Black consumers make up about 11 percent of wine drinkers in the country (as reported by the Wine Market Council Consumer Segmentation), yet the Association of African American Vintners reports that only 50 out of the 10,000 U.S. wineries are Black-owned.
Here are a few Black women in wine.
Myx Fusions is actually owned by two entertainment bigwigs, hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj and TV producer entertainment businesswoman Mona Scott-Young. Myx Fusions offers both Moscato and Sangria wines in various flavors infused with fruit juices. Myx Fusions has been in business for seven years. Scott-Young is part owner and CMO of Myx Fusions.
“I saw an opportunity to create a premium wine product for the casual drinker,” explains Scott-Young, who is the CEO of the multi-media entertainment company Monami Productions, best known for producing the VH1 reality television franchise “Love & Hip Hop.” “This is a consumer base that was largely ignored but have the alete and profile or a product that did not exist in the marketplace for them.”
For Scott-Young, it was a hobby that grew into a business. “As a wine lover myself, it was a no-brainer to create something my friends and I could enjoy. But the most fun was creating something that appealed to an untapped audience and introducing non-wine drinkers to a product that tastes and makes you feel good,” she says. “And the packaging was fun and sexy!”
Over the years, Myx Fusions has carved out a niche in industry. “Although it has not been easy, in working with Nicki Minaj, the industry recognizes the power of two women who are passionate about what we do and what we produce. So we have managed to successfully make a place for ourselves and our brand in the marketplace,” says Scott-Young.
The challenges faced by Black women in the industry are lessening, says Scott-Young.
“Although it has been challenging creating a product from the ground up and finishing our space in a male-dominated mass market, the recently attention being given to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) wine makers and the commitment to supporting businesses owned by women has provided an exciting opportunity for growth,” she explains.
The pandemic has actually caused a boost in sales. “During the pandemic we redesigned our packaging and got one of our biggest orders to date with Sam’s Club! We are incredibly blessed to have a great process that speaks for itself, so business has been great,” says Scott-Young.
Cheramie Wine/Salt and Pepper Wine
Cheramie Law is the co-founder of Salt and Pepper Wine based in Texas. She launched her company with her husband, Todd Aho. This former United States Marine has a major mission — to introduce as many people as possible to the wines of Texas.
“I’ve been in the wine business for over six years, but have had my own wine company business for thee years,” says Law.
Wine wasn’t her initial calling. “It’s funny to think that I just landed in the wine business. My journey starts off as a consumer. I was an older college student because I was in the Marine Corps before college. That means all my friends were older and we would hang out at a wine bar during our free time,” she remembers. “This is where I began to learn a lot about wine,” shares Law. “In 2013, I met my partner, Todd Aho, and on one of our first dates, he took me to Fredericksburg, TX, (which is Texas’ wine country, second to Napa, CA, in foot traffic) from there wine became the hobby that we did together.”
Their hobby expanded. “In 2015/16, we were challenged by someone in the wine industry on Texas wine. At that time, we had no idea about how Texas Wine was viewed by anyone who wasn’t in Texas, as we had over the years tasted great wine and met amazing people. This reaction by someone not in the Texas wine industry spurred on an almost obsession. We began to travel the state of Texas, meeting with winemakers, growers, and industry leaders all in an effort to learn about Texas wine,” says Law.
Law and her husband decided they wanted to launch a wine business.
“In 2017, we officially started our business, Salt and Pepper Wine, LLC. Our goal was to educate the public on Texas wine and we did that through social media and in-person tastings. From there, we became wine brokers in Dallas and sold wine to restaurants, wine bars, wine festivals, and social gatherings,” Law says. “In 2019, we started our own Texas wine brand, Cheramie Wine. Our first wine, a Riesling, will hit the market at the end of the Summer and our second wine, a Montepulciano Rosé will be available at the beginning of 2021.”
And Law is loving nearly every minute of it. “What I like most about being in the wine business is all the wonderful people I get to meet from around the world. Wine takes you on a journey of the world, from the wine itself; to the people you meet,” she says.
What challenges has Law faced due to being a woman in the industry?
“Being a Black woman in the wine industry has its challenges. For far too long women, Black women have represented a very small portion of the wine industry. 2020 has brought a huge awareness to this issue,” she says. “It’s been interesting to see how I have been received in the industry. The ideas that I started with and hit the pavement to make into reality have in the past been met with resentment, but recently people who were not my gender or race have ‘come up’ with the same ideas and it has been treated as the most advanced ideas.”
She adds, “People don’t expect for a Black woman to be selling wine and to have her own wine brand. So, I’ve been disrespected straight to my face, people have not taken me seriously and I’ve had to work far harder just for half the respect. Again, I know this but I don’t like to focus on the problem. I want to be a part of the solution. Making the wine industry friendly to all people.”
The challenges can be difficult, but not impossible says Law. ”It can be frustrating but I don’t let that get me down. I am an inventor and won’t stop evolving,” she says.
Doing business during the pandemic has also been a major challenge. “For us, we have had our ups and downs. Because of the pandemic our permit was lost in the system for several months because people were working from home and the normal flow of business wasn’t happening in Texas. This caused the release of our wine to be pushed several months further into the year than we had anticipated. But, on the other side we have had to really focus on building our brand online (we can ship to 34 states), which has been great since we don’t have many events planned for 2020 and we aren’t in distribution,” says Law.
