In Conversation with: Nabilah Rawji
One of our goals for Quvé and The Q is to elevate interesting, thoughtful voices.
With that in mind, we wanted to start this In Conversation With series to showcase the unique views of those in our #Quniverse. We hope you like it!
In Conversation with: Nabilah Rawji
Nabilah is one of the most intellectually informed people that I have had the privilege of getting to know better during the COVID lockdown.
As the only woman of colour in Canada who has attained the CMS (Court of Master Sommeliers) Advanced Sommelier qualification (that's just one step before Master Sommelier, folks!), Nabilah's is a distinctive voice at the top of the wine service profession. I admire Nabilah for her tenacity and strength of character.
(Side note: Nabilah and I are working together as founding members of Vinequity, a newly-formed collective for Canadian wine people of colour. Stay tuned for exciting developments!)
Bonus: She is a wonderful cat mom!
Thank you Nabilah for allowing me to feature your interview below!
Quvé: Where are your roots?
Nabilah: South Asian with the last few generations of my family coming from East Africa.
Quvé: What is your profession? (pre-covid if applicable)
Nabilah: Prior to Covid I was the Wine Director for the Shangri-La Hotel, Toronto.
Quvé: How did you come to enjoy wine?
Nabilah: I don't remember what exactly sparked the interest for me, but I remember being very curious about wine in university. I was fascinated with what a complete sensory experience it could be.
I jumped at the chance to take a wine appreciation course at my university and started learning and tasting from the wine sections at Trader Joe's and Cost Plus since they had lots of descriptive shelf talkers written by the wine buyers.
Quvé: What types of wines do you (currently) enjoy most?
Nabilah: I cut my teeth [at] Terroni so that's instilled a life-long love of high acid whites and cheek-zapping Nebbiolos. I'm also a total sucker for floral wines - so Northern Rhone Syrah, Loire Valley Cab Francs, or Loire Chenin Blanc.
Quvé: What gets your attention when it comes to wine? What sparks the most interest / curiosity?
Nabilah: There are some wines that have a very kinetic sense of texture where the wine really feels electric and bounces around your palate. It is a feature that often overlaps for me with a strong sense of minerality, but not always. That's currently what's drawing a lot of my excitement.
Quvé: Have you ever had a racialized wine experience, and if so, do you feel comfortable to share it? (e.g., being a guest of a restaurant / winery; working in a restaurant / winery; in a liquor store, etc)
Nabilah: I've had racialized experiences across all industries and places I've worked and that certainly extends to my career in wine.
I've experienced everything from the annoying stuff like being mistaken for the "trainee" when I'm actually the "trainer", having guests request the somm, and then pretend that I literally don't exist and refuse to speak to me when I approach the table, right on to the really damaging, hurtful and impactful experiences that I won't address here.
Quvé: What does the wine marketing / winemaking industry need to do better to keep your business / become more relevant to you?
Nabilah: Appropriately price and package their wines, and pitch me things that are relevant to the establishment I'm buying for.
If you're approaching me with delicious wine for a luxury establishment and its been priced as a luxury item, then the packaging and design needs to reflect the quality in the bottle. We eat with our eyes and in that setting everything I'm presenting my guests needs to be in line from the design aesthetic of the wine, to the glassware, to the wine in the bottle.
Conversely, the wine inside the bottle better reflect the killer packaging. I've tasted too many wines that have a gorgeous bottle design, but the wine inside doesn't stand up to what the label or price implies.
Quvé: What website / organization / publication would you like to shoutout for our readers?
Nabilah: Cherry Bombe - really awesome content that focuses on women in food and beverage with a really strong commitment to showcasing diverse voices.
Tonal Journal - tonaljournal.com - a print publication founded by Zarna Surti. its just gorgeous for its photography, design, and highlighting really awesome WOC [ed.: Women Of Colour]. Plus her brother is a chef, so her IG spotlights some great food content in addition to all the lovely design stuff.
Elaine Chukan Brown's Site - wakawakawinereviews.com - I have a major nerd crush on Elaine Chukan Brown. She is super in-depth and always takes a unique angle in exploring [sic] She always asks super insightful questions and gives the best seminars.
Thank you Nabilah! Cheers!