African-American winemakers have high hopes for the future after the Black Lives Matter movement


Expanding college recruiting beyond California is a key area, Tigner noted. Colleges and universities also have a role to play in specialist areas such as viticulture and oenology. “They’re going to have to do a better job of recruiting and training and getting people into this program,” Tigner said.

There has been a realization at UC Davis – the nation’s leading viticulture and oenology school – that it needs to do a better job of attracting black students. Over the past decade, the department has grown from around 10% of students from under-represented backgrounds to about a third now, said Karen Block, director of industrial relations with the department.

“We are very proud of these advances and our program has benefited from the presence of these excellent students. On the flip side, our black student population has remained low, fluctuating between 1% and 2%, ”Block said in an email.

The university is now stepping up its efforts, especially on scholarships for black students in the program. “We are now working with several organizations to increase the recruitment and retention of a more diverse population, as the first step is to engage a diverse group of students in a career in the wine industry, when they are not. may not have been exposed to careers in agriculture through their families and peer groups, ”Block added.

While much of the industry’s attention is on wine growers and vineyard managers, the reality is that wineries need staff in other disciplines such as finance, marketing, wine technology. information and sales to be successful. And the multitude of these positions provides plenty of other opportunities for black professionals, such as people like Isaiah Fitzgerald-Palacio.

Fitzgerald-Palacio, 32, grew up outside of Atlanta and studied accounting in college, then ended up working for the National Park Service. He then changed careers and began working at small wineries in Sonoma County while earning a master’s degree in wine business administration from Sonoma State University. He now works as a senior accountant at Allen Wine Group in Santa Rosa, but dreams of creating his own wine label.

“You don’t have to come from oenology / viticulture or any of these other fields. In fact, you can come from the business community if you are interested in starting a wine business. The flow may not go straight to the winery, but it could be a marketing company or a wine accounting firm. There are many different avenues that could potentially be very useful, ”he said.

His hope is evident even in the midst of obstacles, including project funding.

The Sterling family borrowed money from Bank of the West to make Esterlina bigger, then lost the cellar in bankruptcy proceedings in 2016. The family accused their lender of discriminatory loan in a court case that has yet to come. been fully resolved.

Despite the loss of their vineyard, co-owner Stephen Sterling said the family was welcomed by the local wine community as they built their business in Sonoma County. He singled out people such as Rob Davis, the former Jordan Winery winemaker, and the Bacigalupi family, who own some of the Russian River Valley’s most coveted wineries, as particularly useful. The Sterling family’s problem was with the bank, never with other wineries and producers, he said.

“As they saw that we were one of the few wine families that were unlike theirs, it was insignificant to them. They just saw us as another family who wanted to make wine and profit from the wine industry, ”Sterling said.

The new focus also allowed Jordan to consider ways to help young black winegrowers. Tympany is a labor of love with his wife, Lynda, but he’s given more thought to providing seed money to other black winemakers who want to start their own labels.

“We have some flexibility to do certain things financially if we choose to,” Jordan said. “They are excellent winegrowers. They just don’t have the financial backing to run their own label.

The potential options range from partnering to buying small labels, Jordan said. The Black Lives Matter movement has created more consumer outreach opportunities that weren’t there a few years ago. For example, he would like to see retail stores with a section for wines from black-owned vineyards, just as they do for different grape varieties and wine regions.

“There is still a lot to do in this area. I really believe we are just getting started, ”Jordan said.

You can contact Editor-in-Chief Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or [email protected] On Twitter @BillSwindell

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