“It’s essential that we create avenues for economic empowerment, and we can start through a concerted effort to #BuyBlackWine.”

Terroir Noire Infographic - Cautious Optimism-v3

Terroir Noir: Community and Corporate Social Responsibility Key among Black Wine Entrepreneurs

Written by Dr. Monique Bell, Ph.D.

In Terroir Noir: 2020 Study of Black Wine Entrepreneurs, a first-of-its-kind report on the motivations, challenges, and pandemic experiences of Black wine business owners, there are a number of results that may be expected. For example,  a majority of respondents (43%), who represent winemakers and brands, distributors, retailers, media, and other categories in wine, indicated that access to financial capital is the primary roadblock to their business’ success. Further, entrepreneurs who completed the fall 2020 survey are largely female (78%), educated (77%), and earn income from employment outside of their wine ventures (50%). Possibly unsurprisingly, survey respondents primarily self-funded their businesses (88%) and most (40%) earn between $0 to $25,000 in annual sales. 

What stands out about Black wine entrepreneurs is a unique focus on legacy and collectivism that is not often (enough) portrayed or celebrated. For example, among family-owned businesses, more than three-quarters (77%) indicated that the successful transfer of their business to the next generation is important to them. Understandably, if a wine business owner is able to clear the hurdles of gaining capital, persist through racial and regulatory barriers, and reap the rewards of stability and profitability, she would want to pass on that hard-earned equity to family members. Additionally, according to the theory of socio-emotional wealth, there are non-financial benefits to family business ownership, such as family ties and influence, that current Black owners would want to pass on.

Black wine lovers celebrate community

Black wine entrepreneurs’ focus on community extends beyond their own flesh and blood, however. Among respondents, corporate social responsibility (CSR), which refers to a firm’s values and behaviors in relation to diverse stakeholders including customers and society-at-large, 86 percent at least somewhat agree that CSR is important to them as a business owner, and 79 percent at least somewhat agree that CSR is an important part of their brand. With a majority (89% ) of survey participants indicating that their primary customer base is Black, this emphasis on the well-being of people and the planet is vital. 

Among the most-reported practices business owners employed to support the Black community was advice to other Black-owned businesses (20%), supporting arts and cultural events (15%), and gifts to charities (11%). Moreover, these entrepreneurs report that they actively promote other “minority” businesses, hire “minority” employees, and provide mentoring. 

What explains this seeming focus on collectivism and altruism? There are a number of possibilities. Foremost, in the context of an exclusive industry where Black winery owners are estimated to be less than 1%, wine business owners across categories likely find comfort in their Black wine peers and consumer community. Likewise, consumers of color value the cultural competence and celebration of community-centered offerings, which speaks to the success of events like the Black Vines Festival in Oakland, CA, and national organizations such as Hue Society.

77% of Black wine entrepreneurs are motivated to start their business and create generational wealth.

A brief review of Black business history (read Juliet E. Walker’s The History of Black Business in America: Capitalism, Race and Entrepreneurship) reveals that these values and practices have long been part of Black culture even prior to the transatlantic slave trade. Walker notes, “Inherent in the cultural dictates of pre-colonial African societies was the idea that the well-being of all its members and the commitment to cooperative enterprise incorporated social welfare measures” (p. 11). 

If you need yet another reason to Sip Consciously, consider that Black wine businesses give back — whether through mentorship and promotion of other minority owners, donations to local charities and cultural events, or sustainable sourcing. In a forthcoming study based on more than 40 one-hour interviews, a deeper understanding of these values and practices will be explored. 

If you’re interested in the new Terroir Noir report, access it here.

“I am grateful to the Black wine business community for welcoming me during a very trying time and sharing their valuable insights for this important study,” says Bell, who performed the research during a sabbatical at the Fresno State Craig School of Business. “The opportunity to connect with wine entrepreneurs inspires me to pursue further research and has opened pathways to increase exposure to and awareness about underrepresented groups in traditionally exclusive industries.”