When the Black Lives Matter movement took hold and gained traction a couple of years ago, the wine industry was among the business sectors to take a look at itself and reevaluate its efforts at diversity and exclusiveness. A lot of these efforts were good. Some were fleeting. Others tried but didn’t quite hit the mark.
I wrote a piece here two years ago that looked at a few companies large and small, and individuals who were making an effort to do more than just attaching a #BLM tag on their social media. They understood people of color didn’t need to just get into the industry, but to be recognized and visible and to be sustained for the long haul. I was thinking of this when I read Alder Yarrow’s recent post on his Vinography.com in which he challenged representation in wine stock photography. He contends that given 29% of American wine drinkers (2016 Nielsen survey) identify as non-white, stock photography of said wine drinkers should better represent that population.
His piece was an excellent mirror to what I’d been thinking. To connect the dots here, if we know 29% of American wine drinkers are non-white, let’s see them. If we want to give non-white wine professionals representation, let’s go beyond “seeing them”: let’s hear them.
When I spoke with Julia Coney, founder of the online resource, Black Wine Professionals, in 2021, she said “I didn’t want to create anything to get people in the business; I created this to help those in the business get more recognition,” she said. Coney is a great case study in how this “should” work: Her activism garnered her a “Social Visionary Award” from Wine Enthusiast magazine in 2020. Last year, Wine Industry Network named her one of Wine’s Most Inspiring People. She is now a wine consultant for American Airlines, a coveted gig often given to master sommeliers or masters of wine.
Coney, obviously has been heard, but she says, “there more to do.”
“There are still some places really not on board, or it was performative [activism],” she said. “You have to bring the horse to the water, and the industry is very slow to change.” Coney cited how sectors of such as viticulture and oenology, and on the business side of importing and distribution, need more representation.
“But for all that being said, there are still positive things coming out of it,” she said. “Tonya Pitts being named Sommelier of the Year by Wine Enthusiast—I don’t think that would have happened before 2020 and it’s nice to see people like her get their flowers while they’re here.”
Coney also said that she hears from a lot of people using her database and wine regions seeking more diverse representation in their trade presentations and classes. And that’s a good thing, she says. “They used to tap the same people all the time and not give other people opportunities, but I see that changing.”
I don’t want to be flying around for the next 10 years giving these speeches, but I’ll do it now if it needs to be done to make sure we’re good in the future,” Coney said.
All this came to mind this month during Black History Month when I am among the hundreds, I assume, of wine writers receiving numerous pitches about Black-owned wineries and wine stores, or Black sommeliers or winemakers. I am I’m glad to see this attention, but I also need to see a deeper reason to be interested in someone. I want to know that someone—no matter their racial or ethnic background—is working in an authentic way that shows their talent or creativity or passion.
And I also want to know we’re thinking about this not just with the confines of February, which is why I’m posting this on the last day of the month, because why NOT think about Black history, heritage and culture and contribution all the time?
To help you get on board with that, here are a few places to start:
Organizations and lists: