Does The Wine Industry Have A Racism Problem?

As protests against police brutality and racism in police culture continued across the United States and around the world last week, sparked by the death of George Floyd, many corporations, brands, celebrities, and sports franchises showed support for the Black Lives Matter movement via statements on social media and by donating money to allied organizations. Many of these efforts were hailed as sincere and helpful. Other gestures drew criticism, such as the Washington Redskins sharing a #BlackOutTuesday post on Twitter; the football team’s name is considered racist and is itself the subject of controversy. 

 The long list of black people who have been killed by police leaves no doubt that there is racism within police departments in the US. In light of the protests that have been raging for the past two weeks, other industries and areas of employment are now examining their own culture regarding systemic oppression and inherent racism within their ranks. There has been a slow-growing but very active movement within the food and wine sector to recognize black-owned businesses and highlight black entrepreneurs and workers, and the past week has seen a lot of positive movement in that regard. 

As wine writers and educators, we are proud to see many of our colleagues and peers rise to the occasion this week in support of increasing awareness of discrimination in the wine industry. One of the leaders of the crusade is Julia Coney, who created a list of black wine professionals and hosted two Instagram Live sessions discussing racism in the wine business. Many wine and spirits brands, importers, PR firms, and wine media groups posted on social media and issued statements denouncing racism and supporting inclusivity and diversity in the industry. While most were well-intentioned and well received, others were viewed as “Too little, too late.” Wine magazines and websites posted articles highlighting black-owned wineries, wine businesses, and restaurants. 

As Adam Grant, Professor of Organizational Psychology at Wharton, wrote this week, “…Just as sexism is not only a ‘women’s issue,’ racism is not only a ‘black issue.’” More and more black people are entering the world of wine, and it is up to white people in the wine sector to step up and overcome the implicit bias in our ranks. Some of that bias includes believing that all black consumers like sweet wine, or that they cannot afford or appreciate pricier bottles. One of the most common aggressions we have heard anecdotally is of black wine professionals being identified as service staff rather than qualified members of the trade or press at wine tastings. 

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