Tahiirah Habibi made news this spring when she posted a video recalling her experience with the Court of Master Sommeliers. She not only brought about institutional change in the way the group’s members use the term “master,” but also helped elevate the discussion about race in the wine community. At Wine & Spirits, our editors realized we knew many Black wine professionals, but we were not consciously aware of their struggles in the community.
We set out to open a conversation, starting with trailblazers like Dottie Gaiter, who hadn’t read a single Black voice in wine when she and her husband started their wine column for The Wall Street Journal in 1998. Veterans like Gaiter paved the way for the next generation in wine, who also shared their stories with us. In the 53 interviews we conducted, we heard many speak of having to be twice as good as their white peers to get recognition. Another recurrent theme was solidarity with other groups marginalized in the wine business—women, other BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks, and those with disabilities. But, by far, the most common theme, here in the words of NYC sommelier David Blackburn, was the importance of “seeing faces who looked like me” in the career he was undertaking. To all our colleagues of color: We see you, and the next generation can see itself in you.
We present here a small slice of the burgeoning Black wine community, broken into two groups. Click each heading to read more in depth about the featured individuals. On the pages linked below, the faces of the Trailblazers, those who have firmly established themselves in the wine community and are now mentors to the next generation, are depicted in photographs. The illustrations highlight that next wave, the Rising Black Voices in Wine, those whose impact is starting to resonate across our whole industry, and to the benefit of all.
Research on our Rising Black Voices in Wine was directed by Sydney Love and Susannah Smith, who contributed reporting along with Patrick J. Comiskey, Joshua Greene, Stephanie Johnson, Tara Q. Thomas and Corey Warren. Click here for the full list of those who contributed their experiences to this project.
André Hueston Mack
Derrick C. Westbrook
Carlton McCoy, MS
As the wine community works to support its BIPOC members, their efforts include funding scholarships for education and travel, and developing mentorship organizations and networking groups. Here is an ongoing list of those projects.
This story appears in the print issue of October 2020.
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