A week ago, after a slew of emails exclaiming “Black Lives Matter”, I received an email announcing Wine and Spirit Education Trust certification scholarships. The email acknowledges that POC are “vastly underrepresented” in the three-tier system for wine and spirits. Alongside this content is an infographic from a study that revealed a 2% Black/African representation in the three-tier system. Before the offering of scholarships, it is stated that this underrepresentation is both “disturbing” and “suspected”. That one email represents one of my greatest frustrations with the wine world and the mostly white representation in mentor and leadership positions. To be Black and work in the world of wine is to hold constant disappointment. It’s to hear the acknowledgment of how underrepresented we are and to know that everyone should have seen it all along.
If diversity is an image and multiculturalism is a practice, the wine world partakes in neither. I continue to receive misguided messages about wine scholarship offerings and white sommeliers giving advice and mentorship to BIPOC. This is not inclusivity. Black voices in the wine industry need to be centered. I don’t need a scholarship to partake in an exclusive structural learning system, I need a platform.
Wine is my passion. For me, the job is to give people an experience that leads to learning more about what they like and fuels their own passion to explore more. I want to do this for everyone, especially BIPOC. Moving forward, white leadership in the wine world needs to share and release their platforms to Black wine professionals and educators. I see the changing of systems that determine deductive tasting descriptors. I see more Black wine educators and community efforts to get more Black folx engaged with information about wine. I see a wine world where I can be unapologetically me, unapologetically Black, and still be regarded as knowledgeable and professional. As Julia Coney, an incredible wine educator and boss seller, said, “I’m not hired to be peaceful.” We need to do more than just acknowledge these discrepancies behind closed doors, we need to correct and directly challenge those who uphold racist systems and participate in our exclusion. We must always speak up and demand consequences for those who continue to discriminate against Black folx, especially Black womxn in wine. I am of the mentality that we as Black folx build our own communities and our own table when we are excluded.
Wine is an agricultural product and we all deserve access as guests, sommeliers, growers, and winemakers. It is time we take action to disrupt these systems.
Erica Christian is a DC-based sommelier & activist.