Earth-friendly: Wine Beyond the Labels

Mary Certain

Mary is a wine enthusiast and Level 3 WSET graduate. She loves walking around Lake Harriet to admire all the happy pups, cooking with her foodie friends and family, and is extremely competitive about jigsaw puzzles.

Wine may technically be a luxury item vs. a necessity, but for many (myself included) it greatly contributes to the enjoyment of life, and is not something I’m looking to cut out. So, with our wine habit here to stay, how can we reduce the environmental impact of our consumption? As with most goals that seem too big or unclear, the important thing is to get started, do the best we can, and keep going!

Buzzwords (Organic, Biodynamic, Sustainably grown, Eco-friendly, etc.) can be a helpful place to start, but can also be redundant or confusing. Beyond that, many wines are made using the same conscientious techniques, and yet for one reason or another they don’t use these terms overtly. The following are a few other things I think about when seeking a wine that will be better for the Earth (and taste better, too!)

Vineyard Care

This encompasses everything from water use to pest control to soil stewardship, and beyond. Grape vines take years to mature and are high-maintenance to keep in healthy condition, annually producing the best possible fruit. 

So, I say the single best indicator of a sustainable wine is a wine-maker’s enthusiasm for the site and soil where their grapes are grown. When they have pride in the land they tend, they are judicious with their resources, cautious with interventions, and careful in how they manage the fruit once picked. They take a long-view approach and do what is best for the earth, because that same ground will continue to grow the vines for future years and they know exactly how special it is. 

Love of the land and masterful winemaking knowledge translates to a delightful bottle in Christina Gruner’s Veltliner Austria 2022 

(Full disclosure; I happened to meet Christina recently and can vouch that she is a lovely gracious person as well as being a passionately responsible winemaker!)

Barrels

Using oak barrels to ferment and age wine is a longstanding tradition, but mature oak trees are a slow-growing resource and add significant cost as well. By using neutral (previously used) barrels for their wine, a winemaker can take advantage of the benefits of oak, allowing it to soften and gain complexity, but without imparting oaky flavor notes. 

This means the hard work of growing healthy grapes in the vineyard isn’t overshadowed by the wood and they are able to reuse existing barrels. Win(e)-win(e)! Queen of Sierra Amber Calaveras County 2023 uses only neutral oak for barrels (as do all wines from Forlorn Hope).

Packaging

This is where we as consumers have the most direct impact! Aside from packaging being a source of waste, the weight of heavy glass bottles is relatively high compared to alternatives and the space required to ship is double. 

If you’re serving wine for a large gathering, consider a boxed wine. The quality and range of options in boxes is constantly increasing as more people are appreciating this flexible option. And if serving a boxed wine feels too informal, simply transfer it into a lovely pitcher or carafe. Bandit Pinot Grigio from California is a great choice and a crowd pleaser!

Riesling Reflections: Literary Inspirations & Wine Explorations

Jennifer Simonson

Jennifer Simonson

Jennifer is a writer, photographer and wine enthusiast who publishes a blog called Bookworm, in which she pairs wine with books. It combines two of her favorite pastimes and is intended to make both reading and sipping wine more enjoyable. She recently received her WSET Level 3 in Wines certification through France 44 Wine & Spirits Education. She lives in Linden Hills and enjoys running around the city lakes, gardening, cooking and making art.

Pairing books and wine is not unlike pairing food and wine, in that I look for areas of congruence and/or contrast, always in search of balance. The pairing can be inspired by many things – a character’s personality, the writing style, the author, where the novel takes place, or my final impression after reading a book. Most books have multiple pairing options, and to create your own, simply consider what elements speak most to you.

Below is a summary of a recent pairing that incorporates one of my favorite grape varieties, Riesling. While it’s made in a range of styles from dry to sweet, with its naturally high acidity, Riesling is always refreshing. (Perfect for spring and summer!) If this pairing inspires you to explore more Riesling, consider the additional recommendations at the end of this post.

And visit my Bookworm blog for the complete book review, wine tasting note, and a lengthier explanation about why the pairing is successful.

The Book: North Woods by Daniel Mason

North Woods by Daniel MasonBroadly, this novel is about a home in New England and all of its inhabitants from colonial times to the present day. It’s filled with evocative language, imaginative characters and delightful surprises – and it’s one of the best books I’ve read in years. While the story is dark at times, it’s also humorous and hopeful.

Among the memorable characters are an orchardist, spinster sisters, a painter, a spirit medium, a mother devoted to her schizophrenic son, and an amateur historian. Their emotional lives are rich with longing, delight, absurdity and deceit. While the people in the home come and go, it is a testament to Mason’s skill as a writer that we remain immersed in their stories.

