How to Experience Black Napa Valley
Written by Dr. Monique Bell
Photography by Lightspeed Films/Erin Malone
Napa Valley, California holds a storied place in the imaginations of wine connoisseurs and novices alike. The wine region’s lore is quintessentially “American,” with facets of pioneering, agrarian roots, can-do attitude, and innovation. As is the case with the wine industry overall, Napa Valley as a destination hasn’t historically connoted the Black people who craft, influence, and consume its liquid gold.
Today, however, thanks to collaboration among organizations such as the Association of African American Vintners, Napa Valley Vintners, and the Napa Valley Wine Academy, as well as active, local Black professionals, Napa Valley provides ample opportunities to sip consciously and embrace its rich multicultural tapestry of makers and enthusiasts.
“We believe our community and industry should be open and welcoming to people of color, whether working in the industry, visiting Napa Valley, or enjoying our wines anywhere,” said Teresa Wall, Senior Director of Communications for Napa Valley Vintners.
As the first federally recognized Juneteenth holiday approached in 2021, Uncorked & Cultured hosted its inaugural Juneteenth in Napa experience to highlight Black contributors in the region. Inspired by the 100-year commemoration of the Tulsa “Black Wall Street” Massacre in 1921 and the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, tour organizers Angela McCrae, founder and filmmaker, and researcher Monique Bell, Ph.D. curated an experience to embody the jubilation of Freedom Day among Napa’s verdant vineyards.
Looking to find a taste of Black joy in Napa? Check out our list of cultural gems as you plan your adventure among the vines to make the most of your adventure and enjoy a culture-infused visit.
Welcome to Wine Country
For airborne travelers, you will likely need a ride from the San Francisco, Oakland, or Sacramento airports, each of which is about an hour away – so be sure to rent a car for convenience. In addition to the usual rental car and rideshare options, Black-owned Cinnamon’s Wine Tours provides affordable transportation and customizable itineraries. For convenience and a short walk to Downtown Napa, check in to The Westin Verasa Napa for a 1 or 2-bedroom suite to accommodate your family and friends.
Pro tip: Be sure to visit the colorful Napa welcome sign for the must-have photo opportunity!
Study then Sip
While the wineries will provide all the sensory guidance you need to explore your palate, the Napa Valley Wine Academy provides engaging and informative sessions to heighten your expertise. While the Academy is not Black-owned, it is a proud ally and contributes to Diversity in Wine scholarships by Josh Hart and Wine Access.
A Taste of Napa
With your new proficiency in pinot and other grapes, it’s time to visit Black winemakers who are experts in crafting exquisite wines. James Moss and his wife, Janet, are the proprietors of J. Moss Wines, which is located about 10 minutes from downtown Napa.
Pro tip: Ask the couple about their romantic love story of more than 20 years and the wine will taste even sweeter!
Napa is also home to The Brown Estate and the family’s downtown site, The Vice Wine by Malek Amrani, Housley Wines by Tamera Housley and husband Adam, D. Wade Cellars by athlete Dwyane Wade, and the Legend Vineyard Exclusive (LVE, or “love”) Collection by John Legend at Raymond Vineyards.
Pro tip: Legendary vintner and charming proprietor of the Boisset Collection, Jean-Charles Boisset, created JCB Unity to benefit organizations helping Black communities.
Additionally, Carlton McCoy, who is one of only three Black master sommeliers, presides at the esteemed Heitz Cellars, where winemaker and co-founder of the Natural Action Wine Club Justin Trabue also works.
The Perfect Pairing
With all of the wine, you’ll be swirling and sipping, fabulous food pairings are a must. For fine dining fare, PRESS restaurant offers a sophisticated brunch with Chef de Cuisine Darryl Bell lending his fresh culinary perspective. In addition, PRESS Wine Director Vince Morrow manages the world’s largest collection of Napa Valley wines for your drinking pleasure.
For a more “down-home” experience, Black-owned Buster’s Southern BBQ delivers a satisfying menu of succulent ribs and chicken, house-made desserts, refreshing watermelon, and other down-South staples. While there is no white-cloth service here, there are plenty of white paper towels — which you’ll need as you dive into the deliciously fragrant barbecue sauce.
Lastly, you can dance the night away to R&B, jazz, blues, and popular music by Black musicians at the Blue Note Napa at Charles Krug Winery, featuring performances by Brian McKnight, and Damien Escobar, Tony! Toni! Tone!, Jody Watley, Taj Mahal, and Herbie Hancock (see current schedule and location online).
Ultimately, your perfect experience in Napa will be unique to you – just like your preference among its heralded varietals. As the region progresses in inclusion and equity, consumers of all backgrounds can contribute by intentionally visiting and promoting Black-owned businesses.
“California’s wine industry is dominated by small, family owned businesses and presents an opportunity for Black entrepreneurs, professionals, and consumers to grow,” says Tara Lynn Gray, California State’s Director of the Office of the Small Business Advocate.
“The focus on small, Black-owned businesses by entrepreneurs such as Uncorked & Cultured’s Angela McCrae and Monique Bell, Ph.D., is a vital component in California’s economic recovery, especially as we strive to create an economy that’s inclusive of all Californians,” she adds.
“Uncorked & Cultured’s ‘Juneteenth in Napa Experience’ opens minds about who makes and consumes fine wine, and the Sip Consciously directory provides a platform to find and support Black wine contributors around the world,” says Director Gray. See you soon in Napa Valley!