Entrepreneurs Hope To Shake Up The Industry Through Black Winery Ownership
On Friday, June 16, 2023, the “Black on Black” dinner at the annual Food & Wine Classic brought together Black wine entrepreneurs nationwide to push for more diversity in the white- and male-dominated industry.
Guests—including former and current NBA players Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Channing Frye, along with rapper E-40 and celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson—came to Aspen, Colorado, to discuss solutions to the surprising lack of Black-owned wineries in the industry.
According to CNN, less than 1% of the total 11,500 wineries in the United States are owned by Black people.
“The energy in the room: I wish we could have bottled it. It’s important for those people to tell their stories,” Wine Unify Executive Director and owner of Towns Wine Co. Alicia Towns Franken said. Though the energy couldn’t be imbibed, guests were treated to the first sip of Franken’s South African pinot noir aptly named Inkwell, an homage to the Martha’s Vineyard’s beach where Black families often make lifetime memories.
Through her work at Wine Unify, a nonprofit that focuses on bringing minorities into the industry via educational and career opportunities, Franken is committed to expanding accessibility.
“I wanted to help bring more people [of color] in, because that diversity of thought improves everything,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is change what leadership looks like and bring more people into the wine industry. So many people have thought that [this] has not been for them.”
Ikimi Dubose-Woodson, co-founder and CEO of The Roots Fund, believes that deep damage to the relationship between Black people and the earth happened during slavery, something she’s working to mend.
“It’s never been corrected that the land provides and the land feeds, despite the negative connotation that goes with it,” she said. “[Land] was a big part of Black wealth 200 years ago—so it’s [about] making a good connection back to it.”
For wine brand La Fête’s founder and CEO, Donae Burston, it’s about the possibilities the industry holds for Black people. “The amount of money and wealth that’s generated in the wine and spirits industry is never talked about,” he said. “Those stories have to get out there for Black people to say this is a real career.”
NBA champion and owner of Chosen Family Wines Channing Frye echoed the sentiments of Burston and Dubose-Woodson in working to emphasize the opportunities available to minorities in the industry.
“If people don’t think a career in wine is an option, we’re missing out on somebody transforming this industry for the better,” he said. Frye believes that shortening the communication gap between the wine industry and Black communities could be a crucial first step to increased diversity.
“This is the honest truth: They don’t know how to talk to us. It’s as simple as that,” he said.