It was heartwarming to see an enthusiastic response to the debut of a new meetup group: Wine Noir, devoted to tasting wines made by black Americans. Thirty-eight wine lovers attended two sold-out, meet-the-winemaker events Saturday and Sunday: a lunch at Harold and Belle’s Restaurant and a dinner at 320 South Wine Lounge. The featured winemaker was Mac McDonald of Vision Cellars. Wine Spectator recently listed him number seven in its ranking of top US Pinot Noir producers. The Wine Noir crowd is still raving about his wines.
I founded the group due to a growing frustration; except for Brown Estate wines (whose owner hails from Jamaica) I can’t find one wine made by the approximately 25 African-American vintners on a retail shelf in LA. That, my friends, is not okay. Apart from what it might say about racial discrimination being alive and well in the wine trade, we are missing out on some really great juice.
Not until Pinot Days in 2012, when I first laid eyes on Mac McDonald, did it dawn on me; I’d never before seen a black winemaker. By that point, I’d worked two years as a journalist covering large-scale wine events and nine years, part time, in customer service at Wally’s Wines and Spirits. Tasting Mac's world-class wines piqued my curiosity, and led me to attend last year’s Association of African American Vintner’s symposium to learn and to taste more. I found some talented winemakers.
AAAV is a non-profit organization, established in 2002, with the mission: “...to provide a supportive network to African-American vintners and wine industry professionals worldwide, and to bring fine wine, education and the Wine Country Lifestyle to consumers.” Important goals, indeed, since black vintners make up only 1% of US winemakers, and African-Americans account for just 11% of annual wine sales.
Gaining visibility for these vintners can be problematic, because most have boutique wineries with limited case production. As with many small, family-owned wineries, it is too costly to sell through the usual wine distribution channels. Mostly, the winemakers rely on web sales and hand selling to wine stores and restaurants close to where they live. Hence, their wines don’t make it onto your radar.
Lucky for Angelenos, we have a few opportunities for exploring black-owned wineries. Check out: 1 Black Girl, 20 Black Wines, Wine Noir and Zuri Wine Tasting. You no longer have to miss out on some of the best wines you've never tasted. While you're at it, ask your local retailers to consider stocking their shelves with some of your favorites.