More and more wine sellers are making representation of diverse winemakers a priority

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We used to think that wine was steeped in tradition, with France at the center of the world. A classic restaurant or retail wine list would start with Bordeaux and Burgundy, then move on to Champagne, Alsace and Rhône. Spain, Germany and Italy would follow, leading to a section of the New World.

The world of wine today is too vast and varied for such a geographical approach. And we have other motivations for choosing one wine over another – we may want to help fight poverty in underdeveloped countries or support underrepresented winemakers, for example.

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At Duck & the Peach, a neo-American restaurant in DC’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the theme is “woman in wine.” The menu features wines made by women or sourced from vineyards owned or managed by women.

“As a woman-owned business, we wanted to support other women in business,” said Danya Degen, the restaurant’s beverage manager. She explained the spelling of “womxn” as an effort to “expand the world beyond cisgender women, by supporting anyone who identifies as a woman,” even if they weren’t assigned a woman. at birth.

And even if wine, like catering, remains a predominantly male sector, women winegrowers are numerous. Degen recently hosted a wine dinner with Leah Jorgensen, an Oregon winemaker who bucks local trends by specializing in Cabernet Franc rather than Pinot Noir. Her list also includes Kate Norris of Division Winemaking in Oregon and Laura Brennan Bissell of Unknown Wine, based in Berkeley, Calif.

“I like to lean on the East Coast growers because people can go and visit them,” Degen said. Her favorites include Nancy Irelan of Red Tail Ridge in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes, Maya Hood White of Early Mountain Vineyards in Virginia (Degen calls her “a rock star”) and Lisa Hinton of Old Westminster Winery. in Maryland.

The list is not entirely New American. Since founder Hollis Wells Silverman worked at José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup, “we have Iberian wines on the list,” Degen said.

At Fermented Grapes, a wine store in New York’s Prospect Heights neighborhood, owner Kilolo Strobert curates a similar list of wines featuring black, indigenous, or colored winemakers.

“Do you know what I look like?” Strobert asked me in a phone interview when I inquired about the BIPOC accent. (I had seen a photo of her.) “I fall into that category. I am well aware of the lack of diversity in wine and in so many industries. So when I bought the store, I decided representation existed for me. Representation matters. It’s important for growth, and it’s important for people to see each other and have their opinions represented. This is my position.

Strobert began her wine career as the store’s first full-time employee when it opened in 2004. Since then, she has worked at some of New York’s fastest growing wine outlets, including retailers high-end Le Dû’s Wines and Morrell & Co. She purchased Fermented Grapes from the original owners late last year. After the remodel, it reopened in March with hospitality consultant Max Katzenberg as a business partner.

Finding BIPOC winegrowers to present was not easy. “I have about 10 in the store now and 60 more that I want to try,” Strobert said. “I asked a friend in Oakland who organizes POC wine events, and she says she knows about 100 of them. A hundred is nothing.

Current discoveries include André Mack’s Maison Noir wines from Oregon, former NBA star Dwyane Wade’s Wade Cellars and California’s McBride Sisters. She recently added an amber wine called Where’s Linus?, made by Chris Christensen of Bodkin Wines in California.

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While researching BIPOC winemakers, Strobert does not lose his focus on quality. “I don’t want anything that doesn’t make sense,” she said. “If you bring me a super trendy, super natty manure wine, it better have some acid in it to balance the earth.”

Speaking of acid: the name Rocks + Acid on a storefront might suggest a sommelier’s showroom, referring to terroir and acidity, two main attributes of fine wines. Store owner Paula de Pano was a sommelier for several years at Fearrington House, an upscale restaurant in Pittsboro, North Carolina. She left that role late last year to work at Rocks + Acid, which she plans to open in mid-October in the Southern Village neighborhood of Chapel Hill near the University of Carolina campus. North. She calls it the Research Triangle’s first “mission-based” wine store.

This mission is to present wines from family vineyards, in particular run by women, who practice environmentally friendly agriculture and to present them to a younger clientele who challenge their parents’ perception of wine. De Pano also plans wine classes specifically for women following her path in hospitality, as well as events to support women’s mental health charities.

De Pano, 37, who describes himself as “among the oldest millennials,” sees a generational shift in wine preferences. “All of my wine training was at the classics, at Relais & Châteaux properties with comprehensive wine lists,” she explained. “My generation does not earn as much as our parents. We want accessible and affordable wines. And we want to know who makes the wines and why they are special. Hint: This is not some dusty old classification established in Paris almost two centuries ago.

“We used to buy a lifestyle,” de Pano said. “Now people want to know more about what they’re buying. Am I adding to carbon emissions, being sustainable, helping underrepresented people? »

De Pano grew up in the Philippines, where “every time I said what I thought, older people found it disrespectful”. She encountered a similar attitude in the wine industry as a young Asian woman in a field dominated by white men. But she sees that changing.

“My generation will speak up and drive home the point,” she said. “We think what we say is important, and if retailers don’t pay attention, they will pay the price.”

Along the way, we may be reinventing wine, or at least redefining the classics.

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