How to dismantle white supremacy in wine

A how-to guide on how you and everyone else around you in the wine industry can change it for the better, one action at a time

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Photo by Andrew “Donovan” Valdivia on Unsplash

THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY

1. ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROBLEM.
Don’t bungle it like GuildSomm (I would link to their post but they deleted it!) or the Court of Master Sommeliers: if all it takes is you or your organization to say Black Lives Matter, say it. Admit that they do. And don’t give us the racist “aLL LiVeS mAtTeR” caveat that comes along with that — when a guest asks for Sancerre, do you give them Malbec? When a table needs their glasses topped up, do you go to another table? This is important because being vocal in the wine space, whether it’s social media or face-to-face, has been stigmatized and stereotyped to “angry” BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks who, really, are just asking to be treated the same as you have been. If everyone is on the same page, we can be much more productive in making change. This is a difficult step. Get ready to engage in the work. It will suck.

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Photo by Taylor Simpson on Unsplash

2. EDUCATE YOURSELF.
Start an inward reflection on how complicit you’ve been or how silent you’ve been in the past when these events occurred. How does it make you feel now? Identify the minority structures present in your layer of industry: are there Black winemakers in your area, or are there LGBTQ+friendly tasting rooms? Listen to Black voices about how insidious and systemic racist structures have been, like tipping in restaurants to gate-keeping in professional spheres. Follow BIPOC voices on channels you care about and check daily to help you build this conscious engagement with the work. Is there a particular moment that you realized you were being treated because of the color of your skin, or how differently someone else was and you didn’t do anything about it? Read a book, listen to a podcast, and please: learn to sit with this discomfort. This is the best you’re going to feel in all of this, at least for the early part.

3. AMPLIFY THE CAUSES THAT HELP.
It’s up to you how you do this step, but the easiest one for the financially empowered is to donate directly to organizations that aim to dismantle white supremacy. For specific wine causes, think about the extraordinary journey that the grape takes from seed to glass and how many hands are involved and how different those hands are: immigrant farm laborers, young unpaid interns, winemakers and assistant winemakers in positions of privilege, the investor capital required for building and raising business, truck drivers with no overtime pay to bring product cross-country, the carbon footprint of everything related to our industry, sales reps who work only on commission, office workers to ensure compliance and fiscal responsibility, sommeliers in student debt, undocumented restaurant workers, the customer who doesn’t know how to tip correctly. Wine occupies a ton of lanes with lots of potholes; pick one to help fix by raising awareness or fundraising, focus on eliminating the domineering whiteness of the space, and consider your role in perpetuating these systems.

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Photo by lucas Favre on Unsplash

THINGS YOU CAN DO THIS WEEK

4. HAVE HARD CONVERSATIONS.
You’re not the only one sitting with how uncomfortable these realities are for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks, but it’s a much harder thing for us to live through it. Talk to your in-groups about it, whether that’s friends or family or close co-workers. It has affected all of our lives and you probably weren’t aware of it. But ignorance and silence can be changed if you want to raise your voice, and I promise, it’s so much easier after a glass of wine or two. A caveat here: don’t ask your BIPOC friends for help. We’re already doing a lot of labor here, and we don’t need another thing to worry about when we’re also disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

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Photo by Thomas William on Unsplash

5. DEMAND ACTION.
We’ve seen time and time again how well this works. Actions get results, but don’t forget that inactions bear consequences. Hold your heroes accountable. Just as much as saying Black Lives Matter, it’s important to demand the follow-through from your colleagues. It’s not enough that the problem is acknowledged: demand not just for more, but for BETTER. It’s how we got antifreeze out of Austrian wine, it’s how the organization of CORPINNAT has coalesced, and it’s currently how certifying bodies attached to legitimacy are either writing themselves into obsolescence or adapting for the future.

6. KEEP TALKING.
I tell my friends the same mantra here: Talk shit, get angry, get loud, do more. Channel your energy to productive paths that bring about change. Say there’s something not going right in your tasting group? Talk shit: address and acknowledge the problem. Get angry: once the problem’s identified, find the root of it and how it got there, and begin to find solutions. Get loud: channel your emotion into intent and vocalize, either calling in or calling out, and demand or enact change. Do more: if one thing is broken, there are probably more things we can fix. Keep going.

THINGS YOU CAN DO WITHIN A MONTH

7. ENGAGE WITH THE COMMUNITY.
If you’re healthy and able and willing to risk it, protest. If you’re not, help: organize those protests, fundraise, write your legislators, make signs, make donations, tell your friends. You might notice that a lot of the things are going to feel cyclical pretty soon, but the work can be meditative if you allow it. Your body and your voice are the best weapons against the continuation of white supremacy in our industry. Speak up if you see something racist. Stop harassment masked as entitlement. Shut up to listen to what your BIPOC colleagues have to say. Ask them what they need but don’t come to them with problems. (If you don’t have any BIPOC LGBTQ+ that trust you enough tot ell you what they need, then please, go back to Step 1.)

Advocacy and allyship are the active, continuous disavowal of white supremacy and harmful patriarchal systems. Stay focused and stay engaged.

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Photo by Clay LeConey on Unsplash

8. HOLD PEOPLE ACCOUNTABLE.
Register to vote, that’s a big one, sure. But in your immediate spheres, you can start by asking questions like the following (obviously not limited to, but definitely including questions like these):

Demand not just for more, but for better.

THINGS YOU CAN DO WITHIN A YEAR

9. DECOLONIZE WINE.
From the eurocentism of your tasting grid to the French-centered paths of “crucial wine education,” dismantle the idea that this is the only method to approach wine. We’re forging new paths with every vintage, with the good looking like the proliferation of hybrid varieties in winemaking, to the bad looking like regions making white wine ill-equipped to handle the realities of climate change. Wine is just as much alive out of the bottle and it’s time we talk about the human aspect of it. Think about the notion of “correctness” in tasting notes — it’s correct for who?

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Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

10. REDISCOVER JOY.
Wine, at its purest, is a human celebration of a human product. It is rooted in this joy that we seek these experiences and why we are so obsessed in learning more about it. But we can re-center and re-focus our energies not just on the art of its creation but also to the best of what is required to make that art. It is a lot of work in all senses of the word, but it’s here we can take some respite in its capacity to make us feel more alive. Rest, take a sip; take a few more. Then get back up and keep going.

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Part 1, a blueprint of items for wine industry sectors, is available here: Actionable Items for the Wine Community.

As always, thanks to collaborators and soundboards: Talia Baiocchi, author and editor-in-chief of PUNCH; Jirka Jireh, manager at Ordinaire in Oakland, CA; Jahde Marley, wine consultant for Indie Wineries in NYC; Jasmine Senaveratna, writer, illustrator, and restaurant colleague based in NYC; Zwann Grays, wine director of Olmsted in Brooklyn; and the now-empty bottles of pét-nat and orange wine consumed to power through this.

Black Lives Matter.

restaurant operator, wine director, sommelier. cal 05, nyc since 07. MNL -> LAX -> SFO -> NYC. //\\//\\ ig @migueld1 tw @migueld // he/him

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