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.
André Hueston Mack
“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” says André Mack, who initially made his name in wine as the sommelier at NYC’s Per Se. He recalls seeing an interview with Sonoma winemaker Mac McDonald, who said that African-American sommeliers were like unicorns, and thinking, “Damn, I am that fabled creature;” Mack cold-called McDonald, who encouraged him as he branched out. Mack went on to launch Maison Noir, an Oregon winery, and Get Fraîche Cru, a graphic design company, as well as a mini-empire in his Brooklyn neighborhood, including a retail store (Vyneyard) and & Sons, a grocery and restaurant, with a bakery in the works. —Stephanie Johnson
One day at line-up at the Charleston Grill in Charleston, South Carolina, the sommelier asked the staff, “What is the grape in Muscadet?” “I was a busboy but I was the only one there that day that knew,” says Femi Oyediran. That early spark sent him down the Court of Master Sommeliers path, where he earned his Advanced certification before deciding that the Court culture wasn’t addressing his interests in wine. With a self-described “I’m set to destroy” mentality and drive, he co-founded a wine shop and wine bar featuring music along with eclectic wines that stand out for him. “At Graft,” he says, “we’ve created a Trojan horse. You come in and you taste some stuff and before you know it you’re enjoying geeky wine.” —Susannah Smith
Derrick C. Westbrook
Chicago retailer Derrick Westbrook got his start a decade ago, working as a server while in college. “Wine fed my curiosity along with my pockets,” he says, adding “I was one of the only college kids in Birmingham with an idea about wine.” Later, heading the beverage program at Chicago’s Elizabeth, he saw that he “couldn’t outbuy the big restaurants but I could outcool them.” Now a co-owner at 1340 Beer Wine Spirits in the West Loop, Westbrook features wines from Central and Eastern Europe, the Canary Islands and the Loire Valley. He also runs a wine and music pairing series called Samples and Samples. —S.E.S.
Assitant Manager, FreshDirect Wines & Spirits, NYC
Kilolo Strobert was making a red sauce one night while working on her marketing degree at Johnson & Wales. She needed red wine, and when she went to the store, they suggested a syrah from the Languedoc called “Fat Bastard.” She bought two bottles—one for the sauce, one to share with her roommates, who ended up loving it— and “that was the official wine bug,” she says.
Strobert began attending tastings around NYC while working at Zagat. “I thought I was a unicorn,” she says. “For a fifteen-year chunk there were like ten of us [Black women in wine] at a time.” She continued to delve into the industry in various roles, including stints at Le Dû’s, a retail store where she was involved in everything from the newsletter to staff training and events, and at Skurnik, an import and distribution house.
Strobert is now the assistant manager at FreshDirect’s retail shop in Brooklyn, the communications coordinator for Wine on Wheels and the wine coordinator for ICC StarChefs.
Strobert also runs a virtual class, Get Comfy with Wine, designed to “get people to understand their own palate and communicate with wine professionals.” —Corey Warren
Wine Buyer, 67 Wine, NYC
Baye started getting interested in wine while working as a paralegal in the 1990s before going to medical school. Studying at Mt. Sinai on New York City’s Upper East Side, Baye would stop by Best Cellars on the way home; the wine shop held free wine tastings every day at 5 pm. She said to herself, “If med school doesn’t work out, I’ll go work at that store.” In fact, she started there as a sales clerk in 1999 and worked her way up through that shop and several others in NYC before landing at 67 Wine.
There, she’s developed a following of people who seek her out for her wine-pairing advice. “I got into French cooking because my mom made me study French from seventh grade on,” she explains. “Once I found out that wine goes with food and you can tailor it to what you’re eating, I kind of became obsessed. What I love about retail is asking people, ‘What are you having for dinner?’ and picking something that you know is going to be great with it.” —S.E.S.
“It was Beth who impressed upon me the sheer pleasure of wine and food together.” — Zwann Grays, Olmsted, Brooklyn, NY
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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