African-American wine makers lead push to increase diversity in the industry

(Reuters) - Black-owned wineries in the United States are seeking to raise awareness of their brands and encourage more young people of color to enter the industry.

The Association of African American Vintners says it has grown by 500% since 2019. But there is still much to do, said Phil Long, the organization’s president and founder of Longevity Wines in Livermore, California.

“There are thousands and thousands of wineries in this country... and out of those wineries, what are there, a couple of dozen that are Black-owned,” said Long.

“Once I realized how few there were and I started understanding the non-diverse landscape, that’s when it became more of an element of who I am,” he said.

Long, and his late wife, Debra, created Longevity, vowing to be inclusive after an unsettling experience at a winery in Santa Barbara. Recounting how he waited to sample the wine, Long said, “I stood there waiting ... and no one ever acknowledged me.”

Sunshine Foss, who opened Happy Cork Wine and Spirits in 2018 in Brooklyn, New York, at first found it challenging to stock shelves with Black-owned brands, but says now people are approaching her.

“A lot of the winemakers that I talk to... tell me, they would walk into wine stores, say, hey, I have this amazing product and people wouldn’t even look at them,” Foss said. “So, for me, it’s extremely important to be able to give this platform to a lot of these Black-owned wine makers.”

Slideshow ( 5 images )

The store carries labels from around the world, including offerings by American singers Mary J. Blige and John Legend, and NBA star Dwyane Wade.

Kristin Braswell’s company CrushGlobal Travel launched virtual wine tastings during the pandemic lockdown after seeing the need to speak to a Black audience.

“Just as the Black traveler is not a monolith, neither is the Black wine drinker and so I felt like this was a great opportunity... to show the wine industry we are interested in drinking wine, traveling, learning and purchasing.”

In February, several of the world’s premiere Black-owned wine brands participated in the virtual International Winemakers Summit, and shared their experiences of racism and hope within the wine community.

“We’re out there doing what we can to show... that our place is very much valid like anybody else’s in this industry,” said Nyarai Cellars owner Steve Byfield.

Reporting by Alicia Powell, Writing by Diane Craft, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien