From a Server to a Wine Owner and Consultant: The Story of Alicia Towns Franken

According to the Association of African American Vintners, Alicia Towns Franken is the owner of Towns Wine Co., one of just 100 Black-owned wineries in the United States. Franken also became the executive director of Wine Unify, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing more minorities into the wine industry through education and professional opportunities.

“I wanted to help bring more people [of color] in, because that diversity of thought improves everything,” she told CNN. “What we’re trying to do is change what leadership looks like and bring more people into the wine industry. So many people have thought that [this] has not been for them.”

Franken had no prior wine experience before attending college. Her enthusiasm in wine, however, soared when she married a German man. She noted in an interview with CNN that wine has since become a regular item on their meal.

In the 1990s, she began her career in the wine industry as a server at Boston’s Grill 23 & Bar. She worked her way up the ranks to become the wine director and sommelier at the bars. She left the hotel sector to pursue other interests, but returned after the police shootings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. She went on to become the executive director of Wine Unify, as well as a wine educator and consultant.

Towns Franken Consulting is Franken’s current consulting and events company, where she offers private and corporate wine events. Her business has also allowed her to spend more time with her family and see her children grow up. One of the reasons she left the restaurant sector, she claims, was her inability to spend time with her family.

“I wanted to be home for dinner. Sunday through Thursday, we have a family dinner. And I want my children to see wine the way that I do – a component of an experience. But I’ll tell you this,” she said, “It was so much easier being a wine director than a parent. When a bottle of wine misbehaves, you can send it back,” she told Unitywine.

Concerning her dissatisfaction with the wine industry, she stated that she is dissatisfied with the preciousness of wine because many sommeliers are seeking to break with history and select wines that are distinctive.

“That is fine,” she noted. “But a wine should not be painful! A wine should not assault my palate.”

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