The wine industry is historically exclusive in more ways than one — and it's not always a good thing. Despite the fact that Black consumers make up about 11 percent of wine drinkers in the country (as reported by the Wine Market Council Consumer Segmentation), the Association of African American Vintners reports that only 50 out of the 10,000 U.S. wineries are Black-owned. However, the industry has seen big changes in recent years, thanks in no small part to these Black women in wine that have been pushing the industry to evolve.
And while consumers of all types of products are being mindful about where they spend their dollars — which includes a conscious effort to support Black-owned brands from their beauty products to the food in their fridge — it seems that there's still a long way to go in terms of wine.
If you ask some burgeoning Black women in the business, including sommeliers, wine representatives, and winery owners, that's because you might not even know Black wine brands even exist. "If you look at the marketing, those who are decision makers, those making the wine, selling the wine — if you look at any part of the wine industry chain, there is very little Black representation and because of that it’s hard to see one’s self in the industry, just like with anything else," explains winemaker Cheramie Law, who owns Cheramie Wine.
The good news is, women like Law are making sure things don't stay this way. By building platforms, starting a dialogue, and stepping into the spotlight with their own entrepreneurial endeavors, several influential Black females are leading the charge with hopes to change the future of the industry.
The Zoe Report reached out — with a little help from Wonder Women of Wine — to five such trailblazers to learn about their career paths, their advice for anyone breaking into the wine business, and, obviously, what they're drinking now. Find out more ahead.
Black Woman In Wine: Julia Coney, Wine Journalist & Founder of Black Wine Professionals
As a wine journalist, speaker, consultant, and founder of Black Wine Professionals — a recently launched resource for Black wine professionals in the wine industry — Coney is helping to secure long-overdue space for aspiring Black women in the business. That said, landing here would seem a bit unexpected considering her career past. From paralegal to beauty blogger to influential wine expert, she's gone through quite the evolution.
"In 2006, I started a beauty blog after I told a beauty journalist that I flew to Paris every year to get my French skincare and to get a facial," recalls Coney in an interview with The Zoe Report. "She told me I should start a blog, so I started a beauty blog that became really popular in 2008 until I stopped blogging about beauty and realized wine was calling me more in 2016," she says. "I had been traveling to wine regions for over 18 years at that time in 2016. So for me, wine became my third career and, I do believe, my legacy."
As for what Coney's drinking right now, she tells The Zoe Report she always stays stocked up on bubbles. "My 'house' champagne is Champagne Lallier Rosé," says Coney. "I'm also loving Eric Rodez, Moussé Fils, Laherte Frérers Brut Nature, and A. Margaine. For sparkling wines, it is J Vineyards Cuvee 20 from California and Raventós i Blanc from Spain. [...] La Cave se Rebiffe rosé pét-nat just came into my life this week and I can't get enough. Also, my friend Kelly has an amazing summer six-pack wine box."
For other Black women who are looking to follow in Coney's footsteps, her advice is actually pretty simple: Do your research. "The best thing to do [is] study and taste," she says. "[Get] some wine books and drink a different wine each week. Learn your palate and learn the business from various aspects. Read all the industry newsletters. Wine is still a business and it is good to know what is happening in the world from that perspective, too."
Black Woman In Wine: Cheramie Law, Owner of Cheramie Wine
As the owner and co-founder of Cheramie Wine, which is set to have its first release in August, Law always found herself interested in wine. And not just drinking it — but learning the stories behind the bottle. After deeply investigating Texas' wine scene with her partner, she became a wine broker, which led to her to starting her own brand.
While Law admits that she sees little Black representation in the wine industry as a whole, she's hopeful that a change is coming. "I believe there is a shift happening now," she says. "Black women are beginning to be highlighted, their stories are being told. I imagine that other Black women will begin to see themselves and know that wine can be a profession and join in." That said, there's still a lot of work to be done. "On the other side, wine companies, retailers, and restaurants will need to update their cultures to become more diverse within their own businesses," she adds.
