Black Men in Wine are not represented enough in the industry. Part 1 of this series focuses on Derrick Westbrook, a man who brings his full self to his business and mission.
By Sedale McCall
When you search “drinking wine” this is what pops up first. I’d bet it’s also the image most people think of when it comes to wine: two women, lighter complexion, in nice clothes, pinky out.
But that is not the true image of wine. Wine is for men, BIPOC individuals, LGBTQ+ individuals, and many other communities that are passionately dedicated wine drinkers.
This is part 1 of a series of posts that will highlight Black men in wine, a group that’s often not seen or represented in the industry.
Part 1: Derrick Westbrook
Derrick Westbrook is a pure entrepreneur. He’s the owner of Juice @ 1340, has a line of clothes and candles, and consults for drink programs across the country, and that’s just at the moment. In a former life, he was a sommelier and beverage director at Michelin-star restaurants like Elizabeth in Chicago. But, at the end of the day, Derrick views his purpose as solving problems in business.
“I’ve always had side hustles, side jobs, different things in wine, there was always that natural inclination to see a problem and think I can fix it,” he said. “It’s [entrepreneurship] problem-solving at the highest level. If you’re doing it for someone else you can do it for yourself, if you have the desire to do it.”
Even for Black men in wine, Derrick is in a rare group. We’ve heard so much about how less than 1% of wineries are Black-owned, even though more than 12% of wine drinkers identify as Black (Black people make up the same percentage of the population in the country). This is a gap many continue to work on, and Derrick is one of them. He is confident and ready to take on whatever challenge is coming his way. No matter what might be coming up around the corner.
“The idea of being an entrepreneur never seemed far-fetched to me, and sometimes ignorance is bliss. The transition for me was natural because I was always around it. I found myself in a lot of sticky situations and not knowing where the next check or opportunity would come. You have to take those risks and I’m not a risk-averse person”
Finding Inspiration in Unlikely Places
Derrick’s focus is not just on building himself and Black men in wine. He’s using wine to tell the story of who he is as a person. His personal growth fuels his business growth.
“I’m always in a state of self-evaluation and questioning. Not because I’m so deep, but business forces you to do that. It’s your job to be self-aware and recognize and address your flaws,” he discussed. “The more whole you are as a person, the better you can see the landscape and it influences the decisions you make in the wine world. I like to say ‘I was cool before wine, I was interesting before wine’ and that’s the difference for me. This isn’t a wine journey for me, this is a life journey.”
Derrick also finds inspiration in industries beyond wine, from sports to comedy and even education.
“I love hanging out with comedians because they are great storytellers, and storytelling is a differentiator for me. Also, I like talking to entrepreneurs who aren’t into wine, like tech or finance, and seeing how they see the world. I like being around athletes who are working at the highest level, that top 1% of 1% mentality. Other places I like to go to are educators because I like to teach as much as I like to learn.”
Derrick’s Tips for Success
If this has inspired you to think about starting a business, whether in wine or any other industry. There are a few things Derrick thinks you should know.
“You have to be willing to ask for help, I’m nothing without my team, you have to have a team around you.” he started. “Also, respect the craft, making sure you learn wine. You don’t have to be a master sommelier, but you have to respect the industry. You have to have a lot of intestinal fortitude. There’s a thin line between being in a comfortable workplace and pushing yourself and your staff.”
As for Derrick himself, he’s just getting started. He’s focusing on his brand, and community and pushing himself, and others, to new heights.
“What I’m really excited about for my future is who I’m bringing with me and who I can sow into, the next generation of somms, I’m already thinking about legacy, even though I’m not out of the game yet. My focus is being as great as I can in the city, I want to be super active here in Chicago and nationally.
Making sure Juice @ 1340 is working and growing somms, being a beverage director. It’s about expanding the brand and doing everything related to being a somm, taste, sight, and smell. I want to explore beauty from a smell perspective with the candles, from a sight perspective with the merch, and taste through the culinary world. Ultimately telling the story of what it’s like to be a somm.”