Drink responsibly and consciously. Great wines and spirits by really dope Black women.
I never thought a wine tasting experience would up my respect on the industry and those who make it, but it did. It was a chance idea while planning a trip to visit family in the Bay Area. My wife suggested that we try out some wineries. But, I’m a beer guy who drinks wine when I run out of my stash of ale, but hey, I didn’t have anything to lose if I tried. When we looked into it, there were so many vineyards in Napa Valley that we narrowed it down to Black owned establishments.
Months later, we found ourselves in the tasting room of Brown Estate, a family-owned winery in Napa Valley. While listening to great music and hearing the stories of how the Brown’s took a leap of faith, I learned that wine-making is not an easy road. It made me think about my barbershop that I had for seven years. On the outside, you smile, but every night your life is wrapped around that business.
The Brown family bought the property along a winding mountainside which sits miles up from downtown Napa. Over a decade later and restoring the property and house, I drank a rich Zinfandel and ate some of the matriarch’s marmalade with cheese and crackers. The host was dope and generous as she poured and wove intricate stories of how the wines were named and made.
Since then, I’ve been an advocate of supporting the small cadre of winemakers. An even smaller collective, are Black women who take a leap of faith in an industry where they own about 1 percent of wine ventures.
A few years back, it was a pleasant surprise to hear of women who daringly entered into the world of spirits. After all, if you’re from a Southern family, you had an aunt or grandmother who made their own wines or moonshine for special occasions. Plus, enslaved Blacks made the alcohol for plantations, hence, Uncle Nearest whiskey, named after the real inventor of Jack Daniels, a slave named. Now that these traditions of wine are being historicized and coming to the wider market, it’s my honor to give them some shine.
For business owners who use wine, beer and spirit tasting as an event, or even organizations who employ the idea for a fundraiser, why not feature all Black owners? It was something I did for a youth personal care campaign called, The Grooming Blueprint. We raised money to create grooming kits for boys, teens and young men in Newark, New Jersey. One of our features was Andre Heston Mack of Maison Noir wines.
Here is a list of wine and spirit companies either fully-or-partially owned by Black women for you to consider. Hope you run across one of these and try them out.
Wine me downs + Liquid Spirits
HOUSE OF MANDELA
A lifestyle, wine and art company with wine being one of its main features, it holds a cherished name throughout the world. Birthed by descendants of Nelson Mandela (his eldest daughter from his first wife, a granddaughter and great-nephew), the House of Mandela wine collection uses grapes from the Cape region of South Africa. The country has a rich winemaking region that has gone through some turmoil with the threat of drought, but the twist cap bottled wines are a mainstay.
With three collections: King Vusani after King Ngubengcuka colloquially meaning “let the Thembu nation rise”; the PHUMLA collection after the name of Evelyn and Nelson Mandela’s fourth and last-born child; and the Thembu clan, in which the Mandela’s come from, are Xhosa people who migrated to the current Johannesburg region. Mandela wines range from Shiraz to Sauvignon blanc.
LOVE CORK SCREW
Based in Chicago, Love Cork Screw is the brainchild of serial entrepreneur and wine enthusiast, Chrishon Lampley. Leveraging her successful run of an art gallery noted more for its wine selection than its art, she convinced investors for start up capital to launch her wine company. Fusing her artistic bones with the masterful palette of vino, she brokered a deal to start Love Cork Screw, which has been kicking ass since 2014.
From her company’s roots, Lampley has entered into partnerships resulting in a cookbook called, “Your Guide to Tasteful Manners,” and the latest collection of candles available at Target. From white and red table wines to refreshing rosés, rieslings and sauvignons, her stash carries hip-hop and Black pop culture inspired names. Definitely with all of Lampley’s creations, it helps me on date night. My wife approves.
If you’ve been to the bottom, the boot, the gumbo rich Crescent City called New Orleans, you know that a good alcoholic drink is almost a requirement. So it’s good that Kim Lewis was named as the first Black woman to launch a wine company from there.
Called Olé Orleans, the company’s inspiration comes to celebrate the historic New Orleans, which is rapidly leaving post-Katrina gentrification and redevelopment. Lewis, a mother of three children, started the company in 2018. Currently, she has two wines available—Blanc Du Bois-Dry and Blanc Du Blanc-Semi Sweet—with nine more on the way.
