The wine world has a problem. It’s too white. Like starkly white. The US has very few black-owned wineries or wines made by the hands of black winemakers. In addition, there are only a small amount of black wine professionals in positions of leadership in wine sales and marketing. This is a layered problem that is going to take some time and work to dismantle.
My “why” in the world of wine is simple: I strive for people to have fun with wine. In whatever way I am communicating, my goals are to help people drink better and up their wine game. With that being said, I am trying to do my part in diversifying the wine space and making room for the black/BIPOC community by featuring more black-owned wineries.
A few weeks ago, I attended an online tasting benefit that supported MoAD-SF (Museum of African Diaspora), the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the ACLU of Northern California. This tasting was put on by Master Sommelier David Glancy and his well-respected San Francisco Wine School. The event featured black-owned wineries, black winemakers, and black sommeliers. It was quite the event! Very well done, and enabled each participant to try samples from 12 black-owned wineries. The wines were stellar and the format allowed us to connect with the stories behind the wines.
Highlighting black-owned businesses is key. When I am given a wine sampling opportunity, interview opportunity, or a press trip invitation, I confirm that the PR firm has invited BIPOC wine professionals. As a result, I have been using Julia Coney’s Black Wine Professionals website as a resource for finding those professionals (i.e. writers, sommeliers, educators, consultants, etc).
Below is a listing of black-owned wineries. Going back to my tenet of supporting black-owned businesses. This list focuses on wineries both here in the US as well as internationally. Certainly, if I have missed one, please contact me and I will get them added to this page.
Try a wine from a black-owned winery in your area. You could even order online from another state or across the world! I encourage you to seek out and try these wines. If you like them, make a purchase! In addition, consider swapping out one of your wine clubs and joining one of these clubs instead. Wine club income is passive and a great way to support a black-owned business. In no particular order, I recommend trying from these 12 black-owned wineries!
Artie Johnson’s inspiration to make wine was that he wanted creativity in his life. Before making his own wines in California, he was working at other wineries and executing someone else’s vision. This label name is a combination of his name, his kid's names, and his wife’s name.
Chris Lyons is making Lambrusco, a sparkling Italian wine from the Emilia-Romagna region. This wine is spectacular. One of the standouts from the tasting, and is currently available for pre-order.
Maison Noir Wines was founded in 2007 with the cool André Hueston Mack at the helm. The brand (and the wines) are exciting, dynamic, and unbuttoned. These aren't your grandma's wines! Two of his most popular wines include Other People's Pinot Noir (O.P.P.) and Love Drunk Rosé, to give you a sense of the vibe André is going for. There is not one ounce of pretension, but it is some good juice. I recently recommended Andre’s wines in an article for HuffPost.
Vision Cellars is one of the OG black-owned wineries in California. I first met owner and winemaker, Mac McDonald, at a food & wine pairing dinner in Los Angeles featuring his wines. He showed up in overalls and a straw hat. I was hooked. I then tried his Pinot Noirs and have never looked back.
Near the border of Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, you will find Theopolis Vineyards, with Theodora Lee at the helm. Theodora was a lawyer in a past life and is now owner and winemaker at Theopolis. Her Petite Sirah is a standout and has stacked up more medals than she can count. I recently recommended Theodora’s wines in an article for HuffPost.
Frichette Winery is a family-owned limited production winery crafting wines that showcase the best of the Red Mountain AVA in Washington. I had the pleasure of visiting Red Mountain during the Wine Media Conference in 2019.
In 1980 Deneen, David, and Coral Brown’s parents purchased an abandoned ranch in the eastern hills of the Napa Valley. They rehabilitated the crumbling homestead and planted viniferous grapes — which for a decade they farmed and sold to local winemakers. In 1995 the kids decided to make their own wine!
Bump City Wine Co: where the wine is as smooth as the music! Started by Tower of Power keyboardist Roger Smith, Bump City Wine Co. is a culmination of his passion for music, love of wine, and the joy that comes when they are shared.
Dan and Kim Johnson transformed a walnut orchard in Napa into vineyards in 2006. Today they produce 300 cases annually and only sell their wines online and over the phone.
Where handcrafted wine and jazz meet! Louis and Lynda Brown planted vines and are handcrafting wine in Healdsburg. For the Sips with Soul event, we enjoyed the Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and it was out of this world!
High quality, handcrafted, small lots of Cabernet Sauvignon from top Napa Valley appellations. Everything is crafted by hand, then patiently vinified in separate single-vineyard blocks and barrel lots in limited quantities, with production steadily increasing each year.
Jon Larson’s story starts in Angwin. He grew up in Angwin and attended Saint Helena High School, but left home to attend college, medical school, and residency. While in training in Las Vegas he met his wife Angela. As they moved around the United States pursuing careers in anesthesia and surgery, they dreamed of the day when they could return to Jon’s home on top of Howell Mountain and produce wine of their own. That they did. Their Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain was otherworldly. Intense and elegant. It was described as “power without weight” and I could not agree more.
