Three years after the racial reckoning in 2020, these organizations are still committed to seeking more diversity in wine through scholarships and educational initiatives.
By Sedale McCall
“Do the Work.” It was a phrase that rose to prominence in 2020, as many industries looked at how diverse and inclusive they were and saw the need to diversify themselves and become more inclusive. These organizations are just a sample of all the groups working to support BIPOC wine professionals and increase diversity in wine. Some began as a result of 2020, others started before that, but all of them continue to do the work.
The Roots Fund
The Roots Fund was founded in 2020 by Executive Director Ikimi Dubose-Woodson, The Hue Society’s Tahiirah Habibi, and Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy. The organization’s mission is to “nourish and enrich the lives of communities of color in the wine industry.” The organization provides scholarships for education, enrichment trips to historic wine regions, and other resources to support wine professionals of color. Their goal is to support every aspect of a diverse wine professional’s journey.
“We are so much more than scholarship money for education. We learned early on that in order to really act on our three pillars of education, mentorship, and career placement, we needed to create a complete support system, she said. “It’s really about creating a network of support around them. What does that look like helping scholars find housing, securing visas so they can work abroad, scheduling regular mental health counseling for them, creating a network of mentors and peers who they can lean on, giving them supplies needed to study the wines, offering hospitality training and wine tastings.”
The Roots Fund has their second annual Auction Gala in partnership with Zachy’s on March 5.
Like The Roots Fund, Wine Unify was founded in 2020 by a group of wine legends, including sommelier D’Lynn Proctor, and Masters of Wine Martin Reyes and Mary Margaret McCamic. The organization was founded by the group to provide educational resources and mentorship to wine professionals of color.
The organization provides three scholarships. “Welcome” supports wine enthusiasts looking to enter the wine industry. “Elevate” supports the careers of existing wine professionals seeking further education. And “Amplify” raises the voice of diverse wine professionals in the industry. You can learn more about Wine Unify’s scholarships at wineunify.org.
Maryam + Company: Field Blends
In 2021, Maryam + Company, led by social impact entrepreneur Maryam Ahmed, launched its first enrichment trip, Field Blends. The trip is a curated “epicurean adventure” designed to expose communities of color–including industry professionals and conscious consumers–to an immersive experience in important but lesser-known wine regions.
“One thing that was successful during our Walla Walla trip that we will keep as part of our Finger Lakes trip is the idea of using all of your senses during the experience,” says Ahmed. “We explored so much, from getting into a soil pit to smelling the toast of brand new barrels to folding dumplings. Real tangible wine food and wine experiences, not just classroom-style formats.”
Field Blends Finger Lakes
The upcoming experience, Field Blends Finger Lakes, holds a special place in Maryam’s heart.
“It’s a part of my journey. I started in the Finger Lakes and got more of my career training and experience in Walla Walla, so these places are near and dear to me. I’ve been familiar for a long time,” she said. “I also grew up an hour from the Finger Lakes. The Finger Lakes is how I figured out that wine was even an option from a career standpoint, even before I turned 21.”
Applications are now open for Field Blends Finger Lakes. Scholarships are also open for financial support on the trip from Monday, January 23rd, until February 17. For this experience, Maryam is partnering with writer and educator Maiah Johnson Dunn.
“Maiah is one of the most passionate people about the Finger Lakes that I’ve ever met, and such an integral part of planning our program that I’m sitting here totally geeked out and excited for what this experience is going to look like,” she recalled. “So much creativity and heart have gone into the program, and we’ve had a long time to plan it, so we’re both anticipating how amazing it’s going to be.”
The team will be doing Instagram Live discussions on Mondays starting in February for anyone with questions, available at Maryam + Company’s Instagram channel.
McBride Sisters: She CAN
Most should know about the wine empire McBride Sisters, owned and operated by sisters Andrea and Robin McBride. The sisters are on a mission to “transform the industry, lead by example, and cultivate community, one delicious glass of wine at a time.” As part of that mission, the organization launched SHE CAN canned wines in 2019.
In addition to the wines, the project seeks to close the gender gap in leadership positions and offers scholarships for professional development among emerging women leaders. So far, the organization has awarded more than $430,000 to 82 women.
The Veraison Project
The Veraison Project is a volunteer organization to make the wine industry more diverse, inclusive, and equitable. Led by Carly Maher, a distributor in the DC area, the organization focuses on helping others have the success she and her board has in the industry.
“We’re just a group of regular people in the wine industry that have found our way into a fruitful career, and we want to do our best to open the circle and help as many people as possible to get the same things that we’ve been able to enjoy.”
The Veraison Project provides mentorship and immersion experiences for wine enthusiasts and professionals who identify as diverse. One unique aspect of the company is its three tiers of mentorship–Advisor, Informer, and Connector–which allows individuals to be mentors with little time commitment.
“We’ve always been focused on the business of wine, considering how what we’re doing directly translates to jobs,” says Maher. “Mentorship is the most important piece. We have seen job placement in management-level roles as a direct result of our mentorship. We didn’t want to turn down the opportunity for someone to provide networking even if they didn’t have the bandwidth to provide full one-on-one mentorship. That’s why we developed the informer and connector tier, to let people who want to help do what they can even if they can’t give a six-month commitment.”
The Veraison Project is currently accepting applications to its 2023 cohort, where you can apply to receive a mentor and attend an immersive experience in Virginia wine country.
When you first go to their website, Life Collective makes their mission very clear: “Advocating for equity and inclusion in the wine industry.”
Rania Zayyat built the company to connect women in the wine industry. In 2021, the group evolved to focus on rebuilding the industry’s current state into a more inclusive and equitable community that uplifts diverse talent and perspective.
In 2022, they launched the first cohort of the Lift Collective Entrepreneurship Program, a six-month initiative open to entrepreneurs with a new business concept of 1 – 3 years old. Additionally, the organization provides scholarships to underrepresented groups for education and entrepreneurship, holds annual conferences, and provides resources to entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds. To date, Lift Collective has awarded more than $21,000 in scholarships.
Association of African-American Vintners
The Association of African-American Vintners, or AAAV, is the most historical of the organizations, celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2022. The organization’s goal is to increase the visibility and awareness of Black vintners and increase community and knowledge-sharing. AAAV was founded by Mac McDonald and is currently led by Phil Long, Lou Garcia, and Angela McCrae. It provides access to events with members, and discounts for wines, and has provided close to 80 WSET scholarships for further education.
With less than 1% Black ownership within the U.S. wine industry, the organization established its first grant to stimulate the growth and sustainability of Black wine producers and entrepreneurs. The AAAV Entrepreneur Grant will provide financial assistance to five of the organization’s members looking to grow their businesses in the wine industry. This entrepreneurial grant program will award $5,000 grants to 5 Black-owned member businesses to impact three areas: operations, marketing, or innovation.
There is still more work to do. But organizations like these are committing to do the work and ensure that the industry increases representation, inclusion, and diversity in wine for the future. Looking for other organizations? Check out our directory of black-owned businesses in wine and retail.