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Celebrate Black-owned wines from Issa Rae, Dwyane Wade with a tasting on Feb 18 for Black History Month

todayFebruary 14, 2024

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Celebrate Black-owned wines from Issa Rae, Dwyane Wade with a tasting on Feb 18 for Black History Month
Celebrate Black-owned wines from Issa Rae, Dwyane Wade with a tasting on Feb 18 for Black History Month

On February 18th from 2-4 pm at Radio Milwaukee, The Milwaukee Wine Academy will host a groundbreaking Celebrity Wine Tasting event in partnership with HYFIN, Milwaukee’s urban alternative station that connects the culture. This unique gathering will offer an immersive cultural experience showcasing the rich heritage of Black winemakers and the vibrant direction they are leading the industry.

Attendees will taste wines from three trailblazing Black-owned brands that also happen to have celebrity pedigree: Charles Woodson’s Intercept Wines, Dwyane Wade’s Wade Cellars, and Issa Rae’s new Viarae Prosecco.

The event will explore each winemaker’s journey into the wine industry, their passion for the craft, and how they are expanding representations of vintner excellence. As Harper emphasized, “This is not just a wine tasting; it’s a celebration of Black culture’s influence reshaping winemaking, forged through centuries of perseverance in the face of obstacles.”

The Road to Representation: A Brief History

The Black winemaking story stretches back over eight decades, intertwining tales of entrepreneurial ingenuity with the broader struggle for equity and access. Its pioneering chapter begins in 1940 with John June Lewis Sr., son of a slave owner and Confederate soldier who inherited farmland in Clarksville, Virginia.

On this land, Lewis cultivated grapes and by 1940 had launched Woburn Winery, specializing in table wines from Lambrusco and hybrid grapes. For over 30 years until Lewis’s death in 1974, Woburn Winery produced up to 19,000 liters annually, gaining acclaim for its Virginia-Carolina wines. Lewis’ achievement marked the first Black-owned winery in America, paving the way for future vintners.

The decades that followed saw a slow but steady increase in Black winemaking, as residues of inequality and systemically inadequate access to capital continued posing barriers. However the steadfast passion and artistry of African American vintners prevailed, leading to the establishment of prominent brands like Vision Cellars, Sharp Cellars, and Black Coyote Winery.

These pioneering winemakers recognized the urgent need for collective organizing and advocacy to drive representation and inclusion. This motivated Mac McDonald of Vision Cellars to found the Association of African American Vintners (AAAV) alongside Vance Sharp and Dr. Ernie Bates.

The AAAV has been instrumental in increasing the visibility of Black winemakers, who account for less than 1% of American vintners despite Black consumers representing over 10% of the wine-drinking population. They’ve also established scholarships and mentorships supporting aspiring minority wine professionals.

Threads of Resilience: Black Winemakers Today

The Celebrity Wine Tasting event at Radio Milwaukee highlights three renowned Black winemakers driving excellence and expanding access in the modern wine landscape: Charles Woodson, Dwyane Wade, and Issa Rae. Their distinct stories illuminate the passion, resilience, and boundless creativity underpinning today’s Black wine culture renaissance.

Charles Woodson: Athletics to Vintner

Football Hall of Famer Charles Woodson’s wine journey traces back to his Napa Valley training camps as an Oakland Raider, where post-practice conversations with teammates sparked an affinity for wine that gradually blossomed into a plan to share his fervent discovery with fans.

Charles Woodson’s Intercept Wines

In 2015, drawing connections between winemaking and football, Woodson launched Intercept Wines, nodding to his 65 legendary career interceptions while signaling life’s call to seize new possibilities. He collaborates with Amanda Gorter, an acclaimed Central Valley winemaker, to craft a lineup of fruit-forward yet balanced Pinot Noirs, Cabernets, and red blends echoing their shared values of camaraderie, dedication, and celebrating the moments between work and reward.

Dwyane Wade: From Court to Vine

Like Woodson, Wade’s passion for wine ignited from NBA travels introducing him to great Napa Valley Cabernets. Compelled to make wine culture more accessible and inclusive, Wade immersed himself in the industry’s knowledge, partnering with Napa legend Jayson Pahlmeyer to launch Wade Cellars in 2014.

