The days when wine was reserved for old whites are over. The American wine industry is finally changing with the times and with that comes an industry that is much more representative of its surroundings. The Latinx community in particular has long been a part of the American wine landscape, but too often overshadowed or marginalized.
Make way for AHIVOY, a Willamette Valley-based organization that seeks to maintain adequate industry representation. The organization’s mission is to strengthen the Oregon wine community by empowering vineyard stewards through education. This is an incredible cause worthy of attention all year round and especially now that we are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.
How AHIVOY started
Deanna Ornelas is president of AHIVOY (Asociación Hispana de la Industria del Vino en Oregon y Comunidad). She says it all started with a meeting between a few prominent Mexican members of the Oregon wine scene. This group included the late and great winemaker Jesus Guillen Jr. of Guillen Family Wines, Sofia Torres McKay of Cramoisi Vineyard and Miguel López of Red Dirt Vineyard Labor.
“They wanted to help those in the vineyard do some of the most important work, but without having the same opportunities as others and kept coming back to education and how that helped them advance in the industry,” says Ornelas. “Soon they recruited other people like me to start thinking about program or scholarship ideas.”
Winemakers have long said that wine is made in the vineyard. If you don’t have good fruit, there’s really no point in fermenting it. It turns out that a lot of that wine work is done by the Latinx community. It’s extremely hard work that has always been subject to poor pay and few options for upward mobility. But that is changing.
“The community has been supportive and understands the importance and value of investing in those who cultivate the vines,” continues Ornelas. “When we recruit prospective students, it has to be a whole house effort. What I mean by this is that we make sure that the sommelier’s employer is involved and understands the requirements of the employees and themselves. Collaboration with wineries is crucial to the success of the organization.
How does AHIVOY work?
How it works? AHIVOY is volunteer-based and relies on close partnerships with local educational institutions, in addition to wineries. Partner schools include Chemeketa Community College and nearby Linfield University.
“Both colleges have a wine program, which helped AHIVOY lay the groundwork for the 17-week program,” says Ornelas. “We’re really getting into a rhythm with these colleges,” adding that it would be nice to bring in more when there’s the capacity to do so.
The immersive professional training program equips participants with the know-how to make waves in the industry, from a viticultural and oenological standpoint, and everything in between. The focus is on marketing, logistics, business, compliance, etc. It is bilingual and prepares people not only for a potential foray into the scene, but also for a real career or an upward path to leadership. Beyond that, they are configured with all the necessary networking needs and all the resources available to take the next step. This step could include higher education, or even starting their own record label.
Currently, there are half a dozen program instructors, including winemaking teachers, wine masters, and more. Last spring, 15 people graduated from the program, which includes six hours of training per week for 17 weeks. There are frequent trips to area wineries and graduates can qualify for continued school credit. Scholarships for the program are made possible through regional wine label donations as well as occasional fundraisers.
Not so long ago, formal wine training was hard to find or too expensive to obtain. Today, thanks to organizations like AHIVOY, it’s becoming all the more accessible, showing just how big the wine industry has become (nearly around $6 billion in 2019, including related businesses) and how eclectic its composition. Managing a vineyard or leading the branding efforts of a leading label is now an option for more people than ever, of all backgrounds and races.
What is on the horizon of AHIVOY? Ornelas says it’s about continuing to serve the community by providing the best programming that is most beneficial to the future of vineyard stewards. “The organization hopes to one day expand the program to every wine region in the United States,” she adds.
Want to help AHIVOY? There are many ways to do this, from donating to simply raising awareness and following the story through social media like Facebook and Insta. There’s even an online auction coming October 13-15.
“I encourage others to learn more about all that farm workers do for our country and the skills required to work in the vineyards,” says Ornelas. “I would also ask others to take the time to sign petitions and raise awareness about farm workers and their rights.”