Former Miss Michigan Jaclyn Misch shares her journey to becoming a wine expert and how she is connecting with women over more than just wine with her blog, chasing-grapes.com.
By Chelsie Dzbanski
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background? I was born and raised in Wyandotte, Michigan and currently live in Canton with my husband Jon and two yellow labs, Koda and Yogi (“the bears”). I went to Central Michigan University and graduated with a B.A. in public relations/advertising. While in undergrad, I worked for CM-Life, the University’s newspaper in their advertising department. This really gave me a head start in the field in terms of processes and how offices in my field worked. After graduation in 2010, I started working at my first advertising agency as a media buyer, negotiating traditional spot cable, network and radio ratings on behalf of our clients and continued down that path for the next five years.
2. How did you get started in the wine industry? Shortly after I started working in 2010, I met my husband and late father-in-law. The credit goes to them for being the first to open my eyes to the vast universe of the wine industry and showing me that if you choose to look hard enough, you’ll see that it’s not just wine. Up until this point, my perspective of wine was that it was first and foremost “fancy,”and my contribution to a wine conversation ended at the fact that I sometimes drank boxed white Zinfandel at college parties. My curiosity grew once I realized that there are so many disciplines that surround the wine trade (anthropology, geology, viticulture, sociology, business, marketing/advertising, etc…). It’s fascinating to me that fermented grape juice can connect so many people from across cultures and professions, and in 2017, I began to think about how I could turn my wine passion into a profession. I was entering my sixth year as a media planner, and I honestly just had enough with sitting behind a computer screen, feeling uninspired. So, after talking with my husband, I made a pretty rash decision, took a huge leap of faith and quit. Since I had already taken the Court of Master Sommeliers intro exam (for fun), I applied to work at Vino Volo in the Detroit International Terminal as a wine associate. I served wine for about one year before moving to Napa Valley to complete the Culinary Institute of America’s Master’s of Wine Management program. I started a wine blog while living out there and began working with wine brands to write and share their stories. My wine blog is one entity, but I have also just embarked on my first entrepreneurial journey having founded Chasing Grapes Social LLC — a winery-specific social media consulting, content creation and management agency.
3. Getting paid to drink wine for a living sounds like a dream job! What is your favorite thing about what you do? Haha, it has its perks! But, there is definitely a difference between tasting wine and drinking wine. I learned that on day 1 at the Culinary Institute of America from our instructor Robert Bath, a Master Sommelier. I could not be a productive human or learn anything if I was actually ingesting wine during classes five days a week (alas, there are spit cups). Don’t get me wrong, I do drink wine — but there is a time to drink and a time to learn. There is a common saying in the wine trade, “the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know,” which is one of my favorite concepts about what I do. There will literally always be something (whether a producer, grape, region and so on) that I do not know. One single varietal grape (like cabernet sauvignon) will taste completely different across hundreds of wine regions across the globe because of climate, soil type, vineyard positioning, wine growing etc. —no one ever knows it all! This industry offers a lifetime of learning across cultures and traditions. Specifically with social media, I love getting to tell the story of the wines and hope to make it not so intimidating.
4. Can you share some of your career highlights or moments you are most proud of thus far? Actually, my most exciting wine research/writing career opportunity to date just happened, but I’m not supposed to talk about it until contracts are signed…haha so, stay tuned! Other than that, probably moving across the country from my husband and family for nine months to start a master’s degree. It was not easy to uproot my life, especially not knowing a single person in Napa Valley. It would have been easy for me to settle into my media planning career, but this voice inside my head kept telling me that I was capable of more and to keep pushing. A lot of people thought I was crazy. But, it’s paying off with a lot of hard work and dedication. Also, multitasking and managing my two online social entities is so exciting right now. Chasing Grapes Social LLC is a service to help wine brands manage their social channels and chasing-grapes.com is my personal blog where I write about wine brands as an independent contractor.
5. What inspired you to start your blog Chasing Grapes, and can you share what it’s about? My wine blog started because I love photography and storytelling. My husband Jon was also a huge inspiration because he also has an insatiable passion for all things wine and pushed me to start it. I really just wanted a creative outlet to share wine with people in my world who didn’t know much about it, or were intimidated by it. I wanted to show that wine can be fun to learn about and didn’t have to be so formal. I also have a portion of our life sprinkled into my blog, which is a carry over from my time as Miss Michigan USA 2013 and when Jon and I were on CBS’s reality show, “Survivor.” I’ve been openly sharing my MRKH Syndrome diagnosis since 2013. I also share on my blog the struggles we’ve faced with IVF and most recently our three failed embryo transfers to our surrogate. Sharing our story has been very freeing. and the community of women I’ve built that are facing similar struggles has been so humbling. And a bonus, most of them love wine! 🙂 haha
6. You were a contestant on “Survivor” in 2014. What was that experience like, and why did you decide to go on the show? It was probably one of the most socially and physically challenging things I’ve ever put myself through. After I competed in Miss USA in 2013, I received a message in my Facebook inbox from a CBS casting director asking if I was interested in going on “The Amazing Race.” Jon and I auditioned, but they ended up asking if we were interested in “Survivor” instead, a Blood vs. Water season. I saw it as another incredible life opportunity and the chance to spread awareness about MRKH Syndrome to a much larger audience, which I did when I made it to the top three and pleaded my case to the jury of why I wanted to win the title of “Sole Survivor” (IVF and surrogacy are expensive)! After 39 days on a beach in Nicaragua, I ended up as runner-up, but lost 30 pounds in the process and came home to Michigan with my hair falling out and parasites. It took us a good six months to get our bodies back on track! Eating only 1 cup of rice per day for 40 days really takes a toll on your mind and body, especially under the extreme conditions they put you in.
7. If you could only drink one type of wine for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? I don’t even think I can answer this question, haha! But probably Tempranillo blends from Rioja, Spain. It’s a big, red wine — usually with layers of complexity and is classified into four main styles based off aging requirements in oak and bottle (Rioja, Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva). Between those four categories and the variation of producers using either American or French/Hungarian oak, I would probably be satisfied for life. Hypothetically speaking.
8. If you weren’t a wine expert what would you be instead? Hmm… I would probably still be working at my ex-advertising agency in Birmingham as a senior media planner or media manager.
9. How do you find balance between work and your personal life? Since social media and engagement with brands is such a huge part of my daily work, I have to remind myself to be intentional with my time spent in the apps and not to mindlessly scroll. There is a timer within the Instagram app that lets you know how much time you’ve spent in app, that helps a lot!
10. What was your first job growing up? Ice cream server at Dairy Queen when I was 16!
11. What’s currently on your playlist? “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack! Jon and I love that movie and just went to see Hugh Jackman at Little Caesars Arena, so inspiring! “This is Me” — best song ever!
12. Your favorite TV show when you were a kid? “Boy Meets World.”
13. Three things you can’t live without? My planner, contacts/glasses and ChapStick.
14. Dream vacation destination? Northern Chile, the Atacama Desert for stargazing and of course their wine regions.
Your Local Love List…
16. Your favorite place to shop locally in Metro Detroit? Rock Paper Scissors, Ann Arbor. I could spend hours looking at their cards! Such a cute shop!
17. Your go-to for a great glass of wine? Hands down… Vertical in downtown Detroit.
18. Favorite thing to do on a weekend in Metro Detroit? Since moving back from Napa, I’ve been on a mission to discover all the new wine and foodie spots downtown Detroit. One of my favorites is the Monarch Club. This rooftop bar has beautiful views and a great wine/cocktail list!
19. What do you love about Detroit? The vibe of resilience.
20. Favorite quote or words to live by? “Passion paves all paths.”