Law's best advice for breaking into the wine business as a Black woman? Don't listen to anyone who says you can't. "It may feel awkward and you may get strange looks but those people aren’t you and they don’t know what you are capable of," she says. "When I first started, I was shunned. People literally laughed in my face and wasted my time, but I didn’t give up and I won’t give up."
Black Woman In Wine: Tahiirah Habibi, Sommelier & Founder of Hue Society
As founder/sommelier of wine network Hue Society and the co-founder/Executive Director of The Roots Fund (which supports underrepresented minorities in the wine industry), Habibi is passionate about dismantling systemic racism and creating economic access and empowerment for Black and Indigenous people in the wine world. With Hue Society, she creates inviting, educational, and experiential events and champions Black-owned brands. As for The Roots Fund, the nonprofit organization aims to offer tangible access and inclusion into the industry via financial assistance, job placement, and mentorship.
In addition to the lack of representation, Habibi explains that there's also the issue of accessibility to blame for why you may not be seeing more Black women in the industry. "I believe access plays a big part," she shares. "There needs to be authentic representations shown. This begins with hiring practices, addressing micro-aggressions, and reaching out to Black women to see what they like and need."
And due to the fact that it's a notoriously tough industry for Black women to break into, Habibi notes that having support is crucial to achieving success. "It’s so important to have people around you that understand your struggle — and it is undeniably a struggle," she explains. "The mental health aspect of oppression is not emphasized enough."
Black Women In Wine: Regine Rousseau, Founder of Shall We Wine
Through her company Shall We Wine — which organizes tasting events and offers beverage consulting for clients and consumers — Rousseau has become a trusted source on the subject of wine, something she fell in love with during a study abroad program to Besançon, France. This passion led to a career in sales in the '90s (for a boutique wine company in Chicago) and since that time it's grown into the space she's created and continues to carve out, which is centered around accessibility for all.
From a young age, Rousseau, like many of her peers featured here, noticed the exclusivity within the industry. "The wine world was presented as white, rich, and male," she says. "Because of these images, some companies have only recruited one type to represent their products." In addition to the presence of more Black mentors for women in this space, she believes there also needs to more active anti-racism. "I’ve noticed a few new scholarship programs for BIPOC which I think is great, however, what will happen when a BIPOC enters that institution and has to deal with its racists practices?" she asks. "So grant the scholarships but also change your institution's racist practices."
On a lighter note, Rousseau shares that she just might have discovered the ideal wine to sip this summer. "I’ve tried so many great wines this month, [but the one] that stands out is Keush "Origins" Brut," she says. "I love bubbles and this was a yummy surprise: A blend of Armenian grapes made in the traditional method. Clean, crisp, lively with lemon and green apples on the palate."
Black Woman In Wine: Lia Jones, Sommelier & Executive Director of Diversity In Wine and Spirits
Not only is Jones an impressive wine expert in general, but she's currently the Executive Director of Diversity in Wine and Spirits, a non-profit devoted to inclusion in the beverage industry. Having worked in NYC restaurants and owned her own private dining company, she was determine to exceed the expectations of a Black woman in the business. She enrolled in classes and her love affair with wine began. Through her latest endeavors, she helps to offer opportunities and education to those who similarly feel underrepresented.
For other Black women who have considered a career in wine, but may feel unsure or excluded, Jones best advice is to push past the doubts with your head held high. "Be unapologetic and proud," she offers. "We are here, we work hard, we are successful, and if, for any reason, you have doubts, reach out for mentors and allies. My organization is a great resource."
And if you're looking looking for her expertise in a summer-friendly wine to drink this season, Jones recommends one bottle that will also help anyone with a goal to shop more Black-owned business. "With all the attention on supporting Black winemakers, I’m drinking André Mack’s Love Drunk Rosé," she says. "It’s perfect in the summer heat!"