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In Good Taste

History of Black American Winemakers

History of Black American Winemakers

A Story of History & Heritage

The U.S. wine industry is notoriously difficult to tap into, and in a trade that is often as wealthy (and non-diverse) as they come, it can be particularly difficult for winemakers, vintners, and sommeliers of color. We salute our unsung heroes of the past, who made waves and paved the way for other Black Americans in this industry. Today’s Black wine leaders are positioned to make their own memorable mark.

Throughout its relatively young history, the average American has primarily enjoyed beer and spirits, while wine was thought of as something reserved for the upper-class members of society. Before the age of the internet (circa 1998), access to wine and wine knowledge for the average American was limited. It was even more limited for Black and brown communities, who were generally not prioritized and often overlooked. So, it is little wonder that, as with many other industries, the history, growth, and expansion of Black-owned wine may seem as scattered and small as seeds on the plain. But seeds that are sown and nurtured with care can grow into monumental feats.

John June Lewis, Sr

We are all familiar with John Lewis, the late Black American representative, statesman, and Civil Rights activist who encouraged all Americans to “never be afraid to make some noise and get in Good Trouble, necessary trouble.” In Good Taste even named a line of wines after his call to action: the 2020 Good Trouble Fair Play Zinfandel and the 2021 Good Trouble Syrah.

You may, however, be less familiar with John June Lewis, Sr., who is recognized as the first Black American winemaker in the U.S. John June Lewis, Sr. fell in love with wine and viticulture while stationed in France during World War I. Shortly after prohibition ended, he inherited land in Clarksville, Virginia, and by 1933, he began to grow his first grapes on the land. In 1940, Lewis opened Woburn Winery and sold his wines to locals until he passed in 1974. The Woburn Winery is the first Black American-owned winery in the U.S. and is believed to have been the only Virginia winery to produce wine solely from its own grapes at the time.

Ires Rideau

In 1989, Ires Rideau, an entrepreneur and social activist from New Orleans, purchased six acres of land in the Santa Ynez Valley. Though she knew little about the wine industry at the time, her business bloomed, and six years later, she purchased 24 more acres for the Rideau Vineyard. Rideau was the first Creole American and Black woman to own and operate a winery in the U.S. She grew several different Rhȏne varietals and focused on making wines that complemented the Creole cuisine of her roots. The winery is still in operation today, although Rideau is no longer the owner.

The Brown Estate

In 1985, the parents of Deneen, David, and Coral Brown purchased what would eventually become The Brown Estate. As the first Black-owned vineyard in the renowned wine region of Napa, California, The Brown Estate got its start by providing grapes to other local wineries. By 1995, the Brown siblings decided to try their hand at winemaking, growing, blending, and bottling on the estate purchased by their parents. In 2000, the trio saw sweet success with a spotlight in Wine Spectator magazine about their family estate and Zinfandel wines, but the celebrations were short-lived as their warehouse caught fire, and they lost all of their 1996, 1997, and the freshly bottled 1998 vintages. However, as a phoenix rises from the ashes, so too has this black diamond of the California wine region, producing Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Merlot, and more.

The McBride Sisters

The McBride Sisters are another leading Black-owned (and woman-owned) wine company in the U.S. These two sisters grew up in wine regions a world apart from each other – in Monterrey, California, and Marlborough, New Zealand – and connected over their shared love of wine, with a mission to advance inclusivity and sustainability in the wine industry. One such initiative is their Black Girl Magic collection, designed to encourage consumers to support Black-owned brands.

Andre Mack

Andre Mack is the first Black American to be named Best Young Sommelier in America (2003) and runner-up to Best Sommelier in North America (2004) by the world’s oldest and largest wine and food society, the acclaimed Chaîne des Rôtisseur. As winemaker and owner of Maison Noir Wines out of Oregon, Mack makes great wines with eye-catching, hip-hop themed labels and names that appeal to a younger generation of wine lovers.

Many minority-owned wineries can attest to the uphill battle to break into the wine industry. Distribution companies, sales representatives, and banks have historically shown hesitance to work with BIPOC winemakers, leading to limited visibility in the industry. In turn, these winemakers create smaller amounts of wine and often don't have tasting rooms or their own wineries, and so are opting to control their own destiny and start up as Direct-to-consumer, meaning that you can purchase directly from the winery but can't purchase their products from stores. It can take some legwork on the part of the consumer to seek out inclusive wine options, but it is well worth the hunt.