Nature is featured as largely as any of the characters in the book, and the wooded, rural landscape is described with extraordinary attentiveness. The natural world is a constant, albeit evolving, presence. The chapters follow the months and seasons, illuminating the interconnectedness of all living things.

The author links the home’s inhabitants – and the landscape around them – in extraordinary ways, shining a light on the mystery and magnificence of human existence. North Woods is at once a majestic exploration of the centuries and a detailed study of a specific place. Both undergo tremendous change, filling us with curiosity about the past, wonder at the present, and inevitably, hope for the future.

Ravines RieslingThis dry Riesling comes from the Finger Lakes AVA in central New York State, which is known for it’s deep glacial lakes, gorges, waterfalls and woods. In this cold climate, producers Morten and Lisa Hallgren seek to make wines that “embrace mother nature’s variability.”

Floral aromas of honeysuckle and orange blossom mingle with lemon zest, lime, fresh apricot, just-ripe pineapple, yellow apple and wet stones. This wine is medium bodied with a citrus-forward palate and refreshing acidity, and it’s absolutely delicious.

Why the Pairing Works

For me, Ravines Dry Riesling evokes the lush, forested environment that Mason describes so eloquently in North Woods. Imagine a New England landscape where “(s)lugs leave hieroglyphs on the beech bark,” and a brook “splits the hillside like a tear in the fabric of the earth.” Just as the seasons are integral to this story, so too is climate to wine producers in the Finger Lakes.

While winter here is generally too cold for Vitis vinifera, the exceptionally deep lakes create a special microclimate that allows for viticulture. (Several of these glacial lakes are deeper than the sea floor!) Large bodies of water cool down and heat up more slowly than the surrounding land, which circulates air and moderates temperatures in the nearby vineyards. The best vineyards in the region are located on the steep-sloped shores of lakes Seneca, Keuka and Cayuga.

This Riesling embodies its extraordinary growing region and pairs perfectly with North Woods, where nature takes center stage.

Other Rieslings to Try

While cold-tolerant, late-budding Riesling thrives in the Finger Lakes, most world-class Riesling comes from Germany. Autumn is long, cool, and generally dry, allowing grapes to reach peak sugar ripeness and to retain acidity. Stylistically, the wines range from dry to very sweet. Riesling is known for its ability to age in the bottle where it develops aromas and flavors of honey and toast, but maintains freshness.

The following two German Rieslings are among my favorites at France 44, and they are quite different from one another:

This dry sparkling wine is made using the traditional method, just like Champagne, but it’s produced in the Pfalz from 100% Riesling. The organic grapes are hand harvested, and only the first 50% of the pressing goes into this wine. The base wine is fermented in stainless steel and large oak barrels. Then, it undergoes the traditional second fermentation in bottle, capturing the carbon dioxide, and spends 30 months on the lees.

The lees, which are dead yeast cells, break down and impart texture, richness and notes of brioche. Ripe apple, pear and lemon zest round out the nose and palate, and the bubbles are energetic and refreshing.

I first tasted this wine in a German Wines class at France 44, and I immediately loved it. I was told it’s phenomenal with fried chicken – a pairing I can’t wait to try!

The Karthäuserhof winery in the Mosel is the eighth oldest in the world, dating back to 1335 when Carthusian monks farmed the vineyards. Today, it’s managed by the 7th generation of a family who has owned it since 1811.

While this estate produces mostly dry wines, this one is sweet. Spätlese means late harvest, so as the grapes hang on the vine they accumulate sugar. The riper grapes produce wines with greater flavor concentration and body, which is immediately evident in this wine.

On the nose and palate, expect ripe fruit like apricot, peach, apple, pear, and pineapple, as well as orange blossom, wet stones and ginger. And while the sweetness is noticeable, it’s perfectly balanced by high acidity and fruity flavors.

At 8.5% ABV, this low-alcohol wine pairs nicely with spicy foods as alcohol tends to exacerbate the burning sensation of chili heat.

Women in Wine

Winemakers Cris Yagüe Cuevas and Maria Falcón
Nicole Collins-Kwong

Nicole Collins-Kwong

Nicole is a wine enthusiast who has completed the WSET 3 certification through France 44 and continues her education with tasting groups and events around town. She adores all wines, especially the unique and unusual styles. When she's not popping corks, Nicole loves to cook, hang with her husband and two boys, and tend to her urban zoo complete with dogs, a cat and chickens!

