Charting a Course for Equitable Change: Insights from Three Pivotal Panels and Dr. Monique Bell’s Groundbreaking Research on Black Entrepreneurship
By Candace Keeton
Angela McCrae, the founder of Uncorked & Cultured, recently organized the second annual State of Black Wine Business virtual forum in collaboration with Dr. Monique Bell. Dr. Monique Bell is known for her 2020 The Terroir Noir: Study of Black Wine Entrepreneurs. Besides this unprecedented study, Dr. Bell is an educator, consultant, and professor at Fresno State University, where she launched the university’s first wine marketing program.
This year’s theme, The Movement Continues, reflects the ongoing need for substantial efforts within the industry to cultivate equitable transformation. Every year, this forum hopes to shed light on, commemorate, and address the many challenges Black-owned businesses face in the broader wine industry. The goal is, McCrae’s words, “to spotlight the changes happening in the industry, amplify the work, and highlight the improvements.”
Black Entrepreneurship By the Numbers
This year’s summit showcased three insightful panel topics: How it Started- Black Wine Business Before 2020, A Conversation on Authentic, Committed Inclusion, and Where We’re Going- The Drink Black Movement and Beyond. These discussions were deeply rooted in Dr. Bell’s pivotal research, which included the perspectives of over 40 participants who self-identify as Black and are involved in diverse roles across the wine industry. Dr. Bell’s overarching objective is to outline actionable steps to bolster representation and support for Black individuals within wine.
With the more thanover 40 participants, significant findings included:
- 86% of Black-owned wine business participants in the study are self-funded (no significant changes since the original research)
- 1/3 annual revenues between $0-25,000
- 50% were profitable in the past year
- 37% are family businesses, meaning at least two members of a family are involved in its operation
As Dr. Bell closed her opening remarks, her biggest takeaway was that “limited capital remains the number one barrier for black wine entrepreneurs, followed closely by distribution challenges.”
What can we do as consumers to help support these mainly self-funded businesses? The insights of the panelists helped provide guidance.
The first panel, How it Started- Black Wines Business Before 2020, moderated by Charles Springfield, author and sommelier, also included Chrishon Lampley, VP of the Association of African American Vintners and founder of Love Cork Screw Wines; TJ Douglass, owner of Urban Grape in Boston; and Chuck Speed, national sales director of Volio imports and Mary J. Blige’s Sun Goddess wines.
The panel provided enlightening discourse for individuals contemplating starting a wine brand. These panelists were specifically chosen as each has carved niches in Black entrepreneurship, offering invaluable insights from their journey. The panel delved into the ramifications of 2020’s racial upheavals and the COVID-19 pandemic on the wine industry. Lampley said it best, “In 2020, it was cool to support Black-owned, but that came down, it didn’t stay that way.
However, out of it came corporations who became intentional and had directives that it must be BIPOC in this percentage.” Also, out of the turmoil that was 2020, TJ created The Urban Grape Wine Studies Award for Students of Color in collaboration with Boston University’s Wine Studies Certification to increase opportunities for professionals of color to elevate within the wine industry. To end, Lampley stated, “There’s enough room for all of us. We all do something different. So we are not competing. We need to help each other.”
Panel 2, A Conversation of Authentic, Committed Inclusion
This panel began with Uncorked & Culture’s editorial manager, Sedale McCall as moderator. It also included Alicia Towns Franken, Executive Director of Wine Unify; Tiquette Bramlett, founder of non-profit Our Legacy Harvested and VP of Chosen Family Wines; and Averiel McKenzie, Executive Director of The Veraison Project. These wine industry changemakers diligently furnish resources through their perspective organizations to guarantee a transition towards a more inclusive industry. As Franken stated, “At the end of the day, we are trying to change what leadership looks like in the wine industry.”
The three organizations connected to these panelists are actively pursuing that objective. Bramlett’s Our Legacy Harvested works to educate and advance the BIPOC community and connect them to the wine industry, specifically in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Franken’s Wine Unify provides funding and mentorship to elevate the voices of underrepresented minorities. Lastly, McKenzie’s The Veraison Project’s The Bridge Program is a scholarship initiative to support individuals just starting in the wine industry.
But, how do we create an inclusive tasting experience? According to Franken, “Access to mentors and networks. Give resources required to succeed for wine professionals and wine enthusiasts.
McKenzie says, “Success within the industry is when The Veraison Project grantees and other organization grantees are VPs of large companies, starting their own brands, or having the network to pull somebody up and take them along with you.”
Where We’re Going- The Drink Black Movement and Beyond
This panel was led by Regine Rousseau, wine writer and founder of Shall We Wine. Panelists included Cheramie Aho, founder of Cheramie Wines; Desiree Harrison-Brown, wine influencer and owner of The Wino Shop; and Ken Pettus, founder of Unwine 101 events. What’s the future of wine? The panelists in this discussion look to create the next significant movement within the wine industry.
According to Pettus, to continuously carve out space for BIPOC in the wine industry is about “expanding people’s comfort zones and introducing new wine enthusiasts to the larger world of wine.” If you wish to start a wine brand, Harrison-Brown suggests “Networking and look to other industries for advice. Know marketing techniques in general. Look outside for inspiration.”
Forging Ahead for Black Entrepreneurship
In a world where the wine industry has so many challenges, the insights from these panels provide actionable ways to forge a path forward. Their collective wisdom underscores the importance of mentorship, collaboration, and inclusivity. It reminds us the journey toward an equitable wine industry is a joint endeavor. As we reflect on these discussions, let them serve as a rallying call for every stakeholder to champion the cause of diversity and inclusivity in the wine industry.