Dwyane Wade’s Wade Cellars

It offers a wine selection designed, in Wade’s words, to “welcome all to experience the rich tradition of winemaking.” Fittingly, Wade now serves on UC Davis’s Department of Viticulture and Enology leadership board, underscoring his conviction that wine appreciation should transcend perceived boundaries.

Issa Rae: TV Trailblazer to Wine Entrepreneur

Rounding out the Radio Milwaukee tasting is trailblazing influencer Issa Rae and her new Viarae Prosecco line. Rae’s journey to acclaimed actress and creator of the hit HBO series “Insecure” traces back to a pivotal 2015 dinner where director Melina Matsoukas introduced her to Prosecco. Captivated by its dry effervescence and sense of celebration, her passion for the Italian sparkling wine flourished professionally and personally ever since.

Issa Rae’s Viarae Proseco

After visiting Prosecco vineyards in Italy, Rae partnered with E. & J. Gallo Winery to craft her ideal dry style. The golden wine encapsulates her mission to welcome new audiences “to experience this fanciful world that has brought me and my friends so much joy.”

Barriers and Breakthroughs: Support Makes Progress Possible

Charles Woodson, Dwyane Wade, and Issa Rae represent the tremendous talent diversifying modern winemaking. But their success remains an exception, not the norm. A recent study titled “Terroir Noir: 2020 Study of Black Wine Entrepreneurs” revealed 43% of vintners surveyed see limited access to start-up and investment capital as the primary obstacle to growth. Additionally, 20% identified continuing racial bias as a significant barrier.

However, mentorship programs like the Black Wine Professionals Directory are advancing opportunities for young minority wine enthusiasts through scholarships, networking events and platforms that connect consumers to Black-owned wine businesses. Still, conscious purchasing and vocal support remain essential to sustainable change.

The Celebrity Wine Tasting celebration at Radio Milwaukee, featuring Woodson, Wade and Rae’s wines, epitomizes this movement translating passion into action. When diverse communities come together, raising a glass with intention to champion representation and inclusion, it sparks hope for a more equitable industry.

Celebrating Black Wine Excellence: The Time is Now

The long road to February 18th’s Celebrity Wine Tasting commemoration of Black winemakers’ excellence reminds us that social progress depends on uplifting pioneers so future generations may stand on their shoulders. The wines of Charles Woodson, Dwyane Wade and Issa Rae carry on this legacy with flair and dedication. But their stories also carry a call to action – to widen the path by consciously consuming, spreading awareness, and speaking out in support of policies promoting accessibility and representation.

Here are some great resources to know more about Black winemakers.

The Association of African American Vintners (AAAV): Founded by pioneers in the industry, the AAAV aims to increase the visibility of African American vintners and promote diversity within the wine industry[1].

The Roots Fund: Established to empower Black and Indigenous people in the wine industry, The Roots Fund focuses on providing scholarships, wine education, and career opportunities to underrepresented minorities[1].

The Hue Society: Created by Tahiirah Habibi, The Hue Society serves as a safe space for BIPOC to learn about wine, explore the industry, and find resources. It’s an important community for those looking to connect with other wine enthusiasts and professionals of color.

Sip Consciously Directory: Launched by Angela McCrae of Uncorked & Cultured and Dr. Monique Bell, this directory connects wine lovers with Black-owned brands, distributors, and retailers. It’s a comprehensive resource for those looking to support Black-owned wine businesses[5].

Black Wine Professionals: Founded by Julia Coney, this platform is dedicated to lifting up the multifaceted Black professionals in the world of wine. It provides a directory of Black winemakers, sommeliers, educators, and more, aiming to increase their representation and opportunities in the industry[2].

Wine Avengers Podcast: This podcast highlights Black voices in the wine community, offering insights, stories, and discussions on various aspects of winemaking, wine tasting, and the challenges faced by Black professionals in the field[2].

Cuisine Noir Magazine: A publication that curates a list of Black-owned wineries, breweries, and distilleries, providing readers with stories, profiles, and insights into the world of Black-owned beverage businesses[2].

Celebrating Black Wine Excellence: The Time is Now

There are many ways to answer this call: engaging on social media, requesting Black-owned wine options at local stores and restaurants, supporting organizations like the AAAV, or simply gathering friends to raise a glass to Black History Month. Our voices and values shape the change we wish to see. By celebrating the richness of Black winemaking, we participate in the onward march toward equity.

Article was written with assistance from Perplexity AI


Written by: HYFIN

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