These vineyards are creating quality wine while amplifying equity.
Whether it’s skipping the long line of admission into the hottest restaurant or being the first to try a bottle of unreleased Champagne, people love the luxury of exclusivity. However, unlike the intricate flavor notes of a fruit-forward pinot, the complexity stemming from disparities in the wine industry is more apparent and problematic.
Out of the more than 11,000 wineries based in the U.S., less than 1 percent of those are Black-owned or have a Black winemaker. Within the past couple of years, there’s been a push toward purchasing from Black-owned businesses, which has bolstered awareness and shined a spotlight on the benefit of increasing diversity.
“There’s so much creativity that can be brought into the industry,” says Marvina Robinson, the founder of Brooklyn-based B. Stuyvesant Champagne. “If you don't have further representation from our diverse population, how does it really evolve and change if we stick to only what we know in the past?”
Marvina Robinson with her rosé Champagne.
MALCOLM J. WILLIAMS
Though there’s still room for growth and awareness in the wine industry, Robinson mentions that Black-owned wine brands are making their presence—and excellence—known. “I hope as the years go on it further opens up and diversity expands, and people begin to realize that it's not just a Black-owned wine brand, but a quality brand. I am Black and a woman with a quality product,” she adds.
From sophisticated red blends to sparkling bubbly, plus delicious whites and other varieties, businesses such as B. Stuyvesant, Theopolis Vineyards, and Maison Noir are among the handful of Black-owned wineries producing some of the finest wines in the world—while paving the way for aspiring winemakers.
Sommelier and winemaker André Hueston Mack launched his Willamette Valley, Oregon, brand, Maison Noir, in 2007. Mack caught what he describes as the “wine bug” from watching old episodes of Frasier. He then became a sommelier before traversing into the other side of the wine world by becoming a creator.
André Hueston Mack in his vineyard.
“The biggest advice that I could give anyone is to not give up and take it one day at a time—always have your eyes on the prize. I know some of that is cliché, but it definitely rings true,” Mack states. “Even if it is your dream job, never forget the fact that this is a business, and business is a contact sport. Meet as many people as you can. Always, always, take the meeting. It’s just funny how the world works. There’s always something you can benefit from.”
Vintner and owner of Theopolis Vineyards Theodora Lee was driven as far back as the 1980s to open her own vineyard, but it took years for her to save funds to buy farmland in California. In preparation, she took several viticulture classes at UC Davis Viticulture School to develop her vineyard.
Theodora Lee on a tractor in her vineyard.
COURTESY OF THEOPOLIS VINEYARD
In 2001, Lee purchased 20 acres of sheep land in the Yorkville Highlands of Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, and began developing the vineyard. “That process was intensive, as I had to do soil digs, clear the land, and conduct land analysis to ensure the land was suitable for grape growing,” Lee says. “Finally, in 2003, I planted my vineyard, adopted my Greek name, [inspired] from pledging Delta Sigma Theta Sorority at Spelman College, and established Theopolis Vineyards.”
In 2020, Lee started the Theopolis Vineyards Diversity Fund at UC Davis and donated $50,000 to date with another $20,000 pledged. “As one of the few African American women who own their own vineyard, I hope this fund will help diversify the wine industry. I established this fund to encourage future vintners,” Lee adds. “I want to assist students who may experience financial barriers in pursuing a career in the wine industry and vineyard management and ownership, specifically. If more diverse persons are trained as vineyard managers, winemakers, or vintners, then the wine industry should become more diverse.”
Marvina Robinson entered the wine world in 2018 after leaving a 20-year finance career. Robinson traveled back and forth to France to learn more about wine with the goal of opening her own Champagne bar. With the start of Covid-19 in 2020, Robinson faced tremendous challenges was forced to pivot. She received B. Stuyvesant Champagne's first two signatures, rosé and Grand Reserve Brut, and began shipping bottles from her apartment. Getting the official Champagne committee in France to approve her distribution took nearly a year.
Additionally, Robinson has faced what she refers to as “the good, bad, and the ugly” of being in the wine market. “I'm always judged by another brand of Champagne. Some say, ‘I can always go buy this, why should I buy yours?’” Robinson says. “But then comes the good: When people hear about B. Stuyvesant and they hear the story, they look at our website, do the research, and see, ‘Oh, this was created from scratch. This is Champagne.’” Recently, B. Stuyvesant released new cuvées and will begin distributing in London in April 2022. “Be persistent,” Robinson advises burgeoning wineries. “Don’t let certain negative comments or commentary comparing your brand to another brand that's not Black-owned get to you.”
WHITE WINES FROM BLACK-OWNED WINERIES
Okapi Wines Sauvignon Blanc
This bright sauvignon blanc from Napa Valley has notes of tropical fruit plus citrus and caramel flavors.
Longevity Wines Chardonnay 2019
Expect melon, fresh pear, lemon, and mint in this clean chardonnay from Livermore Valley, California.
Brown Estate House of Brown Chardonnary
Created by Napa's first Black-owned estate winery, this crisp chardonnary has notes of citrus and apple.
ROSE WINES FROM BLACK-OWNED WINERIES
McBride Sisters Sparkling Brut Rosé
McBride Sisters is the largest Black-owned wine company in the United States. Their sparkling rosé has notes of watermelon and red berry.
Eunice Chiweshe Goldstein Winery Deep Pink Rosé
The soft and delicate Willamette Valley deep rosé of pinot noir has pops of zesty passion fruit.
K-Rosé Sparkling Wine
This rosé blend combines pinot noir and chardonnay grapes for a crisp finish.
RED WINES FROM BLACK-OWNED WINERIES
Maison Noir OPP Pinot Noir 2020
This earthy, spicy, and herb-focused pinot noir hails from Maison Noir, a vineyard based in Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Theopolis Vineyards 2019 Theopolis Estate Petite Sirah
This acclaimed wine from Yorkville, California has rich notes of black cherry, sage, and black pepper.
Wade Cellars Three By Wade Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
This medium to full-bodied wine has tasting notes like dark fruit and black currants.
From the northwest region of Oregon to upstate New York, there’s a vintage release from a Black-owned winery that’s waiting for you to sip and savor—and you can visit a nearby vineyard for your next celebration. OprahDaily.com created an official directory of amazing Black-owned wineries in America and beyond.
• FLO Wine
• Mosi Wines and Spirits