This is part of Rising Black Voices in Wine, a feature from our October 2020 issue. More information on the project can be found here.
We present here a small slice of the burgeoning Black wine community, broken into two groups. You’ll find Trailblazers, those who have firmly established themselves in the wine community and are now mentors to the next generation. You’ll also find that next wave, the Rising Black Voices in Wine, those whose impact is starting to resonate across our whole industry, to the benefit of all.
“There were no Black voices in wine in 1973,” says Dorothy Gaiter, recalling her time at the Miami Herald, where she met John Brecher. There still weren’t, she says, in 1998, when The Wall Street Journal asked the couple to write a wine column for its new Weekend section. She and Brecher penned that column until 2010, and continue to write on wine for the Grape Collective. “There’s so much talent out there now,” Gaiter says, “so many young Black people doing amazing things.” The Hue Society’s Tahiirah Habibi calls Gaiter a pioneer. “I love how quietly she puts things into perspective. Her head is down, she’s doing her work and she keeps it moving.” —Joshua Greene
DC-based writer Julia Coney was calling out a lack of representation in the wine industry years before America’s racial reawakening in May. In 2018, she wrote an open letter to Karen MacNeil titled, “Your Wine Glass Ceiling is My Wine Glass Box,” a move that Coney says suddenly opened doors to more events and press trips. Shakera Jones, who considers Coney a mentor, says, “Julia was one of the few names that popped up when I searched .” That’s changing with Coney’s recently founded online directory of Black Wine Professionals. Now, no one can say, “I don’t know any Black wine professionals.” —Sydney Love
When Sukari Bowman’s father died seven years ago, she and her brother, a chef, decided “we needed to do something more than the nine-to-five.” Originally intending to make a docuseries with Black winemakers, they eventually ended up developing a podcast, The Color of Wine, now in its seventh season. Reflecting on the strength of community in the industry, Sukari says, “At first I kept thinking that the podcast was what I was supposed to be so focused on. What I’ve found is, that’s not it at all. It’s the connections and meeting the amazing people who are in our life.” —Susannah Smith
Founder, The Lotus & The Vines, Atlanta, GA
“Wine will keep you humble,” says Larissa Dubose, who moved from spirits distribution in Baltimore to work for the Hess Collection in Atlanta. “I had these delusions about Atlanta being an affluent, diverse city,” she says, “so I was shocked that I was still the only Black person in the room,” recalling her futile web search for “Black female sommeliers.” Then Brian Batridge at Hess connected her with Regine Rousseau, an event consultant in Chicago, at Shall We Wine; DLynn Proctor sparked her interest in the movie Somm; and Sukari Bowman’s podcast introduced her to “how many people of color there are doing important work in the industry.” Dubose launched The Lotus & The Vines “to create a space for individuals to find someone who looks like them, to share an educational opportunity. Every time you think you know something about wine, you realize you don’t know much. There’s always something new to learn. Wine is a soft skill, and when you have that you are able to up your brand.” —S.E.S.
“She’s one of the three Wine Avengers…brilliant and extremely effective wine communicators.” —Dottie Gaiter, Grape Collective
“She’ll take over.” —Sarah Pierre, 3 Parks Wine Shop, Atlanta
Founder, BlackGirlsDineToo, NYC
Dining out, the more reservations Shakera Jones and her friends booked at restaurants, the more they realized that the only people who looked like them were bussing the tables. That’s when she launched her blog, BlackGirlsDineToo, in 2018. “I created the blog to show that Black people are in these spaces, too,” Jones says.
Jones recalls the sparse results of her initial search for Black figures in wine—though she did find her writing mentor, Julia Coney. She also started following wine educator Larissa Dubose, who presented wine in a factual but fun way through short, informational video clips. “Larissa gave me a starting point and got me posting my journey on Instagram,” says Jones, who has started hosting weekly Instagram Live tastings with other Black sommeliers. She has written for publications including Food & Wine and SevenFifty Daily and now she’s launching a podcast, A Glass for Every Palate, in partnership with SOMM TV. —S.L.
“I love the way Shakera talks about wine,” says Carlton McCoy, MS. “She’s matter of fact, jovial and playful. It’s that type of energy that will bring more people to wine.”
Beverage Director, Cherry Bombe,
Founder, Cha Squared Consulting, NYC
Cha McCoy “started in the wine industry in reverse”—she earned her MBA in Italy, exploring vineyards on the side. After returning to New York, she took a part-time job at The Winery, a shop in Harlem, where Eric White encouraged her to explore wine outside of Europe. Her background in civil engineering prompts her to look at wine in a scientific way. Not content to shrug her shoulders and call it magic when a good wine is made in a bad vintage, McCoy will look at “the soil, the harvest dates, the winemaking.”
McCoy finds the magic in “democratizing wine,” whether as beverage director of Cherry Bombe or in The Communion, popup dinners she stages around a wide variety of cuisines. “People can have food that they love to eat and then [I’ll] pair a wine with it that lets them see how the magic happens.”
Now, she splits her time between New York and Portugal’s vinelands, where she doesn’t sense the wine industry elitism as sharply. “I don’t feel that when I’m in the vines,” she says, “even if it is an old white man walking me around.” —Corey Warren
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.
This story appears in the print issue of October 2020.
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