I recently attended a talk by a prominent importer who specializes in small growers, especially generational family-owned wineries. What struck me most about his talk had nothing to do with the wines, but the casual way he described all winemakers and growers as men. This left a bad taste in my mouth, which was unfortunate, because he was pouring some really great wines!

The phenomenon isn’t entirely surprising, though, given the history of leadership roles passing down from father to son. Or in the absence of a son, son-in-law. Women were typically only allowed to step in when there was a death (check out the book Widow Clicquot about one of the most infamous examples of this).  Things are slowly beginning to shift, with daughters taking over more and more.

 There’s still a long way to go, though. So, what can we do?  

  1. Listen to stories about women in wine: Winesplaining – a podcast hosted by an LA-based sommelier and owner of a female-focused wine shop, the show peels back the layers of the women‘s journeys that are shaping the wine business.
  2. Bolster careers of women who want to BE in wine:
    • March 25 is National Women in Wine Day! Created by two female winemakers from California, the celebration aims to support and empower women seeking to enter the wine business. Their website features dozens of accomplished women and their stories, and invites visitors to nominate more. They also offer scholarship and donation resources to help women on their journey. 
    • Dream Big Darling – a non-profit aiming to help women in the early stages of building their wine careers, they offer education, mentorship, community and access to opportunities.
  3. And perhaps most importantly, drink wine made by women! The wines featured below are all available in the shop. Or ask a staff member for guidance finding MANY additional women-made wines we carry in stock.

Anónimas Wines

Winemakers Cris Yagüe Cuevas and Maria Falcón make Albarino from their home base in the northwest Rias Baixas region of Spain, and also source grapes from other areas of Spain to create highly-rated wines. “Anónimas is a project from the vine to the consumer, a tribute to the anonymous women that should have had their place in history and were never recognized. We collaborate with other women in the world of winegrowers, winemakers and enologists to make these personal wines.”

Anónimas Albariño Os Dunares Rias Baixas 2022 – $25.99

This Albariño is grown less than a mile from the ocean on 30+ year old vines, using sustainable winegrowing processes. No oak aging, unfiltered, this natural wine is dynamic and fun to enjoy on its own or with seafood or Manchego.

Anonimas Wine

Knudsen Vineyards

Page Knudsen Cowles is the owner and managing partner, taking over the family business from her parents, who were some of the first wine pioneers in Oregon in the 1970’s. Fun fact: she also has roots established locally, splitting her time between Minnesota and Oregon.

Knudsen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019 Willamette Valley – $64.99

This fresh-faced Pinot noir brings light body and a good balance of youthful fruit and complex spices with a whisper of oak in the background. The fruit turns pleasantly tart on the palate with suggestions of orange blossom and allspice, supported by crisp acidity and a pleasantly long finish.

Penley Vineyards

Winner of the 2024 Australian Winemaker of the year, Kate Goodman brings a contemporary winemaking style to the Coonawarra valley. She joins sister owners, Ang and Bec Tolley, to round out this award-winning winery full of women in leadership roles. They make bloody good wine, too!

Penley Cabernet Sauvignon Phoenix Coonawarra 2021 – $21.99

This wine shows dominance of spicy cabernet fruit, a dense ripeness with hints of smoky oak and grape tannin. A wine made to enjoy while young, ripe but elegant, distinct Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon characters are evident.

Penley Vineyards

Zulal

Meaning “pure” in Armenia, Zulal is the creation of Aimee Keushguerian, second-generation winemaker who celebrates native Armenian grape varietals. Her story was recently featured in the documentary, “Somm: Cup of Salvation,” a film about Aimee and her father’s journey to make exceptional wines in one of the most historic, and tumultuous, regions in the world. 

Zulal Areni 2019 – $24.99

Made from the native Armenian grape Areni, this wine brings aromas of red cherries, plums and black pepper. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with refreshing acidity and concentrated flavors of berries and spices. 

Zulal

The Sláinte Buck

Cocktail in a highball glass sits on a coffee table

🍀 Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in style with a cocktail that pays homage to the Emerald Isle’s rich whiskey tradition: the Sláinte Buck. This delightful cocktail combines the smooth warmth of Irish whiskey with the crisp tang of an Apple Rosemary Shrub, topped off with a touch of ginger beer. The result? A refreshing, crushable cocktail that perfectly balances sweet, tart, and spicy flavors, making it an ideal choice for toasting the occasion. So raise your glass and toast to the luck of the Irish! Sláinte!

