ROCHESTER TEN
MAIAH JOHNSON DUNN
 

Age: 37
Occupation: Beverage Education Manager at New York Kitchen; freelance wine writer
Current residence: Brighton, NY
Hometown: Boston, MA


For award-winning wine and beverage multi-hyphenate Maiah Johnson Dunn, New York’s growing wine region is something to celebrate.

“Nancy Irelan (owner of Red Tail Ridge) once told me Americans torture themselves by not drinking sparkling wine every day,” said Dunn. Given Dunn’s achievements in the wine industry, every day just might be deserving of a toast.

As a current fellow at the prestigious Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood Napa Valley, Dunn has been recognized countless times for her advancements in the wine and hospitality industry both locally and nationally – she is also the winner of the 2022 New York Wine & Grape Foundation Unity Award and 2023 ATHENA International Young Professional Award.

But Dunn’s passion for local grapes began as something personal, on a 2016 trip to visit her now-husband, Andy, in the Finger Lakes region. Mesmerized by the endless green vineyards, gorgeous foliage, and enthusiasm of the local wine culture, the former English major knew she had found something she needed to tap into with her writing.

Under the alias Chasing Grapeness, Dunn amassed a social media following as she covered New York’s ever-expanding Finger Lakes wine region. The Instagram account quickly became a digital love letter, capturing vivid images and compelling descriptions of movers and shakers, local wineries, new releases, and industry events.

But following the murder of George Floyd, the wine community she had captured so lovingly remained deafeningly silent. The response, or lack thereof, was both difficult and disappointing for Dunn. (There were) a lot of feelings I didn’t know I had about the wine industry until that moment happened,” she said. Nevertheless, she was determined to take action.

click to enlarge RAFAEL RODRIGUEZ
  • RAFAEL RODRIGUEZ
In collaboration with Chris Grocki, owner of the Historic German House in the South Wedge, Dunn hosted two sold out wine pairing dinners appropriately titled “Chasing Grapeness.”

“It went incredibly well,” says Grocki. “We raised thousands of dollars entirely because of Maiah and how she presented the charities.”

By the time the last glass had been poured, the dinners had raised more than $3,000 in proceeds directly benefiting Yoga 4 A Good Hood and the Black Physicians Network.

Today, Dunn is blazing a trail beyond the Chasing Grapeness moniker as beverage education manager for New York Kitchen in Canandaigua. There, she works with a number of instructors to create a rotation of educational programming about wine, beer, and spirits. “I love watching people have moments of realization when they get their questions on wine answered,” said Dunn.

Currently, Dunn and her team are bringing to life New York Kitchen Beverage University, an instructional program open to the public focused on providing the public an in-depth understanding on everything from beverage to lifestyle programming. Moreover, she’s further expanded the nonprofit’s educational programming as instructor of DEI Over Wine, a class focused on providing a greater understanding of inclusion and accessibility while generating greater interest into New York’s wine scene.

Recalling encounters where the upstate NY wine region was overlooked, Dunn makes every effort to bring attention to the magic of the Finger Lakes. “A lot of people who don’t live here don’t realize how fantastic it truly is,” she said. “They’re so (enchanted) by California and these bigger regions, they’re missing the beauty of New York wine.”

Dunn’s ultimate dream is to own a winery alongside her husband in the same place where she fell in love with him, and wine, all those years ago – one where everyone feels welcome.

Speaking of Rochester Ten 2023

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