After over a decade in the wine industry as the first Black woman winemaker in South Africa, Ntsiki Biyela decided to branch out on her own in 2016. Aslina Wines, a company named after her mother, has been creating great bottles of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux blend. To affirm her brilliance and work, in 2018, Aslina Wines Umsasane won a gold medal at the Michaelangelo International Wine and Spirits awards.
Noted as the youngest woman to start her own spirit company, Chanel Turner, a former Bowie State basketball star, wanted to create a vodka catering to women. After testing over 80 formulas, she partnered with a distillery in South Carolina to conjure up Fou-Dré.
Foudré means, lightning in French. Also, the company’s name is a play on the southern moniker of strong clear beverages aptly called, white lightning. With eleven years behind her company, her vodka can be purchased online. Or, if you’re in the Washington DC area and Atlanta, multiple stores carry Fou-Dré.
CHARLES WINE CO.
Launching their first label in 2014, the journey of Paul Charles, De’Ondre Charles and Dr. Cherise Moore started with a wine tasting tour in Temecula, California, a wine country region in Southern California. Now, the Charles Wine Co, the family-owned winery produces 500 cases a year. One of the recent selections is Melanin, a pinot noir released in 2019. Grab some.
DAVIDSON WINE CO.
Owned by former corporate lawyer turned winemaker, Lindsey Williams, produces an impressive list of over 35 varieties at Davidson Wine Company. By sourcing grapes locally and globally, they make a range of cabernets to pinotages and ports. To help address the lack of diversity in winemakers, Williams partnered with Shayla Varnado of Black Girls Wine, a collective of women who love to indulge in wine and sisterhood. The social circle works to curate meaningful events providing spaces to grow relationships and their appreciation for vino.
Another thing to check out is their dope brick and mortar, located in historic Davidson, North Carolina, a suburb of Charlotte. At the winery, enjoy a range of wine tastings, and complementary events such as chocolate pairings and a nice selection of social events.
Another lawyer-turned-winemaker, Theodora R. Lee has almost two decades of grape skins in the game with Theopolis Vineyards. Lee, who is called the “Theo-Patra of wines,” earned respect throughout the winemaking industry as a small, yet superb winemaker who has garnered dozens of awards for her yearly selections. Most recently, her rosé petite sirah won third place in San Francisco’s International wine competition
Established in 2003, this Bay Area counselor moved to San Francisco from Texas in 1987. Soon, she sipped her way into the local wine culture. Fresh from taking viticulture classes at UC Davis, in 2001, Lee bought sheep land in the Yorkville Highlands of Anderson Valley in the greenthumb region of Mendocino County. Like several of the wineries on this list, you can join the vineyards wine club to get first dibs on a wonderful selection of pinot noirs, petite sirahs, rosés, and symphony wines, which are currently sold out.
In Tennessee, there has been an open secret marinating in the whiskey barrels of the state since the 1850s. In fact, this is throughout most of Colonial America: slaves made spirits.
For whiskey makers in Tennessee, this falls in line with their history too. To unpack and start whiskey reparations, Fawn Weaver uncovered the history of Nathan “Nearest” Green, the spirits master who provided the formula and distillery techniques to make the famous Jack Daniels whiskey.
Jack Daniel, an orphan born around Lynchburg, Tennessee was taught by Green, a slave who was commonly called, Uncle Nearest. Daniel used the formula to grow a global empire, ironically, that is a favorite spirit amongst African Americans. Sadly, Green never owned any of the Jack Daniels empire nor received credit by Daniel, but Green’s descendants worked at the distillery, even to this day.
Thankfully, Weaver is changing that narrative with Uncle Nearest, a premium whiskey brand that uses Green’s original formulas. Her project is in conjunction with the Green family efforts and blessing.
There is no known photo of Nathan ‘Uncle Nearest’ Green. Historians have recovered a photo is his son, George, with Jack Daniels to the left of him.
Several years ago, Weaver secured $20 million in investments and is in the midst of renovating a horse farm into the first major whiskey or spirit brand owned by a woman, Black person, or person of color in the US. Since the company’s offering of its selection of premium aged whiskies, it has already won over 75 awards including being named one of the best whiskies in the world by Whisky Magazine’s 2019 World Whiskies Awards.
I spoke about Brown Estate in the entry, but let me add that they have a special wine called, Betelgeuse, like the star, and not the movie. It is one of the best white wines you’ll taste. Plus their showroom, situated in beautiful mountainside, and the cellar walk through, including how they created the winery is worth the visit. Or, you can go to their downtown location which opened a couple of years ago.
