The wine industry has historically been exclusive and lacked diversity. However, in recent years, the industry has seen significant changes, thanks in part to the efforts of influential Women of Color (WOC) in wine who have been advocating for its evolution. Despite the fact that according to the 2021-2022 Wine Market Council report, People of Color (POC) consumers make up about 28% of wine drinkers in the country, only a small percentage of U.S. wineries are owned by POC.
The importance of diversity in the wine industry cannot be overstated. Greater representation not only brings a variety of perspectives and creativity to the field but also leads to a more inclusive and vibrant industry. Some of the challenges that WOC-owned vineyards face are:
Lack of access to capital: WOC entrepreneurs often face challenges in accessing capital to start or grow their businesses. This is due to a number of factors, including discrimination from banks and other financial institutions.
Lack of mentorship and support: WOC entrepreneurs often lack access to mentorship and support from other WOC in the wine industry. This can make it difficult to learn about the business and navigate the challenges of being a Black woman entrepreneur.
Racial and gender discrimination: WOC entrepreneurs often face racial and gender discrimination in the wine industry. This can manifest itself in a number of ways, such as being denied access to tasting rooms, being overlooked for awards, and being subject to microaggressions.
Despite these challenges, WOC-owned vineyards are thriving and making a significant impact on the wine industry. They are breaking down barriers, increasing diversity, and producing high-quality wines that are enjoyed by people all over the world. Some of the award-winning WOC-owned vineyards include:
McBride Sisters Wine Collection: The largest WOC-owned wine company in the United States, founded by sisters Robin and Andréa McBride
Aslina Wines: South Africa's first WOC-owned winery, founded by Ntsiki Biyela
Léoniea Domaines: A France and USA based wine company founded by Paradise Rodriguez-Bordeaux
But it’s not just vineyards that we are seeing inclusive growth, its industry-wide. There has been an increase of amazing WOC in wine who are leading the charge to change the future of the industry, offering a masterclass in elegance, resilience, and innovation. They are using their platforms to amplify the voices of underrepresented communities and to educate the wine world about the importance of diversity and inclusion.
"I fell in love with wine over a quarter-century ago, and I have never fallen out of love. Every bottle of wine is an opportunity to learn something. But wine is only part of the learning. Along the way, wine gets tangled up with history, geography, culture, literature, language, art, chemistry, geology, photography. The tangle and the learning are endless"
Kirsten Georgi, The Armchair Sommelier
One of the most visible leaders in this movement is Julia Coney. Coney is a wine journalist, speaker, and consultant. She is also the founder of a POC Wine Professionals organization, "Black Wine Professionals", a non-profit organization that supports WOC in the wine industry. Coney is a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion, and she has used her platform to call out the wine industry for its lack of representation.
Stephanie Warthen is the passionate founder of "Black Women Who Are Proud Wine Snobs," an inspired community born from annual gatherings with friends in California's Wine Country. This group serves as a haven for Black women who are enthusiasts of refined wines and seek a platform to share their favorites and expand their palate. Stephanie promotes the exploration of both red and white wines, with a specific emphasis on higher-quality vintages. She looks forward to enhancing the group's experience through virtual wine tastings, creating a shared learning space.
Another leading figure in the movement is Cheramie Law. Law is the owner of Cheramie Wine, a Black-owned winery in California. Law is a self-taught winemaker who has broken down barriers in the industry. She is also a mentor to other WOC in the wine industry.
Tahiirah Habibi is the founder of Hue Society, a wine club that celebrates the diversity of the wine world. Habibi is also the co-founder of The Roots Fund, a non-profit organization that provides financial support to Black and Indigenous winemakers. Habibi is passionate about creating a more equitable wine industry, and she is using her platform to raise awareness of the challenges faced by BIPOC winemakers.
Shayla Varnado is the dedicated Founder and CEO of "Black Girls Wine ™," a vibrant community that celebrates Black women and wine lovers. Shayla's mission is not only to celebrate wine but also to inspire and support Black women as they strive to build their dream lives. Her platform combines a love for wine with a passion for empowering women, creating a unique and supportive community.
Regine Rousseau is the founder of Shall We Wine, a wine education company that focuses on diversity and inclusion. Rousseau is a certified sommelier and wine educator. She is also a mentor to other WOC in the wine industry. Rousseau is committed to creating a more inclusive wine industry, and she is using her platform to educate the wine world about the importance of diversity and inclusion.
Even our very own Paradise Rodriguez-Bordeaux, Founder and CEO of Léoniea Domaines, Let’s Wine About it, and Deesse du Vin, is a role model for women and POC in the wine industry. She is breaking down barriers and showing that anyone can succeed in the wine industry, regardless of their background. She is also making a difference in the world by promoting sustainability while producing high-quality wines. Paradise strongly believes in “conscious consumption” and has dedicated herself to changing how the wine industry promotes, advertises, and discusses wine as to not encourage behaviors that could lead to alcoholism.
While this list is not exhaustive, it underscores the undeniable impact that WOC are having on the wine industry. Still, to create a more inclusive industry, it is essential for wine companies, retailers, and restaurants to actively work toward diversifying their businesses. This could be through the development of scholarship programs, enhancing job placement opportunities, and offering mentorship for WOC interested in the wine industry. In this light, Léoniea Domaines is hosting an upcoming event, a picnic in the park, where proceeds will be donated to help flourish WOC-owned businesses. This event is a highlight of the growing recognition of the importance of supporting and celebrating WOC in the wine industry.
As these women demonstrate, WOC bring a unique elegance and innovation to the wine industry, reshaping it one glass at a time. Their stories are a testament to the power of resilience, and they serve as inspiring examples for other WOC to follow their passion into the wine industry.
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