By Sandra Taylor
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For the wine industry, a 2020 study (updated in 2022) found that only 14% of bonded wineries in CA reported a woman as lead winemaker and fewer than 0.1 percent of all winemakers in the U.S. are Black. Diversifying the wine industry goes beyond just hiring people of color. Industry needs to create hospitable spaces and environments, meet folks where they are, and do some intrapersonal work.
Importantly, we need to look from within to combat our own personal implicit biases. We all have an unconscious need to categorize people. We all have implicit biases that get in the way of successful diverse businesses. Implicit bias is the automatic associations between a racial group and a stereotype (such as Black and poor) that may unintentionally influence judgments and actions, especially in the workplace.
While we often think of bias as an individual issue, it may actually be the degree of racial inequality and discrimination in one’s environment; in other words, racism that has become embedded and normalized within an industry. Inequalities do not reflect “inevitable truths” about the ability of different groups to succeed, but instead reflect systems of oppression that have their roots in historical imbalances of power. It’s not enough to examine our own personal “hidden biases.” Instead, we should use our biases as a starting place for examining our workplaces, our communities and in this case our entire industry. Implicit biases do not emerge in a vacuum but reflect our daily exposure to an environment of racism. If we desire a more equitable society, we need to not only address the biases we hold inside, but also the system under which these biases were formed.
It’s no longer OK to not be racist, to not be sexist. You must be anti-racist, anti-sexist and do better, to continue to grow. This starts with recognizing and acknowledging that implicit bias is the primary concern. At every level, the wine industry must examine their workplace cultures and look more closely for bias.
The wine industry is predominantly white and it’s not ok to retreat to the comfort of “I’m not a racist” in a very white industry. Beyond the history and culture of the wine industry, financial status is a barrier preventing people of color or historically marginalized persons from entering the industry at all levels. Sommelier certifications exams alone are costly – and add to that the cost of the wines, classes, and materials to prepare for exams. Many wineries are family-owned and run, unfortunately discriminating against communities of color and the advancement of women.
A good example of highlighting implicit bias in the wine industry comes from the Boisset collection. Talk about showing leadership from the top! Check out their DEI mission, value statement and engagement where you’ll also find resources for how to approach implicit bias.
Albeit long overdue, it is promising that conversations are now including voices of color and gender. Yet, there is much to be done.
As an African American sustainability professional and social responsibility advocate working in wine, it is clear to me how sustainability and Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) are strictly intertwined. The wine industry globally is very focused on integrating sustainability into operations at many levels, though in most instances the priority is on environmental responsibility. The first step towards implementing a sustainability strategy is to ensure that you are providing your people a workplace where they can be themselves and contribute to their best abilities. In my mind this is as critical as setting the right environmental goals.
A diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace improves the ethical or social impact of a business. Napa Green has made social equity a pillar of its sustainability programs and shares details of work at Pine Ridge Vineyards and Chares Krug Winery.
The concept of diversity and inclusion go beyond hiring more people of color and other historically under-represented groups; we need to make spaces welcoming, safe, and equitable first. Many of our systems are inherently built for folks without any thought of generational trauma, diverse backgrounds, and differing persistent economic conditions.
Wine companies should fund and partner with organizations already doing this work, and recruit from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and Tribal Colleges, such as Florida A&M University (FAMU), Las Positas, or Napa Valley College. Better yet, create paid-internship or apprenticeship programs specifically targeted to students of color interested in the wine industry, at all levels, with the goal of hiring from the pool of apprentices and interns. Rather than highlight one employee-of-color, create and support Employee Resource Groups.
When recruiting for diverse applicants, post recruitment advertisements, host networking events, and amplify the work of organizations already serving non-white wine students, producers, and enthusiasts. A few examples; The Roots Fund, Wine Unify, The Hue Society, The Women of the Vine and Spirits Foundation, McBride Sisters SHE CAN Fund, or The Mexican American Vintners Association.
And remember when you are interviewing a candidate, they are interviewing you as well, to make sure your workplace is welcoming and that they can be successful in your organization where they are under-represented. Highlight the efforts that your organization is making to seek out more diverse candidates and make your organization more inclusive. Rather than highlight one employee-of-color, create and support Employee Resource Groups. Do you have a Diversity Council, or some type of executive committee committed to DEI efforts? What Employee Resource Groups are available? What funding and opportunities are available for additional professional and personal development? What trainings are required of all-staff, no matter the seniority, on implicit bias, microaggressions, and inclusive best practices? What percent of senior leadership or management is non-white, non-male, or identifies as LGBTQIA+?
Change doesn’t happen overnight–we need to invest in and amplify communities and organizations that are already supporting this work. Distributors can promote wine produced by black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). Supporters can fund initiatives such as The Black Winemakers Scholarship Fund, Urban Connoisseurs, Association of African American Vintners or Black Wine Professionals. Through cause marketing The Boisset Collection, for example, created a wine where the proceeds go to support a number of these organizations, the JCB 2019 UNITY CABERNET SAUVIGNON, NAPA VALLEY. According to Jean Claude Boisset, “Education and awareness are the foundation for building a more inclusive community. The thirst to understand, empathize, and act all starts with finding the right resources and building relationships with partners who can truly make a difference.”
Words are not enough: My hope is that the expressed commitments of the industry are real and lasting. We need to see enduring results in response to social unrest and the exposure of inequalities and discrimination.in the wine industry, not simply good words in the heat of this moment in our history. Efforts to diversify the industry can also pay off financially, the subject of my next blog post.