Weekends with Yankee Q&A | Wine Expert TJ Douglas

Catching up with TJ Douglas, a game-changing Boston wine expert and featured Weekends with Yankee guest.

By Amy Traverso

Oct 28 2021


TJ Douglas

Photo Credit : Philip Keith and OJ Slaughter
TJ Douglas
Photo Credit : Philip Keith and OJ Slaughter

Wine pro TJ Douglas wants to knock down every barrier that stands between you and a great bottle: the elitism, the uncertainty, the geographical trivia. As co-founder of the Urban Grape, the acclaimed Boston wine shop that he runs with his wife and business partner, Hadley, he created a wine classification system that empowers both oenophiles and oenophobes to find what they like. The Douglases also wrote a highly accessible wine guide, Drink Progressively, that takes the confusion out of pairing food and wine; meanwhile, they’re helping to promote diversity in their industry with the Urban Grape Wine Studies Award for Students of Color, which launched last summer at Boston University. We recently caught up with Douglas on the heels of one very busy year.Amy Traverso

Q. Sometimes it seems the wine world is divided between box-wine drinkers and connoisseurs. Where does that leave the rest of us?

Actually, most of us fit into the in-between: the world of $10-to-$30 bottles. And I’d say that 95 percent of people drinking wine might not consider themselves connoisseurs. Most of us just want to drink wine that tastes good to us.

Q. But there’s still a kind of imposter syndrome people may feel if they can’t say whether 2016 was a great year in Bordeaux. How do you help newbies out?

That gets to the whole point of why wine feels elitist—it’s marketed that way. If you’re just trying to find a $20 bottle to pair well with your turkey dish, a wine review might tell you that a 2016 syrah is the best choice. But you might like the 2017 better because it’s more fruit-forward.

I taste about 6,000 wines a year. Based on their body or mouthfeel, I put them on a scale of 1 to 10 for whites and 1 to 10 for reds, and they’re organized that way on shelves in the store. You can explore within those categories based on your palate. At the end of the day, it’s much easier to pair wine with food based on its body than its vintage or aroma or geography or varietal.

Q. Compared with other parts of the world, New England’s wine industry is still relatively young. What’s your impression of our local winemakers?

Wine is still in its infancy here—with people learning about which grapes flourish here in our short season—but there’s so much passion on the part of growers. I’d also add that our local beer and spirits scene is absolutely incredible. We do so well selling these whiskeys, gins, vodkas, and beers at our store.

Q. Even though winemaking has a long and rich tradition in places like North Africa and the Middle East, there’s this perception that wine belongs to Europe. On the show, you shared your own experience of being overlooked in the wine world as a person of color. How do you address these issues?

I’m using my platform to amplify the voices of others. That may mean, for example, promoting an award-winning first-generation Mexican winemaker whose wines are extraordinary and get our customers thinking.

But more importantly, we realized a couple of years ago that brown and Black people weren’t applying for our sales jobs—they were only applying for labor jobs. [Looking past] that excuse of “How can I hire people if they aren’t applying?” we realized we had the opportunity to show people that the wine industry can be an amazing career path, even if they didn’t have wine on the table growing up. With the Urban Grape Wine Studies program, we’ve raised enough money so that two students can go through a certificate course each year. We’re also offering paid internships and mentorship. When people come out of this course, they can do whatever they want in the industry.

Q. Do you think the pandemic changed the way we drink?

In the beginning, people were hoarding alcohol like they were hoarding toilet paper. And they were cooking more at home, trying new recipes, learning how to pair wine with food. So it’s been an incredibly busy year for us at the Urban Grape. We did more than 500 virtual tastings in a year. We were able to hire two additional delivery drivers and give everyone a raise.

Looking ahead, I can’t wait to have dinner parties again. I think we’re going to appreciate that communal table even more. I hope it feels a little bit like the Roaring Twenties, because that’s my passion.

Our visit with TJ Douglas of the Urban Grape is featured on season five of Weekends with Yankee. To find out how to watch, go to