10 black-owned wineries you should know about

Aleesha Hansel

Aleesha Hansel

02 July 2020

It is a damning indictment of us all that lists like this have to be written, but written they must be and we pledge to keep writing them until black wine professionals are on an equal footing with their white counterparts

It is true to say that when we go to a tasting, a retail shop or a wine study group the faces we see are generally white. It is also true to say, however uncomfortable it is to realise about ourselves, that we expect to see white faces in these places.

It is no longer enough to believe that we are simply 'not racist', we need to be actively anti-racist, perhaps starting with looking at where the wine in our glass comes from. So here are, in no particular order, 10 black-owned wine labels you should know.

Maison Noir Wines, Oregon, USA

The first Black person to win Best Young Sommelier in America, André Hueston Mack is founder of this two-fold wine-plus-street-culture brand, producing both wines and t-shirts.

After a career in finance Mack decided to switch his desk for decanting, and soon became head sommelier at the three-Michelin-starred New York restaurant, Per Se, managing a 1,500-strong wine list.

Despite this very prestigious wine journey, Mack remains clear on one thing.

‘Wine is not a beverage reserved for the elite, but can and should be enjoyed by everyone. A wine's place is on the table right next to the salt and pepper, as a compliment – even a condiment – to the food.’

This unpretentiousness is reflected throughout the brand: from punny names such as 'Knock on Wood', for an all stainless-steel Chardonnay, to the distinctive bottle labels which Mack designs himself and even the accompanying t-shirt line, which blends wine phrases and imagery with 90s hip-hop, punk and skateboard culture.

maisonnoirwines.com

Theopolis Vineyards, Mendocino California, USA

In the high elevations of the Yorkville Highlands AVA, Theopolis Vineyards, named after owner Theodora R. Lee, offers up some interesting alternatives to the area's dominant varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Here you will find Petite Sirah in both red and rosé styles, Symphony (a crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris), and some Pinot Noir, produced for good measure.

Originally, Lee had planned to just farm and sell grapes, but encouraged by the success of the fruit (her first harvest contributed to wines that garnered 94 and 96 Parker Points), she bottled her first own-label vintage in 2012.

Lee, who still works as a lawyer full time, learnt how to drive a tractor aged eight while helping on some land her father owned, and resolutely states that she is just as keen to do so now as she was then.

theopolisvineyards.com

 

Marie Césaire Champagne, Champagne, France 

Champagne with a Caribbean twist is how best to describe this Black female-founded brand.

Born in Guadeloupe and raised in a Parisian suburb, Marie Inès Romelle left school at 16 to help her widowed mother. Falling pregnant at 18, and needing a job to support her family, Marie started working at the delicatessen of Orly airport, where she was first introduced to Champagne.

Gripped by the dream of owning her own label, Marie studied, refined her palate and went back to school to earn a business degree.

Bringing her brother onboard as managing director and working with a winemaker whose family owns four hectares of vineyard in the premier cru village of Écueil, Romelle pays homage to her West Indian roots by using organic sugar cane for the dosage, adding a little tropical aroma to each bottle.

marie-cesaire.com

 

La Fête du Rosé, St Tropez, France

'La Fête du Rosé' or 'The Rosé Party' as it translates, was a name specifically chosen by founder Donae Burston as a direct response to what he saw as a gaping void.

‘I was on holiday having lunch with a group of friends: black, white, Hispanic, Asian, French, South African.

‘We were all sipping on rosé and having a wonderful time. It occurred to me that there wasn’t a rosé brand that spoke to or represented us.’

Burston's commitment to inclusivity goes further than just branding, with proceeds of each bottle donated to various organisations including ‘Color of Change’, which fights for racial justice.

The wine is pesticide free and is a blend of 80% Grenache, 14% Mourvèdre, 6% Syrah.

lafeterose.com

 

Il Palazzone, Montalcino, Italy

After being introduced into the world of fine wine by Nelson Rockefeller, it comes as no surprise that when Richard Parsons decided to buy a vineyard, he was drawn towards one of the most famous and esteemed denominations in Italy, Brunello di Montalcino.

The former economic advisor to Obama knew he wanted to set up in Tuscany, and while driving through Chianti looking for vineyards and fields, he ended up in Montalcino, drinking a great Brunello. He decided there and then that he’d found his dream.

Parsons, who lives in the farmhouse when he is in Italy, visits at least once a year to oversee the harvest from the estate's three vineyards across Montalcino.