But, says Law, the brand will be expanding in 2021 with two new wines as well as nationwide distribution.
Theodora Lee is known as Theo-patra, Queen of the Vineyards. As owner and vintner of Theopolis Vineyards she has been making a name in the industry since 2003.
Lee is also a senior partner and trial lawyer at Littler Mendelson P.C. Her interest in wine began upon her arrival to San Francisco from Texas in 1987, primarily due to the influence of her law firm mentors, many of whom owned vineyards. This led Lee to take several viticulture classes at UC Davis, before deciding to develop her own vineyard.
“My passion for wine began upon my arrival to San Francisco from Texas in 1987, primarily due to the influence of my law firm mentors, many of whom owned vineyards. One law firm mentor grew grapes in the Dry Creek appellation, and I spent several summers hanging out in Healdsburg, and fell in love with the lifestyle – good food and great wine,” recalls Lee, who is a graduate of Spelman College and the University of Texas School of Law.
In 2001, Lee purchased sheep land in the Yorkville Highlands of Anderson Valley, and began developing her vineyard. The process wasn’t easy. It involved clearing the land, doing soil tests, obtaining permits, drilling an agricultural well, and terracing the property, among many other things. Finally, in 2003, Lee planted her five-acre vineyard.
“As the granddaughter of Texas sharecroppers and the daughter of a cattle farmer, I learned how to drive a tractor, at the age of eight. My farming roots continued in California,” she says.
Lee adopted her Greek name from pledging Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and established Theopolis Vineyards.
“I bottled my first commercial wines in 2014. In addition to bottling the richly intense and flavorful Petite Sirah, Theopolis Vineyards strikes a lighter note by bottling a Symphony, a white wine grape, which is a crossing of Muscat and Grenache Gris. Theopolis Vineyards also offers: a Rosé of Petite Sirah, an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, a Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, and a Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir,” she offers.
Along the way she came to be known as Theo-patra, Queen of the Vineyards. “Some creative types who caught a glimpse of me with my silver-hair on a tractor dubbed me Theo-patra, Queen of the Vineyards,” she explains.
The hard work has paid off. Wine critic Robert Parker bestowed upon wine made from grapes harvested from Theopolis Vineyards a stellar rating of 94-96 points, a spectacular showing for the vintner’s first harvest in 2006.
Theopolis Vineyards is best known for its Best in Class, Double Gold, 96 Points Estate Grown Petite Sirah and its Double Gold Rosé of Petite Sirah. Wine Enthusiast Magazine has consistently given wines from Theopolis Vineyards 90 plus Points and selected its wines for Cellar Selection and Editors’ Choice designations.
Lee admits there are challenges to being both Black and a woman in the industry. “I have to answer these two questions together as I cannot separate out being a Black woman versus being a woman in the industry, as I am both,” she says. “Unfortunately, racism and sexism exists in every facet of society, and the wine industry is no exception. The wine industry is a white-male dominated one.”
Lee faced a variety of obstacles. “I have faced challenges finding distributors and getting my wines in high end restaurants and wine bars. However, as a lawyer, I have been fortunate enough to overcome many of these challenges by having my law firm partners introduce me to restaurant and bar owners, and those introductions help to facilitate me overcoming those hurdles. I am happy to state that our wines are carried in some of the finest restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area,” she says.
Even if there were many challenges, Lee was not going to give up her dreams.
“I believe in hard work and grit, and I never give up. Even though I produce award-winning wines, distributors still reject doing business with me,” she shares. “Recently, one distributor told me he questioned the marketability of one of my varietals. Despite consistent rejection, I keep pounding the pavement. Earlier this year, Southern Glazer’s, a premier beverage distributor for world-class wines, picked up our wines for distribution in Florida thanks to the demands of a prominent Florida Restaurant Group. I also just picked up another distributor in Massachusetts. I am like a dog with a bone who keeps pushing.”
How has business been during the pandemic? “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the protests in the wake of the senseless death of George Floyd, and the growing momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, wine sales for Theopolis Vineyards have skyrocketed,” says Lee.
“Indeed, there has been a massive increase in online sales as everyone is promoting Black businesses and urging support. Also, I am averaging 2-3 Virtual Wine Tastings a week. The question is whether this is a moment, or a momentum. I am optimistic, and hopeful. However, we need to stay in the limelight and have proper exposure to remain in the consciousness of everyone going forward. Social media has helped to push this focus on Black business, wineries and restaurants, and we need everyone to keep spotlighting these black owned businesses, and then “put your money where your mouth is.”
Looking ahead, Lee has many plans for Theopolis Vineyards. “My business goal for 2021 is to expand the brand. We hope to grow from 800 cases a year to 1,000 cases a year, and will continue to bottle our Estate Grown Petite Sirah, our Estate Grown Rosé of Petite Sirah, the Yorkville Highlands Symphony, the Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, the Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir plus our soon to be released Rhone Blend, called Theo-patra’s CUVÉE CERISE. It will be a complex cuvée of Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah. We hope to increase our production to meet the growing demand. We want to thank everyone for your support.”
Lee is a charter member of the Association of African American vintners, and a member of the Yorkville Highlands Growers & Vintners Association, becoming its General Counsel.
In addition to practicing law and making wine, Lee is the co-board chairperson of the Dallas Post Tribune Newspaper, one of the oldest Black Newspapers in North Texas.