Wine is not fair. Despite a diverse American population, only roughly 1 in every 1,000 winemakers in this country is Black. The percentages are a little better for the industry at large, but not by much. The wine tides are changing, thankfully, but there’s much work to be done in the name of creating an inviting, diverse, and dynamic community.
The drinks industry is evolving and there are more and more Black voices entering the conversation. Wine has been particularly slow to shift, perhaps because it’s always been so bound to tradition and has a history of elitism. Fortunately, it’s shifting towards a younger, broader core audience, just ask boxed wine and Pinot Gris in a can. A major part of that shift involves having the wine scene actually reflect the landscape it inhabits.
There are an increasing number of Black influencers in the American wine scene, bringing important perspectives to the table. Some have started innovative businesses and others are NBA greats you’ve probably heard of. Here are eight other Black voices within the American wine realm you should definitely raise a glass to and follow on their respective journeys.
Andre Hueston Mack
To call Mack an influencer within the reaches of wine would be a gross understatement. The New York-based wino launched wildly popular Willamette Valley brand, Mouton Noir, some 15 years ago and it’s become a go-to for people wanting accessible yet delicious Oregon wine. The designer and sommelier never seems to rest, a familiar face at just about every trade event and responsible for a host of wine-friendly eateries and hospitality projects, not to mention a stellar portfolio of punny wine wear, and his own video series.
With a razor-sharp palate and equally sharp business brain, Habibi is putting her certified-sommelier skills to work. She started the Hue Society to bring more diversity to the wine world and take a hammer to the dusty old pillars that plague high-ranking industry areas like the Court of Master Sommeliers. Based in Atlanta but originally from Philly, Habibi is curating multicultural events built around wine and opening many doors to the scene en route.
Last spring, Bramlett became the first Black woman to take on the top role at an American winery. She runs the show at Vidon Vineyard in Oregon as their President and has been working in the Willamette Valley since 2015, with a prior role as brand ambassador at Anne Amie. She’s also behind Our Legacy Harvested, which educates and empowers the BIPOC community in and around the Pacific Northwest wine circuit.
Mitchelson is taking on racial disparity at the highest level, through a prominent role with Jackson Family wines, among the biggest brands in all of wine. She’s also helped create a BIPOC scholarship fund at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, a school with popular and prominent viticulture and enology program. Additionally, Mitchelson is a partner at Natural Action, a non-profit wine club that pushes for an equitable wine climate while educating followers on African-American history and culture.
Coney has done it all, from wine writing and educating to speaking and consulting. She launched Black Wine Professionals, a tremendous resource that continues to elevate the scene by dismantling its many white biases and antiquated, elitist cobwebs. She splits her time between D.C. and Houston, Texas in between all kinds of speaking engagements and wine-centric travels. Many cite her 2018 letter to Karen MacNeil as inspiration for not only jumping into American wine but changing it for the better.
Long started Longevity Wines our of Livermore and is the president of the Association of African American Vintners. Based in California, the vintner has been producing wines since 2002, when he made his first batch of Syrah. The D.C. native has brought tremendous awareness to inequities in the field, making some standup wines along the way.
Covert is a certified sommelier and partner at BlacOak, a tasting room and wine club in Philadelphia. The outfit highlights Black-owned labels from the states and abroad, working in “an inclusive environment with a specific agenda.” It’s a cool program that unveils producers that otherwise receive relatively little coverage, let alone praise. He’s also the CEO of CYL Creative Group and is always on the lookout for new favorite wines, whether it’s Bordeaux or Pinot Noir.
Carlton McCoy Jr.
McCoy was named a Master Sommelier at age 28, one of the youngest Black men to achieve such a title. He’s gone on to work at incredible restaurants like Per Se and commanding wine lists at other prominent eateries all over the country. He was recently the first Black CEO of a winery at Heitz Cellar, a historic estate specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, he’s managing partner at Lawrence Wine Estates. He’s worked the floor at so many prominent spots he knows just how much change is needed and continues to push for that through many side projects, including The Roots Fund (Habibi is also on the board there).
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