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  • Colorado Wine Pros Call for Change

    Can the Black Lives Matter movement spark inclusion and equity in the wine industry?

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    In almost every corner of American culture, this year has been one of reckoning, and the wine industry is no exception. Richard Betts, who served as the award-winning wine director at the Little Nell in Aspen from 2000 to 2008, made national headlines in June when he resigned from the Court of Master Sommeliers Americas, citing the organization’s lack of urgency in responding to the Black Lives Matter movement. “I think that everybody in my position—male, white, privileged—we’ve all been asleep on the job,” Betts says. But the sudden urgency from white sommeliers and media figures to amplify the voices of Black wine professionals has raised questions that have also become familiar: Why now? Will there be real change after this moment has passed?

    Maia Parish, a Denver native, sommelier, and wine judge, is used to being the only Black woman at trade tastings and wine functions—when her name isn’t left off email lists altogether. “Colorado has a few major wine events, but they aren’t as well advertised to diverse consumers as they should be,” says Parish, who hosts and produces her own events through her consulting company, the Wine Suite.

    The dearth of people of color in Denver’s food and wine industry—particularly in 2002, when Kendra Anderson, the sommelier-owner of Cabana X at Bar Helix, launched her first catering company here—affected Anderson’s approach to breaking into the scene. “It became important to cement my reputation by focusing on my expertise, training, and palate,” she says. “And not to minimize my Blackness in any way, but I also didn’t want a break just because I’m a Black woman.” Now Anderson is more vocal with her peers about the need for increased recruiting and mentoring of diverse staff, particularly relating to restaurant wine service.

    “I love Colorado, and my legacy in wine will be in Colorado.”

    As a veteran of the industry in Colorado, William Davis recognizes both the vibrancy of the local wine community and the need for more inclusion and equity, too. Nineteen years ago, he was the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa’s first Black wine buyer as the manager for the Ship Tavern, which, at the time, had the largest wine list in Denver. In his current position as director of education for Napa-based importer/marketer Wilson Daniels, Davis sees progress. “Wilson Daniels—along with other importers, restaurants, and organizations—is increasing access through scholarships, which open the door for Black people who want to get into wine,” Davis says.

    Still, there is a lot more work to be done to spark real change. Davis believes that, over time, more diverse faces in the industry—encouraged by scholarship investments, mentoring, new leadership, and smart marketing—will help dismantle long-standing roadblocks to wine education and enjoyment in the Black community. He’s optimistic in part because of the dedication of innovators like Anderson and Parish. “I love Colorado,” Parish says, “and my legacy in wine will be in Colorado.”

    Shop for These 3 Black-Owned Wine Labels

    Not one of Colorado’s 140 wineries is Black-owned, but you can find these three top-notch Black-owned labels at local shops.

    Established in 2016 by winemaker Jennifer McDonald, Jenny Dawn Cellars is the first urban winery in Wichita, Kansas, specializing in blends made from Crimson Cabernet and Chardonnay grapes grown in the Sunflower State. Photo courtesy of Jenny Dawn Cellars
    Longevity Wines
    The Bordeaux-and-Rhône-style blends from Phil Long’s boutique winery in California’s Livermore Valley region spotlight Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Photo courtesy of Longevity Wines
    Theodora R. Lee’s winery, nestled in California’s southeastern Mendocino County, is known for rich expressions of Pinot Noir and Petite Sirah. Photo courtesy of Theopolis Vineyards

     

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