‘We drink all we can and then sell the rest,’ is his rather delightful motto, with 1% gross of the wines that do get sold going to One Percent for the Planet, an organisation dedicated to environmental causes.

ilpalazzone.com

 

Lyons Wines, Emilia-Romagna, Italy  

Having fallen out of favour in the early 90s, Lambrusco might not be the obvious choice for a new brand to build one's empire on, but founder Chris Lyons thinks it's exactly what wine drinkers want – they just don’t know it yet.

‘At base, Lambrusco is a humble, everyday wine, joyous rather than complex. [To] celebrate any occasion, at any time.’

Lyons started to get into wine as a waiter during university in Atlanta, but it wasn't until he moved to California that he experienced great wine, and knew that at some point he wanted to be able to share that quality with everyone.

Already keen on producing an Italian wine, settling on Lambrusco meant that Lyons could give those too young to remember it first time round something new and exciting, while capitalising on the fondness of those that do.

lyons.wine

 

Aslina Wines, Western Cape, South Africa

‘You take a sip and realise this is the most horrible thing’, Ntsiki Biyela describing her first taste of wine in the 'Colour of Wine' documentary.

Growing up a small village, three hours’ drive from the city of Durban, her days consisted of milking cows and a one-hour walk to school.

She may have known nothing about wine then, but she did know that studying was going to be the only opportunity she had to change her life, so when she was offered a scholarship to study Viticulture and Oenology, she seized it.

University wasn't plain sailing: the course was taught in Afrikaans (which Biyela didn’t speak), and was located in the majority white Stellenbosch. Biyela recalls she cried all the time during her first year.

She now bears the accolade of being the first black female winemaker in South Africa with her label Aslina, named after her grandmother, and is a board member of the Pinotage Youth Development Academy, providing training for young South Africans wanting to work in wine.

aslinawines.co.za

 

Women in Wine, Stellenbosch, South Africa

If wine could have a theme tune, this label's would be 'Run the World (Girls)' by Beyoncé.

Founded by a group of 20 women, all with backgrounds in wine, Women in Wine (WiW) is the first all-black female-owned and managed wine company in South Africa.

Set up to address aspects of black economic empowerment, so far around 500 female workers have gained stakes through the Farmworkers WiW Trust, which also strives to create additional income for seasonal workers by skills development and training opportunities .

'The idea of a company owned by women in a white male dominant industry was initially frowned upon,' said Beverley Farmer CEO.

'We make sure to contribute to the debates and creating solutions in an industry which is struggling with complex and sometimes multi-faceted challenges.'

Challenges they are slowly overcoming with their Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay being deemed good enough to be listed by South African Airlines in their business class lounges.

womeninwine.co.za

 

Nyarai Cellars, Niagara, Canada

Studying music at university and playing in a jazz band, owner Steve Byfield needed a part-time summer job. He was hired to work in a homebrewing and home-winemaking shop, despite admitting in the interview that he wasn't much a drinker of either.

Stating he was 'bitten by the bug', the following eight years saw Byfield working in wine retail, gaining five vintages under his belt as an apprentice winemaker and going to agriculture school to learn chemistry and microbiology.

Nyarai (pronounced na-rye) is derived from the Southern-African Shona dialect, meaning ‘humility’.

He doesn't own its own winery or vines, the label operates under another company's license with both brands operating separately and Byfield sourcing his own grapes.

Believing in minimal intervention, Nyarai focuses on purity of fruit and promotes that 'simple is perfect'.

nyaraicellars.ca

 

Wandering Wines, Maule Valley, Chile

You wouldn’t expect the person delivering your wine order to be a two-time Superbowl-winning American footballer. But ex-New York Giants player Mathias Kiwanuka is a very hands-on wine entrepreneur.

During the off-season, the Kiwanukas and friends Adam and Krystina Glasgow, would often travel to Napa Valley where they ‘started... exploring wines’, and conceived the idea of co-founding their own label.

It so happened that Krystina Glasgow’s Chilean father and his family had been growing grapes for three generations – inside knowledge that proved invaluable in establishing the business.

A trip to Maule Valley in Chile to pitch the concept to local winemakers proved to be a 'touchdown': the first original label has now expanded to four, all under the Wandering Wines banner.

Chile however, isn't the only country of interest to Kiwanuka. Being the grandson of Uganda's first prime minister, his philanthropic efforts have included school renovation in rural areas and involvement in sustainable water projects.

wanderingwines.com

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