Photo/Caption by Virtual Tasting Host Tuanni Price // This pandemic hit the hospitality industry hard, including myself! I all of a sudden became an out of work, underemployed sommelier. I was able to transition to an online business model pretty easily. However my small business marketing plan for my zuriwinetasting online classes was not enough to power my income. Thank goodness In Good Taste Wines made the same transition to online as I did. Thank goodness they wanted to ensure diversity. Thank goodness they reached out to the AAAV AfricanAmericanVintners. Creating a diverse landscape is not always obvious or easy. Finding a diamond like me means you have to search a little extra. 5 months later... I am one of the top tasting host at In Good Taste. My reviews are stellar always and my work ethic is unmatched. I do all this bragging to prove one point. Diversity and inclusion is not charity, it is purposeful. It is intentional. It is ensuring that access and opportunity is available for all. It is a benefit not a chore for any company! Happy Black History Month!

Photo/Caption by Virtual Tasting Host Tuanni Price

 

BIPOC Wine Foundations

With this in mind, many nonprofits have started to help elevate and allow access to wine education at both the professional and the consumer end of the spectrum. The Roots Fund, for example, was started to "empower Black and Indigenous people in the wine industry." Some nonprofits are specifically targeting consumers who simply want to be more educated when they are buying wine. The Hue Society was created by Tahiirah Habibi as a safe place for BIPOC to learn and explore as well as find resources to support their wine journey.

Many of these groundbreaking Black-owned wineries and Black winemakers make a point to "hold the door open" for others who may be looking to learn more about wine and the wine industry. In doing so, they lay to rest some of the assumed pretentiousness that often comes with wine, as when offering somewhat unconventional wine pairings, such as wine with music instead of food. Sommeliers are encouraging younger, more diverse wine lovers to enter the arena as consumers and professionals as well, with an aim to continue making wine more accessible and encouraging everyone to enjoy and take pride in it, regardless of their background.

Rosé of Sangiovese

Andiamo

Sangiovese can be found in both the Chianti and Montalcino regions of Tuscany (it all sounds so romantic, right?) and is known for producing classic medium-bodied wines. Rosé wine is actually made from red grapes, and this is where the Rosé of Sangiovese comes to play. Crisp, fruit-forward, and easy-to-drink, it's everything you want in your bottle of Rosé and more.

$19.99

Montepulciano

Andiamo

Big, bold, and full of flavor—exactly what you’d expect an Italian wine to be! This classic Italian grape produces some of Italy’s most straightforward red wines and is often used as a blending grape. Not here, though. We let Montepulciano do the heavy lifting as a heavy red wine and shine on its own. If you enjoy the smell of leather bound books, nibbling on dried fruit, and complementary notes of bitter, dark chocolate and sweet plums, you will love this Italian wine. No need to pair it with any certain dish—Montepulciano tastes great with all the Italian classics.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Unprecedented

If Pinot Noir is the light and juicy queen of reds, Cabernet Sauvignon is her bolder, heavier, meatier sister. Often referred to as just “cab,” it’s the wine of France’s Bordeaux and California’s Napa Valley. There’s nothing subtle about Cabernet Sauvignon—high in alcohol, full-bodied and robust, you can usually find this red served with a ribeye, New York Strip, or filet mignon (re: carnivores love cab). Classic cabs usually offer tasting notes of chocolate, coffee, and darker fruits like prunes and plums. The Unprecedented Cabernet Sauvignon is as classic as they come, and we highly recommend letting the bottle sit and mellow until your next red meat and potatoes dinner!

Pinot Grigio

La Pluma

If you’re looking for more zest in your life, a bottle of Pinot Grigio can provide that. We included a classic Pinot Grigio in the La Pluma collection because we’re all about light and easy here, which is exactly what this grape from Italy is. It has that dry sense of humor that seems so effortless with a punchy acidity to keep you on your toes, all while offering notes of lemon, limes, green apples, and honeysuckle. Long story short; when it’s been a heavy day and your soul is seeking light things only, you’ll be happy to have this bottle on hand.

Pinot Noir

Unprecedented

We couldn’t create the In Good Taste Unprecedented collection without the Golden Retriever of wines: Pinot Noir. Pinot is likable, it’s easy, and its natural state of being is simply charming. It’s an incredibly easy red wine to love, which is why so many people do. The grape itself is from the Burgundy region of France, but has made its way to California, Oregon, Australia, Italy, Argentina, and Germany since. Our Pinot Noir has no surprise twists—it’s a classic light red with just the right amount of sweetness to keep you coming back for another glass (or two).

Coteaux Bourguignons

Passport

The Burgundy region of France is home to their best Pinot Noirs, but we took the grapes into our own hands to create something extra special with our Coteaux Bourguignons. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, which results in a French red that’s light in body but full in flavor. The ripest blueberries and freshest herbs can be easily detected in this French burgundy blend. May we suggest pairing it with some creamy brie and freshly baked bread? It’s a oui-ning combo.

$25.99

Verdicchio

Andiamo

A little sweet. A little tart. A little salty? You truly get it all with this white Italian wine. If you're into that biting acidity, Verdicchio will probably be high on your list of most-loved wines from our Andiamo collection. Citrus fruits like mandarin, lemon, and grapefruit are at the forefront, but what really sets this Italian wine apart is its distinct notes of almond. While our Verdicchio can start out tasting a bit tart, the more you sip, the smoother it becomes. In fact, we suggest approaching it as an aperitif (Italian for an alcoholic drink sipped before a meal to stimulate the appetite) to experience its full effect.

