Wine is not fair. Despite a diverse American population, only about 1 in 1,000 winemakers in this country are black. The percentages are a bit better for the whole industry, but not by much. Wine tides are changing, thankfully, but there is a lot of work to be done in the name of creating a welcoming, diverse and vibrant community.
The beverage industry is changing and more and more black voices are entering the conversation. The wine has been particularly slow to evolve, perhaps because it has always been so tied to tradition and has a history of elitism. Luckily it’s moving towards a younger and wider audience, just ask for boxed wine and canned Pinot Gris. A big part of this change is making the wine scene truly reflect the landscape it inhabits.
There are a growing number of black influencers on the American wine scene, bringing important perspectives to the table. Some have started innovative businesses and others are big names in the NBA that you’ve probably heard of. Here are eight other black voices in American wine that you should absolutely raise a glass to and follow their respective journeys.
Andre Hueston Mack
To call Mack a wine influencer would be a gross understatement. The New York-based winemaker launched the hugely popular Willamette Valley brand, Mouton Noir, about 15 years ago and it’s become a go-to for people who want an approachable yet delicious Oregon wine. The designer and sommelier never seems to rest, a familiar face at nearly every business event and responsible for a host of wine-friendly restaurants and hospitality projects, not to mention a stellar portfolio of punny wine apparel, and his.
With a razor-sharp palate and an equally sharp business mind, Habibi puts her skills as a certified sommelier to good use. She started the Hue Society to bring more diversity to the world of wine and tackle the dusty old pillars that plague high-ranking industry sectors like the Court of Master Sommeliers. Based in Atlanta but originally from Philadelphia, Habibi organizes multicultural events around wine and opens many doors on the scene along the way.
Last spring, Bramlett became the first black woman to take on the lead role at an American winery. She runs the show at Vidon Vineyard in Oregon as president and has worked in the Willamette Valley since 2015, with a previous role as brand ambassador at Anne Amie. She is also behind Our Legacy Harvested, which educates and empowers the BIPOC community in and around the Pacific Northwest wine tour.
Mitchelson is tackling racial disparity at the highest level, through a leading role with Jackson Family Wines, among the top wine brands. She also helped establish a BIPOC scholarship fund at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, a school with a popular and leading viticulture and enology program. Additionally, Mitchelson is a partner of Natural Action, a nonprofit wine club that lobbies for a fair wine climate while educating followers about African American history and culture.
Coney has done everything from writing and educating about wine to speaking and advising. She launched Black Wine Professionals, a tremendous resource that continues to elevate the scene by dismantling its many white biases and antiquated elitist cobwebs. She divides her time between DC and Houston, TX between all sorts of wine-focused conferences and travels. Many cite his 2018 letter to Karen MacNeil as inspiring not only to get into American wine, but to change it for the better.
Longevity Wines has been in Livermore for a long time and is the president of the African American Winemakers Association. Based in California, the winemaker has been producing wines since 2002, when he made his first batch of Syrah. The DC native brought a huge awareness of inequality to the field, making some standing wines along the way.
Covert is a certified sommelier and partner of BlacOak, a tasting room and wine club in Philadelphia. The outfit highlights black-owned labels from the United States and abroad, working in “an inclusive environment with a specific agenda.” It’s a cool program that showcases producers who otherwise receive relatively little coverage, let alone praise. He is also CEO of CYL Creative Group and is always on the lookout for new favorite wines, be it Bordeaux or Pinot Noir.
Carlton McCoy Jr.
McCoy was named master sommelier at age 28, one of the youngest black men to achieve such a title. He went on to work at amazing restaurants like Per Se and commissioned wine lists at other top restaurants across the country. He recently served as the first black CEO of a winery at Heitz Cellar, a historic estate specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, he is a managing partner at Lawrence Wine Estates. He’s worked on the ground in so many important places that he knows how badly change is needed and continues to push for it through numerous side projects, including The Roots Fund (Habibi is also a board member of administration there).