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Hannah Crosbie: "A lot of women feel like to be taken seriously they have to desexualise themselves"

On a mission to make wine more accessible to young people, event coordinator and wine influencer Hannah Crosbie speaks to Molly Codyre about disrupting the wine industry's male-heavy stereotype and the importance of owning her femininity

Hannah Crosbie hates it when people call her the Wine Nigella. It’s hard not to make the comparison – the wine writer, podcaster and events extraordinaire has a look reminiscent of the famed TV chef and, crucially, seems as comfortable owning her femininity and sexuality while cementing her position as a leader in her area of expertise at the same time.

“A lot of women who go into these male-dominated industries feel like in order to be taken seriously, they have to desexualise themselves,” Crosbie tells me. “And by all means, if you want to do that, it’s your body, your prerogative, you can do whatever you want. But I'm hoping it shouldn’t have to be only one way. You can own your sexuality, own your femininity in the same way men can own their masculinity. I think it’s that to be taken seriously as a cis woman, you have to desexualise yourself and you can’t come across that way because then people assume that you’re doing it to get attention.”

As a young woman in an industry that, as Crosbie puts it, is “super archaic”, she has had to put in a lot of effort and hard work to carve out her own path. She got into wine the way many people do, working at a fine dining restaurant and serving up the wine pairings, and now working in the wine trade. But it was seeing wine in the context of food and the way the two interact that sparked a passion for Crosbie. However, the demographic of the industry put her off it for a long time. “I just didn’t see myself in the industry,” Crosbie tells me. “You’ve got all your classic, stoic, monolithic wine critics who have been in the same post for 40 or 50 years. But they’re all posh white people, and mostly men. There’s only a couple – maybe a handful – of very well known female wine critics.”

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The passion lay dormant for a while, but ultimately bubbled its way above the surface anyway, manifesting in Crosbie bringing along interesting bottles of sparkling to pre-drinks with friends or insisting on ordering the wine on a first date. She eventually went on to get her qualifications and began to enter the industry through the younger, seemingly more inclusive natural wine field. “I infiltrated the industry via the natural wine scene, going to tastings, but when I went to the events, even in the hippie trippy natural wine scene, it was still a massive white boys club. I was one of the very few women at the first tasting I ever went to and there were no people of colour there,” she tells me. “Everyone felt quite posh and well to do and I was like ‘Fuck, it’s still like this, even in natural wine.’ I’ve always been a bit of a class warrior, and the idea of infiltrating an industry that doesn’t want me really turns me on.”

Crosbie started to gain a following online for the casual tasting notes and guides she would share on her Instagram, drinking a wine and sharing her thoughts on it in a modern, low-key way that could be understood by her peers. “Everything that I do is underpinned by the aim and desire to make wine accessible to young people, and to provide them with the tools to go away and find out what they like, what they don’t like,” she says. It was through this that her event, Dalston Wine Club, was born.

“It stemmed from going to these wine tastings and being like, I’m the youngest person here by far. I’m also one of the only women. Why aren’t there more young people in the industry?” says Crosbie. “Well, A, it’s probably to do with cost. If you want to learn how to taste wine, anyone will tell you to drink, drink, drink and drink some more. But unless your family has a really amazing wine cellar, those opportunities just aren’t there,” she explains.

There are no stupid questions at Dalston Wine Club. And there’s no white guy in salmon trousers lecturing you

“The second reason was language. If someone had come up to me when I was trying to get into wine and told me that these tannins were snappy I’d be like ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’” The format for Dalston Wine Club is simple: guests pay £35 and receive four glasses of wine that are tied together with themes. They’re allowed the opportunity to compare and contrast between regions, producers and varietals without the financial burden of buying multiple bottles. “They don’t have to worry about whether they’re swirling their glass right, or whether they’re using the right language,” says Crosbie. “You can ask whatever stupid questions you want – there are no stupid questions at Dalston Wine Club. And there’s no white guy in salmon trousers lecturing you.”

Crosbie’s career is very much successful offline, but it is the power of social media that allowed her the platform to transform an Instagram following into a fully fledged events series and podcast. I ask her thoughts on what social media has done for the industry and she responds thoughtfully “I think it has been completely instrumental in getting more young people into wine,” she says. “I think that before you’d have to buy an issue of Decanter, or scroll through endless tasting notes on jancisrobinson.com to be able to try and pick apart or analyse tasting notes. But on Instagram, you share bottle shots and provide really extensively written tasting notes that young people can understand and they can be like ‘Oh shit, yeah, the wine does taste like 7UP,’ or something like that.

“I think a lot of people underestimate that language changes so much, not just from generation to generation, but from decade to decade,” she continues, “and the fact that we’re still using the same lexicon, and there are right and wrong answers and exams on how to describe wine, is just absolutely mindblowing to me.”

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Inevitably as a young woman shaking up a fairly old-school industry, Crosbie has faced her detractors. She recalls being flippantly described as “flavour of the month” by a male wine professional during small talk at a wine awards show. “That really hit me,” Crosbie says. “Not only is there a weird sexual vibe underpinning a comment like that, but it also just implies I’m going to be gone in a month.” No matter how much some people may try to undermine her, though, Crosbie isn’t going anywhere. With Dalston Wine Club about to find a semi-permanent home for pop ups, events and day-to-day drinking and a second podcast season in the works, alongside her regular series of events with Soho House, it’s safe to say she has outlived any perceived shelf life.

And it only takes a few minutes of listening to her talk about wine to see why. This is a woman who is not only passionate about the industry, but also immensely knowledgeable on it. Making a topic as traditionally exclusive as wine accessible to young people is no mean feat, but Crosbie is succeeding with flying colours. And she’s owning her femininity as she does it.

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