Monday, July 12, 2021

Sip Consciously Wine Directory Connects Public With Black Wine Entrepreneurs

Online platform, new directory seek to connect BIPOC culture to the wine experience.

Black Presence In The Wine Community

Dr. Monique Bell had her eyes opened in 2017. Attending the Black Vines wine festival in Oakland, she had her first exposure to Black people not only making wine but also consumers living a wine lifestyle.

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“It never occurred to me that there was a space for Black entrepreneurs and consumers in the wine industry,” said Dr. Bell. “I had completed advanced degrees, secured executive roles, and traveled internationally – yet I was still blindsided by the knowledge that Black people – all over the world – were contributing to the wine industry.” When she had an opportunity for a sabbatical, she decided her research focus would be learning all she could about the Black presence in the wine industry.

Her research plan was all set except for one glaring problem. There was no central place to find all these Black entrepreneurs. She started by joining and speaking to members of the Association of African American Vintners. Her research study surveyed more than 100 Black wine entrepreneurs and professionals to understand their motivations and challenges within the global wine industry. The study, which included 60 hours of interviews, also revealed that buying Black wines has important downstream effects.

Sip Consciously Directory

Fast forward to May 2020 and the unfortunate murder of George Floyd. That event triggered a Buy Black movement and Black wine brands started popping up. The need for one comprehensive list became even more urgent, and so Bell compiled a list that covers all three tiers of the wine industry (wineries, distributors, retailers).

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The Sip Consciously Directory helps Black wine entrepreneurs seeking partners, mentors, or networking. The consumer can use the directory to find Black wine businesses in their backyard or when traveling. Supporting Black wine businesses is important for many reasons, said Bell.

“Often they are the first generation to be in the wine industry or start a business,” said Bell. “Black people have limited access to capital and often are using personal savings and maybe the help of family and friends to start. This is really speaking to their livelihood.” She notes that these entrepreneurs are often major supporters of philanthropy in their own Black communities.

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Uncorked & Cultured

Through Bell’s research project, she interviewed more than 40 Black wine entrepreneurs. One of those was Angela McCrae, founder and executive director of Uncorked & Cultured, an online platform that was shaking up the media space. The goal of Uncorked & Cultured is to connect BIPOC culture and the African Diaspora to wine, wellness, culture and adventure. The pair continued to converse after the project ended and decided to partner on the Sip Consciously Wine Directory.

Why is it that people of color are not more visible or involved in the wine industry? “It’s indicative of the American and global culture,” said Bell. “This was seen as an elite space in which Black people were not originally involved in a highly regarded manner.” Many Blacks and people of color don’t see themselves as part of the wine lifestyle and that has to do with exposure and awareness.

“Through the directory and Uncorked & Cultured we want to tell those stories and give that exposure to highlight the contributions and the impact of BIPOC people in the wine community,” said Bell. “We want to do that in a really safe and approachable way so everyone does feel welcome so that we can continue to grow our numbers in the wine industry.”

The directory is a comprehensive guide to Black entrepreneurs at all three tiers of the wine distribution system. Each company or individual has been contacted and has granted permission to be included in the guide. Right now Black winemakers represent about 1 percent of all winemakers and the number is even smaller for Black importers, exporters, distributors, and wine retailers. Through exposure, the number and influence can grow.

Exuberant Response And Events

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Bell categorizes the response so far as “exuberant.” People are not only happy to have their own business highlighted, but to have the contact information to make other connections for networking, and seeking mentors, or partners.

Through the directory and Uncorked & Cultured, there is a great opportunity for community and education. “We really want to create a space for the cultural enthusiasts to hang out with a glass of their favorite vineyard selection and build community,” said Bell. “We're making these connections and want to build a community around luxury, travel, and adventure. This is the safe space that is approachable and accessible and where people feel that they are welcome and their stories are being shared and told.”

“Uncorked & Cultured offers a space to celebrate the African Diaspora through knowledge and community. Our growing network is powered by the unique and diverse stories of winemakers across the world honoring our rich history and untold contributions to the wine industry,” said McCrae. Bell says that in particular, she wants to make sure younger people know that there are options. Even if they're not interested in a career in wine they should know that wine is a lifestyle that they can enjoy and feel comfortable in.

An example of the unique experiences offered through Uncorked & Cultured is the recent Juneteenth Experience in Napa Valley event. Uncorked and Cultured hosted a small group of cultural enthusiasts, influencers, and oenophiles for the event with support from Napa Valley Vintners.

The tour included a visit to Raymond Vineyards for a private tasting of musician John Legend’s wine collection, Legend Vineyard Exclusive; a wine tasting and tour of the family-operated J.Moss Wines; and a Juneteenth dinner at Buster’s Southern BBQ. The Napa Valley Wine Academy hosted the group for Wine Education 101, their first post-COVID in-person class. Throughout the week, the group visited other Black winemakers including Theodora Lee of Theopolis Vineyards and met with Phil Long of Longevity Wines.

“One of the most important things we can do to increase diversity in the wine industry is build awareness of the few people of color who are already here, making careers in wine,” said Long, who also serves as president of the Association of African American Vintners. “We need more innovative programs like the Juneteenth Experience to help young people ‘see themselves’ in our roles and be inspired to join us.”

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