Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s been a pretty steep increase in wine sales during 2020. We may be going out less, but our collective wine-drinking hasn’t stopped; it’s just moved from the bars to the couch. And, let’s be honest, it’s certainly not going to slow down during the holiday season and into 2021 as we’re still quarantining at home.
Normally, you may choose what wine to buy based on whatever’s the second cheapest on the menu or has the prettiest bottle. But now that you have more time to think about your purchases, it’s the perfect opportunity to be more conscious about the brands you’re supporting with your money.
As with many other industries, the wine industry is dominated by white voices, and people of color face additional barriers including access to education, funding, and opportunities to form important business relationships that make it harder for them to get started in the space. According to Wine & Spirits, less than 1 percent of U.S. wineries are Black-owned. And they (and the other BIPOC-owned brands out there) deserve our attention and support.
Not sure where to start? Spotlighted here are three BIPOC-owned wine brands worth your attention, followed by a list of even more to check out. And don’t worry—the bottles are still cute, too.
When Robin McBride and her sister, Andrea McBride-John, decided to go into the wine business together in 2005, they didn’t know any other women of color who had down it before. “People of color were very much left out and excluded from the conversation, and being women of color, that was something we felt personally,” McBride says. “But we wanted to change that.”
It took a lot of hard work, but over time, the sisters built a brand that’s grown to be available in stores across the U.S., including Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Wal-Mart, and Total Wine & More. (You can also purchase it online.) “[Succeeding in the wine business] really comes down to relationships and having access to a good product,” McBride says.
The sisters knew they had good wine off the bat (theirs is sourced from New Zealand and they entered the market right when New Zealand wine was garnering a lot of attention) and the relationships grew over time. “We spent our days and nights researching restaurants, hotels, and wine shops and just calling or showing up at their businesses,” McBride says. “That’s absolutely not how you do wine—we got yelled at a lot—but we didn’t know the protocol. We really built our business relationship by relationship.”
She remembers one particular time when the two were carting (very heavy) cases of their wine around San Francisco. They had mapped out all the places they wanted to stop by, getting potential buyers to sample their wine. “We wanted to look cute, so we had on nice outfits and heels and then we came to this big hill—it was basically straight up!” McBride remembers. They kept going, climbing the hill with the cases of wine. “I took my heels off at the end of the day and there was blood in my shoes,” she says.
Now that the sisters have made it in the wine business, they’re paying it forward, helping other female- and BIPOC-owned wine brands succeed with a little less blood, sweat, and tears. Last year, they launched the She Can Professional Development Fund to close the gender and race gaps in the wine industry, awarding $40,000 in scholarship grants to female wine brand owners.
This year, the fund is focusing on helping Black-owned businesses. “Almost half of all Black-owned businesses have closed permanently this year [due to COVID-19] and 95 percent either didn’t qualify or were denied funds to assist them,” McBride says. “So that’s where we are targeting our funds this year and we’ve received over 2,000 applications.” Their goal is to set up 100 Black- and women- owned businesses with $10,000 grants.
They are also offering free wine education to anyone who wants to learn. “One barrier to many people entering the wine space is that it can be expensive to learn about wine,” McBride says. But the sisters are offering free tutorials through their Facebook page. “We created modules and at the end of each module, you take a quiz,” McBride says. “And we make it really fun, comparing one type of wine to Beyonce and another to RuPaul.” Now that’s a quarantine class worth taking!
Like the McBride sisters, Love Cork Screw owner Chrishon Lampley says she did not know any other Black wine owners when set got started in the business. Prior to founding her wine brand, Lampley owned a wine bar-cum-art gallery in Chicago. After a flood in her shop that her insurance company refused to cover, she was forced to close its doors in 2012. “I fell into a very dark place after that,” Lampley says. “I wasn’t sure what to do.”
As a creative outlet, she launched a blog, Love Cork Screw, that was half about wine and half about her personal life—bad dates and all. Her funny stories and smart wine advice both had people hooked. Soon, she was offered her own Internet radio show. Readers and listeners took Lampley’s advice on what wine to buy and order at restaurants seriously. So seriously in fact that it sparked the idea of launching her own brand.
