The latest installment of a groundbreaking study about Black wine entrepreneurs shines a light on progress made — and promises yet to be realized — toward fostering a more inclusive wine industry.
“This has become a passion for me,” says the report’s author, Monique Bell, PhD, commenting on the recent publication of “Terroir Noir: 2023 Study of Black Wine Entrepreneurs” available at www.moniquebell.com/. The professor of business and marketing at California State University, Fresno is delighted that the wine world is paying attention. This summer, Bell presented her findings at the 10th International Symposium of the Institute of Masters of Wine in Wiesbaden, Germany, one of several speaking engagements she has undertaken since launching the project.
The 2023 report follows Bell’s inaugural 2020 research exploring the motivations and experiences of Black wine business owners as they navigate a largely white industry. Black-owned wineries account for 1 percent or less of all US wineries, according to a 2021 study; and until Bell undertook her research, Black wine entrepreneurs were nowhere to be found in the academic literature. Amid the backdrop of a pandemic and a resurgent Black Lives Matter movement, the researcher conducted the first trade analysis of its kind focused on this small but consequential population of professionals — a demographic that is already reaching a diverse audience of new wine consumers.
More than 100 respondents participated in the 2020 effort, with 78 completing the entire survey in 2023. Nearly half of respondents produce wine, while the balance includes marketers, sommeliers, retailers, wine writers, and event organizers, all of whom own wine-centric businesses. Most respondents — nearly 80 percent of whom identify as female — are based in the United States, while some reside internationally. Most operate self- or family-funded businesses, and of that subset, many are intent on leaving a legacy for the next generation.
Both reports provide moment-in-time snapshots of an important subset of BIPOC professionals, as well as deepen understanding about experiences of bias and racism. “Many times, unless you are part of an underrepresented group or have had experiences of being that outsider or other, it may be challenging for you to believe that some of these injustices are actually occurring,” Bell explains. “So it’s important to know first, ‘Where do we stand? What’s the current state of affairs?’ so that we can set goals for where we want to be — and also to take it from the abstract and make it concrete for people who may not have had these experiences.”
The 2023 report reveals that limited capital remains the number one barrier to Black wine entrepreneurs’ success, followed by obstacles related to navigating distribution channels necessary to get products to market. Both challenges were also cited as top concerns in 2020.
Notably, the latest report sheds light on respondents’ perceptions of diversity and equity commitments made in the wake of 2020′s social justice protests. Have wine corporations, financial lenders, and foundations fulfilled their pledges to make the industry more accessible to BIPOC professionals? One respondent assessed those promises as “performative at best, keeping capital, distribution, and retail opportunities with the largest corporations.”
While more than half of respondents said they benefited from recent diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, more is required to advance systemic change. Wine industry sectors, for example, should dust off their strategic plans and continue to track whether they are making progress toward pledged goals. Wine enthusiasts can support and participate in grassroots mentorship and educational opportunities, like those launched by Urban Grape and Wine Unify. Finally, consumers can ask their local retailers to stock Black-owned brands, purchase them, and enjoy them regularly.
“Each of us can take our own piece of the puzzle and make a difference hyperlocally,” Bell says. “You can get in wherever your expertise or passion is, and make change — step by step, a piece at a time.”
Making change has never been so delicious. Here are two of my favorites — just in time for Thanksgiving and a bright holiday season.
McBride Sisters Collection, Sparkling Brut Rosé This charmat sparkler is produced by entrepreneurial sisters Robin McBride and Andréa McBride John who have built the United States’ largest Black-owned wine company. Crafted from New Zealand Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and a splash of Merlot, this bubbly pink is a charmer, offering pleasing effervescence, bright acidity, and flavors of strawberry and Meyer lemon. 12.5 percent ABV. Low-$20s. Distributed by Martignetti Companies, Carolina Wine & Spirits. Available at Star Market, Belmont; Marty’s Fine Wines, Newton; Urban Grape, Boston South End.
Maison Noir Wines, “O.P.P.” (Other People’s Pinot) 2021 Year after year, award-winning sommelier-turned-winemaker André Hueston Mack turns out this silky Oregon pinot noir, a winsome package of cherries, berries, and forest-floor leafiness with a hint of oak. 13.5 percent ABV. Mid-$20s. Distributed by Horizon Beverage. Available at Burlington Wine & Spirits, Burlington; Triangle Point Market, Dorchester; Charlestown Liquors, Boston.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org