“Don’t seek to be the guru, seek who the guru sought”
Black Men in Wine are not represented enough in the industry. Part 2 of this series focuses on podcaster and storyteller MJ Towler, whose thirst for knowledge is as high as his thirst for wine.
By Sedale McCall
(If you got here first, don’t forget to check our Part 1 where I profile entrepreneur, Derrick Westbrook.)
You know him as the Black Wine Guy, but MJ Towler is more than a wine podcaster. He has more previous careers than most of us. For instance, he was a fitness instructor, banker, and legal expert. Wine is just a conduit to the kinds of conversations he wants to have with some smart and interesting people.
“I just met all of these smart and interesting people. I was working with interesting people in a vast field of knowledge you could never learn,” he said. “I’ve had two Masters of Wine on my show who told me ‘I don’t know it all, I could never know it all’.”
The idea of pursuing knowledge in a field you can’t know everything about is enticing to MJ (and me as well!). It’s something that has made wine even more interesting to him than his other careers.
“With fitness [for example], everything we need to know about it has been written. You need a push, a pull, and squats. There are about five exercises you need to be fit,” he recalled. “If you’re hungry for knowledge, wine is a great thing for you. It’s more cerebral than anything I’ve done before. And it’s tangible, you can actually taste it.”
Even within wine, MJ has done it all, working in retail, as the first African-American wine auctioneer, then communications and media. But the ability to speak and discuss wine with people was always a part of his life.
“I was always speaking publicly and doing seminars. It was natural, I majored in communications, concentrating on marketing, management, and video production, which would’ve been social media nowadays,” he said. “If you look at the Venn Diagram of my life, it just all lined up. I think for everybody, you have to find out what you are good at and what you would do for no money.”
The Black Wine Guy Experience
That passion led to one of the top wine podcasts in the world. The Black Wine Guy Experience. The podcast, named as a spoof on wine influencers, started in the fall of 2020 and quickly became the number 17 podcast in the Food category of Apple Podcasts. MJ himself became one of the Future 40 Tastemakers in Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
However, as funny as the name is, MJ is much more than a black wine guy. In fact, wine is more of a conduit than the main event.
“I’m that guy you want to drink with. When I think about the podcast, I’m just cool to drink with. I have a good sense of humor, and law school taught me to craft a narrative” he recounted. “All of these crazy things that would not seem connected came together at the right moment in the right medium. The whole point of the show is ‘we’re a couple of old friends catching up over a bottle of wine’.”
There are so many ways to think about MJ, inside the wine world and outside of it, but the themes that kept coming back are people and being who he is authentic. After all, that’s what resonates most for MJ and ultimately his followers.
Lastly, when asked how to get into the industry, MJ is a big fan of retail and views that as a great way for people to not only learn about wine but to learn what they want to do in wine.
“Go work in a retail store, you’ll get access to tastings, you’ll get discounts on wine. I can’t stress enough how wonderful working in wine retail is. It lays a good foundation. From there, figure out what questions people ask you or a need you can fill,” he said. “Also reading, but from empirical sources. If you want to do something original, go as close to the source as you can and synthesize it from there.”
Above all, MJ is a man of the people and for the people. You can find his podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, called The Black Wine Guy Experience. His website is https://blackwineguy.com/ and he’s on Instagram @theblackwineguy.