“People told me I couldn’t do it,” Lampley says. “I didn’t have a license. I didn’t have a vineyard. Within three years, I did everything people told me I couldn’t do. And today, eight years later, my wine is sold in major retailers including Target, Wal-Mart, and Total Wine & More.”
Lampley may make it sound easy, but she says it was a long, hard road and she made her way by forming one key relationship at a time. “There are not a lot of Black women in the wine industry. I had to fight for my place and I’m still fighting,” she says. “I am asked extra questions that I see others not being asked to prove my validity. It’s a fight, but it’s a fight I chose.”
Lampley says that in order for the industry to be more welcoming to brand owners of color, there need to be more opportunities for funding—as well as more people championing existing BIPOC-owned wine brands. “There are great brands out there, but they need to be seen,” she says. “You have to have the opportunity to sell. You just need the chance.”
“Believe it or not, I got into wine by watching old episodes of Fraiser,” Maison Noir owner Andre Hueston Mack says. “It was the show that gave me the courage to walk into a wine shop for the first time. Once in the industry, it was my curiosity that led me to the production side of the industry.”
Following that curiosity paid off—Mack had a knack for wine from the start. In 2003 at the age of 30—and just two years into his career—he became the first Black American to win Best Young Sommelier in America. “It was a very surreal moment for me,” Mack says. “As a person who doesn’t celebrate small victories—or victories in general—it is a moment that continues to not only inspire others but more myself. To this day, it continues to push me to live up to that moment and to be better than ‘just a guy with potential.'”
His wine brand, Maison Noir, launched four years later and is currently sold at Total Wine & More and specialty wine shops across the country. “The hardest part of the job, I would have to say, is the curveballs that Mother Nature throws you to keep you on your toes,” Mack says. But he adds that the reward is sweet, both literally and figuratively. “It’s fulfilling on so many different levels from the incredible raw product that we work with to the memories we create with amazing people.”
8 more BIPOC-owned wine brands to support
Alumbra, which is Spanish for “shining light” is a wine brand founded by a Mexican immigrant who moved to Oregon in the 1970s in search of a better life. It’s still family-owned, with a commitment not only to making great wine, but being a good steward to the environment as well.
A Mexican-American family-owned brand, you can join the Cejas every Tuesday night for Taco Tuesday parties on Facebook Live. This fun fam shows that wine isn’t meant to be stuffy, it’s meant to be enjoyed.
3. Flo Wine
Owned by musician Marcus Johnson, these easy-to drink wines will have your tastebuds dancing. They also sell a gift set that comes with three bottles and plenty of snacks, if you’re on the hunt for a holiday gift anyone (who drinks) will love.
When Shae and Greg Frichette couldn’t decide between living in South Carolina or Washington (two states where they had family), they flipped a coin. Fate led them to Washington and, once settled, they pursued their dream of making wine. As anyone who’s tried their wine can tell you, that was one lucky penny—for everyone.
Launched just last year, Jenny Dawn Cellars is already sold in 38 states (and available online no matter where in the U.S. you live.) Choose from one of the 11 wines—enough of a range to please everyone’s palette.
Markell-Bani Wines was launched by two friends who were passionate about wine and sick of the lack of diversity in the wine industry. The duo didn’t let being the only Black people at wine events get in the way of their success—and now they have a thriving brand to show for it.
A brand co-owned by two sisters, The Guilty Grape launched during the pandemic—a major feat. If you love a good rose, their California Zinfandel is about to be your new go-to.
There’s a reason why Theopolis Vineyards owner Theodora Lee is known as Theo-patra, Queen of the Vineyards; sipping this wine will make you feel like royalty. For her, wine making started out as a hobby, but the fruits of her labor were so good, it turned into a full-fledged business. One of the standouts: the 2015 Theopolis Vineyards Estate Grown Petite Sirah, which has hints of blueberries, dark chocolate, currents, and black tea.
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