they liked.  That’s how it started and before I knew it I was asking people to tell me their favorite body part and I was gathering stories.

Searching for Cloves and Lilies: The Wine Edition. Photo Courtesy: R. T. Rousseau

My original mindset was one of fear when I set out to write this book.  The fear of what am I doing? Does this make any sense? Is this going to work?  Am I a crazy person?  I think about those writers, entrepreneurs and anybody who steps out or tries something that is risky.  It’s about talking yourself down.  Its going to be about how I shut this part of my mind off, so that I can go through the process.  Once I got over the fear of: is this going to work, does this make sense, is this appropriate to my business and what I’m trying to do?  Then the process really became enjoyable, because I fell more in love with wine and more in love with poetry while doing the work because I understood wine in a completely different way.  In a way I hadn’t thought about it.  I hadn’t thought about the mood of wine and how this wine makes me feel or if I’m feeling a certain way, which wine do I want to have, either to enhance or to change that mood.  I never really thought about wine that way until I worked on the book.  I learned how much my mind had control, and how if I could just quiet that doubt, anything can happen.

I didn’t know that was something I was struggling with.  I didn’t know that because I’m a doer.  I make a plan and I accomplish it and I wasn’t aware of how much I had thoughts telling me to stop and stay in a safe zone.  I think that’s an interesting thing that entrepreneurs find themselves thinking about.  Like what’s keeping you comfortable and why you are trying to be comfortable.  So, I learned that about myself.  This was really a process of getting over that and learning how to get over it.  The other thing I learned from a very personal perspective was that these poems were really, personal.  Some of them were light and funny, but some of them are really heavy.  As I re-read the book, I learned about my view of men and how I place them in various relationships.   It’s interesting – we did a focus group while doing the work and most of the participants were women.  But I did some one-on-one focus groups and conversations with men and I didn’t realize while I was writing the book how I was working through certain things.”

In closing,  I asked Rousseau how she felt about the work she put into creating this book?  She said, “I was very happy once I finished the work.  I’m very proud of the work because I did it with integrity and I gave it a 100% at the time I was doing it.  And I think it is valuable and I believe it is going to continue the work that I’m doing – which is making wine accessible; showing people how to think about wine in a very, very different way.  I also think it’s important because the poems are so touching that it will make you think about yourself, and where you were in a relationship, and where you are now.  So, I feel really good about Searching for Cloves and Lilies and the reaction I’ve gotten to date.”

For more information about Regine T. Rousseau and Searching for Cloves and Lilies: The Wine Edition visit, and YouTube.

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