By Megan Sayles
Monique Bell, marketing professor at Fresno State, never had an interest in wine until she attended the Black Vines Festival a few years ago in Oakland, California.
While spirit brands consistently market to the Black community, wine brands have historically ignored them. As far as ownership, Black-owned wineries account for less than 1% of all U.S. wineries. The fact that the wine industry is typically a legacy business where family members pass down vineyards from generation to generation and that there is a high price of entry into the industry have long prevented Black people from becoming wine professionals.
“By attending that event, I was able to see that there are Black consumers, and more surprisingly to me, Black-owned wine businesses,” said Bell, who is a graduate of Morgan State University. This realization amazed the professor, and she decided that as soon as she had the opportunity she would delve deeper into the relationship between Black people and the wine industry.
Bell got her chance in the fall of 2020 when she took a sabbatical from the university. She conducted a survey and in-depth interviews of Black wine entrepreneurs to ascertain their motivations and challenges.
After surveying over 100 Black-owned wine businesses and organizing over 45 90-minute interviews, Bell was able to release “Terroir Noir: 2020 Study of Black Wine Entrepreneurs.” After analyzing the results, a majority of survey participants said that access to capital was the biggest barrier to starting or maintaining their own wine business. The second biggest challenge was bias and racism within the wine industry.
“I think that speaks to just how systemic and endemic racism is because we often hear that when you apply for these loans, Black businesses are disproportionately rejected from some of the more traditional ways of financing their businesses so [the challenges] are really tied together,” said Bell. The results also revealed that a majority of respondents disagreed or felt neutral that the wine industry was taking sincere steps to be more inclusive.
Through this research, Bell met Angela McCrae, founder of the media platform Uncorked and Cultured and fellow graduate of Morgan State University. The pair shared the same goal of making the $70 billion wine industry more equitable for the Black community, and Bell decided to join Uncorked and Cultured as the chief of cultural insights and partnerships.
Together, Bell and McCrae launched the Sip Consciously directory, which is an aggregation of Black wine businesses across the country. The directory was posted in time for Black History Month in February 2021.
“I would always ask where I could find information on Black wine distributors, and no one could answer,” said McCrae. “I felt like in order for us to really create awareness around Black wine entrepreneurs we had to create a resource for them.”
Although McCrae and Bell are making an effort to promote Black businesses in the wine industry, they both said established wine businesses must do more to invest in the Black community through awareness campaigns, wine education and scholarship, capital and mentorship.
“Specifically in the global wine industry, there is an opportunity for Black professionals and Black entrepreneurs to innovate and disrupt because the time is now,” said McCrae. “It’s not to disrupt in a way to stop anybody else’s wealth generation but to create a pipeline for wealth generation for future Black [entrepreneurs] and to create a Black legacy in the wine space.”
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