If this doesn’t make you want to try some of these black-owned wineries, I don’t know what will! Please seek out, try, and buy these wines to help these businesses survive and THRIVE.
My commitment to diversity is strong and is coming from a place deep inside me. Consequently, I have added a “diversity” tab to my website. Here you can read about my commitment to diversity and the tangible way I am choosing to weave this into my business (more below). On this tab, you will also see a list (broken down by country and state) of black-owned wineries. Most importantly this list includes links to all of these businesses. Please visit this page to learn more and perhaps discover your next favorite black-owned winery.
Many of us can relate to being an underdog at some time in our life. In studying for the WSET Diploma, I find myself to be an underdog. I don’t work in the wine and spirits business, so I don't get to talk about wine all day, nor do I have access to the myriad of bottles that someone in the industry has access to. I've had to learn about wine mostly through reading (books, the Internet, blogs, etc). I then supplement book learning with tasting as many wines as I can get my hands on. But those in the biz have a distinct advantage, as they live and breathe wine all day. I, on the other hand, spend my days producing events in the LGBT non-profit world. A far cry from the wine industry!
An underdog in California wine country? Yes, they exist. Not all wineries here are owned by “the big boys”, whether that’s large international firms, Hollywood execs, or retired millionaires. Some earned success in the California wine business by starting from the bottom and working their way up. Chuy Ordaz, an immigrant from Mexico, made 32 unsuccessful attempts to get into the US. Only on his 33rd try was he successful. My family is also a family of immigrants…..aren’t all American families descendants of immigrants? My father and his family came to the US from Argentina when he was a teenager, and on my mother’s side, my grandfather’s family emigrated to the US from Portugal, specifically the Azores.
Fast forward, and after Chuy’s successful 33rd attempt to come to the US, the Ordaz family’s name appears on their Sonoma wine labels. Ordaz Family Wines launched in 2009. All wines are single vineyard. Courage and perseverance have both been pervasive themes with the Ordaz family. Chuy Ordaz’s son, Eppie, is now at the helm of winemaking. He was also the first Ordaz to attend college. Eppie has a Bachelors degree in accounting and went from crunching numbers to crushing grapes! According to Eppie, accounting and winemaking are similar: both require an attention to detail and both require you to put in long hours. To say the least!
Eppie Ordaz was recently named one of several "winemakers to watch" according to Sonoma Magazine. He works alongside his father, Chuy, who is synonymous with some of the more famous vineyards of Sonoma, as he has been managing vineyards for years. Chuy farms 500 acres in Sonoma under Palo Alto Vineyard Management. They are a pioneer in organic farming. Why? To protect the vineyard workers who are on the front lines, as exposure to conventional farming and pesticides could be detrimental to their health. Chuy spent many years in the vineyards himself, and the health of his workers is of utmost importance.
Today Ordaz Family Wines has 50 employees and manages 400 acres. "We're committed to producing single-vineyard wines that are as prized as the vineyards from which they originate", Eppie continues “Everything we do has got to be single vineyard, because I want to showcase the vineyard and the people who work for it.”. Their goal is to make solid wines that aren’t going to break the bank.
Back in February I was able to explore Ordaz Family Wines through a program called #WineStudio.
What is #WineStudio?
#WineStudio is an online Twitter-based educational program. Each month a different producer is selected, along with a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, yet only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation. Every Tuesday at 6pm (Pacific time), Tina Morey hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag. Usually accompanying her is someone affiliated with the producer, such as the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc. For each new topic Tina has seen dozens of original content pieces created, thousands of interactions via social media and millions of impressions created on our specific topic. Back in February we chatted with Eppie Ordaz and tasted two of their wines.
My tasting notes are below:
2014 Placida Vineyard RRV Pinot Noir $38, 13.7% ABV
This wine is elegant (a descriptor I use when a wine is understated), yet it has a presence and an amazing amount of fruit. The wine is pale ruby with red fruit (cherry, plum, cranberry), black pepper, cola, and earthy/forest floor notes. Medium + acid, medium + alcohol, medium body, and medium + flavor intensity. Fun fact: the Sebastopol vineyard (Placida) is named after Eppie’s grandmother.
2012 Sandoval Vineyard Malbec $25, 13.5% ABV
This wine is medium ruby with red fruit (plum, raspberry) plus some black fruit (blackberry/bramble), pepper and baking spices (vanilla, cloves, cinnamon). Wow! On the palate, juicy berries plus unending spice and sizzle. Toast and cedar notes showcase the 18 months this wine spent in French oak.
Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? They’re usually much more compelling than the story of someone who got what they wanted and got it easily. There is something so distinctly American about the Ordaz Family Wines story. We are a country of immigrants and we (should) welcome immigrants with open arms. We are a country founded on the idea that you can come here with nothing and make something. Whatever that “something” is. In this case, it's some damn good wines.