While the wine industry is known for many things, diversity has historically not been one of them. This is evidenced by the fact that less than 1% of the 11,000+ wineries in the U.S. are Black-owned. As a female-founded and disability-owned wine brand, we are dedicated to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in our industry. And this month, we are proud to shine a spotlight on some of the trailblazing Black Americans in the wine industry, both past and present.
The First Black Winemaker
Widely-known as the first black winemaker in the United States, John June Lewis, Sr. (1894 - 1974) founded Woburn Winery in Clarksville, Virginia in 1940. While Lewis’s father, Armistead Burwell, taught him viticulture and winemaking, his love of wine really developed when he was stationed in the Rhône Valley in Southern France during World War I. Shortly after prohibition ended, Lewis inherited land from his father and planted 10 acres to start his vineyard.
The First (and Only) Black-Owned Estate in Napa Valley
Forty years later, two doctors–Bassett and Marcela Brown–purchased an abandoned ranch in Napa Valley as a summer home in 1980. After restoring the Victorian home on the property, the Browns eventually planted a vineyard, which the family farmed for over a decade, selling their fruit to other winemakers. In 1995, the Brown children (Deneen, David, and Coral Brown) took over the vineyard and decided to produce their own wine under the Brown Estate label, bottling their first Zinfandel in 1996. To this day, Brown Estate remains the first and only Black-owned estate in Napa Valley known for producing award-winning wines.
The First Black Master Sommelier
In 2012, Thomas Price became the 190th American Master Sommelier and the first Black American to achieve the certification. Price spent 34 years in the restaurant business, prior to the awesome achievement of becoming a Master Sommelier, working his way up from dishwasher (at age 14) to restaurant owner. Today, Price is the Master Sommelier at 1856, the upscale teaching restaurant at Auburn University. He also serves as Chairman of SommFoundation, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting in the education and professional development of people working in the wine and spirits business.
Below are a few of our favorite Black-owned wine brands:
House of Brown: This is the second label offspring of the aforementioned Brown Estate, created to expand access to the Brown wine experience. House of Brown wines are produced by women of color, certified sustainable, and vegan friendly.
McBride Sisters Collection Reserve Wines: Two sisters came together to create the largest Black-owned wine company in the U.S.. Check out their Reserve wines—artisanal, limited production wines from the finest vineyards reflecting their personal history in the Central Coast of California and the South Island of New Zealand.
Theopolis Vineyards: This small lot vineyard and handcrafted winery was founded by Theodora Lee, aka Theo-patra, “Queen of the Vineyards”, a bold and dynamic Texan and San Francisco trial lawyer. Check out their Estate Grown Petite Sirah.