P. HARRELL WINES
Bay Area professional, Paula Harrell transferred her career in real estate and mortgage finance to a quaint wine selection of zinfandel, rose and riesling. To mix up both professions, Harrell gives real estate and wine tasting events or finance and vino gatherings. Located in Oakland, check out her regular shindigs for P. Harrell Wines.
DARJEAN JONES WINES
An idea fermenting for years in the mind of Louisiana native, Dawna Darjean Jones, the wine brand named after its proprietor, Darjean Jones, offers eight selections from Napa Valley grapes.
For the creators of HH Bespoke, their selection of rum, gin and vodka was a natural transition from the famed fashion boutique created in Harlem. As purveyors of Harlem cool and swank, the spirit line compliments a lifestyle that comes out of the Black Mecca that dates back to the early 1900s. During a time when local Black natives, migrant Blacks then immigrant Blacks coexisted to create a mixture of global flyness, HH Bespoke keeps it funky.
Try one of their spirits with one of their cocktails: Harlem Walk, Southside Harlem, or Corpse Reviver.
HERITAGE LINKS BRAND
Owned by Selena and Khary Cuffe, the company features luxury goods, lifestyle jaunts, and a list of wines in their venture, Heritage Links Brands. In particular, they import wine from Black and folk of color vineyards from South Africa and Brazil.
The idea to open up the world of Africa to the US was inspired by a trip to South Africa in 2003. Since, they’ve been road tripping to the Motherland and curating events. Most recently, they hosted a “Dinner En Blue” in Morocco last October.
Who can argue with a line of wines called, Black Girl Magic? The McBride Sisters, Robin and Andréa, have as much of a fascinating familial story as their wines. Being the largest Black-owned winery in the US, the half-sisters found out about each other in the middle of their lives. Sharing the same father, Kelly McBride, they were united by the efforts of their patrilineal side after he passed away from cancer in 1996.
Ironically, they both shared strong interests in the wine industry and were both reared in wine country regions—Robin in Monterey, California and Andréa in New Zealand. That story alone is serious Black magic all the way around.
Black Girl Magic is just one of their selections that goes beyond a wonderful list of rosé, red blend and riesling. In turn, the sisters brought together their wine preferences from Central Coast Cali and NZ to create a perfect mashup to create the McBride Sisters collection. As well, they started a wine-inna-can collection, SHE CAN, inspired by single mothers, like theirs.
To augment the wines in cans, they added an initiative to provide professional development for women in the wine industry from SHE CAN proceeds.
TASTE COLLECTION CELLARS
Owned by Chef Rhonda Russell, Taste Collection Cellars is comprised of an artisanal collection of wines representing a mélange of grapes from the northern portion of California’s Central Valley. Chef Rhonda is a certified wine sommelier and executive chef.
FRESH BOURBON DISTILLERY
Waiting to break ground on a $5.4 million, 34, 000 square foot production facility in Lexington, Kentucky’s Distillery District, husband-and-wife, Sean and Tia Edwards founded, Fresh Bourbon Distillery. With an African American bourbon maker working with them to create a local, signature taste, the Edwards are inching towards being the largest African-American owned distillery in the state of Kentucky. Expect to see their whisky, Fresh Bourbon, in late 2020.
A family owned venture founded by Greg and Shea Frichette, is based in Washington state. Frichette Winery offers a limited production, but great list of wines that showcase vineyards and farms dedicated to producing impeccable grapes for wine-making from the Pacific Northwest. As a sucker for reds, they have an impressive list of merlots, cabernet sauvignon, and Malbec . Sip on one in their dapper tasting room.
One thing I have to give to Ayesha Curry, is that she is determined to carve out an indelible niche in the food and beverage industry. A couple of years ago, she partnered with her sister-in-law, Sydel to create Domaine Curry. A modest, but hearty collection of Napa Valley wines, the varieties speak to the femme spirit and entrepreneurial moxie of the Curry family.
A new vodka on the market launched by Carmelita Hilliard in 2018 caters to the Black hip millennials. Hilliard, a DC Native, wanted to make a vodka brand that catered to a segment of the vodka-drinking sector that was largely ignored—minority women. So, she partnered with a local distillery to create Look Vodka. Right now, her brand is in the DMV area, but if you’re there, pass up the Cîroc and pick up a bottle.
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