$23.99

Côtes du Rhône White

Passport

This was one of our first French wines to join the Passport collection and one sip will explain why. Some background on the Rhône Valley in France: While this region is known for its dark, juicy reds, a very small amount of special white wines are made in the Rhône Valley. Our Côtes du Rhône is packed with French-perfected, floral flavor and Old-World charm. Its natural tang paired with the weighty Marsanne grape and aromatic Roussanne grape results in a crisp, savory sip that’ll transport you to a sunbathing chair by the Rhône itself.

$23.99

Bordeaux Rouge

Passport

When you picture medieval folk sitting around a feast with goblets of wine, chances are they were drinking Bordeaux. This wine has been made in France since forever and is arguably the most classic French wine out there. Bordeaux is known for its full body, smoky notes, and rich, oaky taste. If you love cabs, chances are you will adore Bordeaux. For our Passport wines, we had to include this classic French red for you to sip and enjoy to your heart’s content. Best savored over a rich meal like lamb ragu, ratatouille, or BBQ.

$21.99

Ventoux Rosé

Passport

You probably know that the Tour de France is held on Ventoux Mountain in France, but did you know that the same area is known for its high-altitude rosé? This is the kind of quintessential French rosé that you don’t need to spin your wheels over—it’s simply delicious, crisp, and perfect for warm weather. Despite its delicate, pale pink color, each sip is lush with flavor, from tropical passionfruit and zesty citrus to refreshing melon. This has the potential to be your new summer go-to, so we’d suggest stocking up.

$21.99

Tempranillo

Wild Child

Say “¡Hola!” to Spain’s main grape: Tempranillo. This red grape put Rioja wine on the map and is un vino tinto classico. It’s best compared to a classic cab, but with a bit more unique magic that’s hard to put your finger on, which is why it’s a part of our Wild Child line. This medium- to full-bodied wine with its relatively higher tannins usually offers complex notes of cherry, fig, cedar, tobacco, and dill. This is the type of red wine you want to buy and pour for a Latin-infused meal; think carne asada, tacos al carbon, or just perfectly cooked steak fajita meat.

Grenache

La Pluma

We knew the only red in the La Pluma collection had to be exceptionally good and exceptionally light. That’s why including a Grenache was a no-brainer. If smooth, fruit-forward, light-bodied reds appeal to your tastebuds, this could be your new favorite. The grape itself is tricky; depending on the climate of where its grown, Grenache wines could be light, dense, or somewhere in the middle. La Pluma’s version has all the airiness and flavor notes we wanted in our Grenache, which is how we know you’ll love it. Get the most of this red by pairing it with roasted meats, spice-heavy vegetables, and Mexican-inspired dishes with lots of cumin.

$27.99

Moscato

Andiamo

This grape goes by different names in most European countries, but what remains the same is its fruity floral nature. Delicate in every way and extremely quaffable, this wine is as dainty as they come.

Barbera

Andiamo

We really try not to play favorites at In Good Taste, but there is just something about an Italian Barbera that hits different in the best way. Barberas are the perfect wine for pizza night; they're low in alcohol, and medium-bodied but taste super light, and their berry and plum flavors pair incredibly well with savory tomato sauce and cheese! Another fun thing about Barberas? They actually taste great when chilled, which is not something we're in the habit of suggesting for our red wines. Our Italian Barbera lies somewhere between the body of a cab and a pinot and is the ideal choice for a "ladies who lunch" kind of afternoon.

Vermentino

Wild Child

We couldn't not have a weird white in the mix, right?! The Vermentino grape is native along the coast of Italy on the island of Sardinia (yeah, like the fish). Because of its origin, this grape offers a salty, crisp flavor that's incredibly easy to drink and enjoy. We say it's "weird" only because it's not widely known by name, but chances are you've probably had it before if you've ever ordered white wine in an Italian restaurant. If you love peaches and lemons and get a kick out of anything that reminds you of the sea, our Vermentino is the perfect Italian white to experience on a sunny day outside.

$23.99

Viognier

Unprecedented

For the Chardonnay lovers who are looking to dig a bit deeper in the world of bold whites, a Viognier (pronounced vee-own-yay) could be your next big adventure. Viogniers tend to have more range; while they can be creamy with hints of vanilla like their Chardonnay counterpart, they also offer lighter, fruitier flavors like tangerine, mango, and honeysuckle. It’s still a more full-bodied white wine, but unlike Chardonnay, it’s softer on acidity and more perfumed. Spend an afternoon with a glass of Viognier amongst the flowers and it’ll all make sense.

$24.99

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