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.
In 2004, when DLynn Proctor started out as a sommelier in Dallas, he had no mentors. But he did get support from Frank Shobe, a Black man, running Winebow, a distributor. “Frank was the one who was saying, ‘D, I’ve got your back! Whatever you need.’” Four years later, DLynn was voted a W&S Best New Sommelier for his work at Wine’tastic. He later joined Penfolds and now heads up Fantesca, on Spring Mountain. This year, DLynn established Wine Unify, to help young Black wine professionals gain a foothold in the industry. “I wanted to point to a door,” he says, “to grab as many hands as I could and take them through that door, introducing them to everyone in the building.” —Joshua Greene
Carlton McCoy, MS
Carlton McCoy’s meteoric rise in the wine industry started at CityZen in DC, where wine director Andrew Myers became his mentor. McCoy was only 22 at the time; by 28, he was a Master Sommelier running the wine program at Aspen’s The Little Nell. Now he’s president and CEO of Heitz, one of Napa Valley’s iconic wineries. He’s also teamed up with Tahiirah Habibi and Ikimi Dubose to found the Roots Fund. “We talked about our roots and our families,” he explains. “That’s where we get our drive, what pushes us forward. I want to go into the great cellars of the US and see Black winemakers; I want to see Black grape growers. If we can’t help mentor, we’ll have others who can.” —J.G.
It was over a meal at Nora in DC that Lee Campbell discovered Restaurants could have a mission larger than food. She later made a name for herself with natural wine lists she created for Andrew Tarlow’s restaurant group in Brooklyn from 2012 to 2016. Now, Campbell makes a conscious effort to serve as a mentor for young POC in the industry, recalling how, early on, “the handful of people [of color] I approached weren’t very responsive.” She’s helping to establish mentorships for POC with Early Mountain Vineyards in Virginia. And she plans to launch the Collective Wine Institute in 2021, using natural wine as the “jumping off point” to teach students about wine. —Corey Warren
Sales Representative, Skurnik Wines & Spirits,
Founder, Kelly Mitchell Wines, NYC
“I didn’t know anything, but I was like, this is it,” thought Kelly Mitchell as she surveyed the room at a Massanois portfolio tasting in NYC. It was a transformational moment for Mitchell, who had been admitted to the tasting through a connection with Amy Ezrin, Massanois’s Italian portfolio manager. “Literally putting someone in a room, giving them access to a tasting that they wouldn’t otherwise have had access to, was so important,” says Mitchell. She transitioned from her job at Goldman Sachs into the wine business, taking classes at the International Wine Center and landing a job with VOS Selections. She moved to Skurnik Wines in 2017, and grew a consulting business out of a desire to help people who wanted to know more about wine. Mitchell still finds herself the only Black person in the room at many wine events, and she makes a point of being seen. “I take responsibility not just for myself but for others,” she says. “Being seen matters, representing matters. White dudes can sit in the back of the room. They don’t have to represent. I’m always going to be on time and sit in the front of the room.” —Stephanie Johnson
Wine Consultant, Indie Wineries, NYC
With just five years in the wine game, Jahde Marley is already making waves in the industry. A sales rep for NYC-based Indie Wineries, she’s taking the lessons she’s learned with Italian wine and applying them to rum with Sugar and Spiced, a tour venture she’s launching to highlight the regional distinctions in rum.
“Traveling around Italy and seeing the regional pride, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is like home,” she says. “The regionality of Italy spoke to me as the proud daughter of a Jamaican immigrant. Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, even Cuba…we all get shoved into the category of West Indian food, but Caribbean foodways are so distinct, one from another.” She cites the pride Oaxacans have now thanks to the growth of mezcal: “I want to give that to the Caribbean as well.” Marley also runs the Ideal Bartender Collective, a BIPOC mentorship organization. “Five years ago,” she says, “if I had been able to see that these people were out there, I would have felt more comfortable in my own skin and less like I needed an avatar.” —Susannah Smith
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.
Like what you read? Subscribe today.