  • 2oz Irish Whiskey
  • 1oz Sharab Shrubs Apple Rosemary Shrub
  • Ginger Beer to top
  • Rosemary sprig to garnish (optional)
Shake the whiskey and shrub in a cocktail shaker with ice until lightly chilled and diluted, about 5 seconds. Strain into a highball or Collins glass over fresh ice. Top with ginger beer and lightly stir. Optionally, garnish with a rosemary sprig.
With light notes of toffee and dried fruit, Irish whiskey pairs incredibly well with apple. The acidity from the Shrub provides bite, while the ginger beer rounds out this cocktail with a little sweetness and spice. Undertones of rosemary tie the whole drink together and will leave you wanting a second one. Sláinte!

The State of Craft Beer

Beer!
Bennett Porter

Bennett Porter

Bennett (he/him) is one of our Beer Cave Trolls, is a Certified Cicerone® and holds his WSET Level 3 Certification in Wines. You’ll see him lurking about the German pilsner and kölsch sections most often. He also enjoys Steel Toe, Odell, and La Croix and chocolate milk on occasion. If he wasn’t at France 44, he’d be trying to make it work as a full-time snowboard bum. He and his wife share a great Anatolian Shepherd named Bear.

From my decade-plus experience of selling beer at France 44, I have been fortunate to get a first-hand perspective of the craft beer boom. My favorite quip about working in craft beer is that “the only constant is change”, one of the principal reasons I have enjoyed this industry so much. As new beers arrive daily, often hourly, the beer cooler exists in a fluid state. Every week is different, requiring a constant effort to keep your finger on the pulse. With near limitless choices of ever-improving quality, there has never been a better moment to enjoy craft beer; yet behind the rose-colored lenses the industry faces a new version of change.

Beer Cooler

I’ve been reflecting a lot on what got us here, and what the future holds. How “fully fermented” is craft beer? Early craft beer drinkers were like yeast introduced to sugary wort: consuming, metabolizing, multiplying in numbers, along the way generating by-products of more breweries, more craft beer in more styles, and more flavor. The chemistry of this industry developed quickly, thriving like an active fermentation. It seemed like a new brewery was opening every day.

We rode that high for quite a while. Then the pandemic hit, fraying the fabric of in-person social interaction—the main environment in which craft beer is enjoyed. Its toll magnified a reality we learned to be true: the market had matured and become much more competitive. For the confluence of these reasons and more, I believe we’ve reached the “secondary fermentation” of craft beer, a period of slowing change and maturation.

•••

Bennett in the Beer CoolerAround the time I took my first shifts in the beer cooler was a particularly exciting time in the Minnesota craft beer scene. The recently passed “Surly Bill”, which allowed distributing breweries to sell their beer on-premise, opened the floodgates for new local craft breweries to plant their roots.

Up to this point, our beer selection looked much different. Swaths of shelf space were dominated by mid to large-sized regional breweries, most from out-of-state (e.g. Bell’s, Deschutes, Odell, etc). The local craft scene was just beginning to blossom. Brewery release calendars were steady and predictable back then. I could usually tell someone when to expect a certain seasonal offering. It was specifically the limited release bottles, often barrel-aged imperial stouts in tall glass and a fancy crown, that really generated peak excitement. I reflect fondly on my first few Surly Darkness releases when lines of people, lawn chairs and thermoses in hand, would form outside our doors in the early morning hours. Acquiring bottles of the most limited beers like these had become a sort of tradition for craft consumers.

This perpetual hunt to find the next rare beer was a nascent gamification for the widespread “gotta catch ‘em all” mentality that took over craft beer in the following years. BeerAdvocate, RateBeer and especially Untappd were all platforms on which users could rate and review the beers they had tried. Much like on social media, people became more aware of what beers their friends and peers were drinking, and if it was any good. Limited beers began to take on new faces: hazy New England-style IPAs featuring newly-developed hop varieties, pastry stouts with candy factory adjuncts, and smoothie sours saturated with fruit puree.  

Double False PatternThe “haze craze” was born, as hazy IPAs quickly became the hottest-selling beer style in our cooler. People who once lined up for stout releases turned to “truck chasing”: tracking down the freshest, juiciest, most-limited IPA drops from breweries like BlackStack, Drekker and Junkyard. Funny example, our Junkyard delivery driver would post his delivery route on Instagram, and by the time he arrived we’d have a crowd waiting to buy their beer. Genius! It was so crazy I actually had people actually grab beer out of my hands as I tried to keep the shelves stocked.

Like fuel to fire, soon we were juggling 50, 60, 70+ new beers coming through our doors every week. Sell out of one, replace it with another–wash, rinse, repeat. This became the environment in which most breweries had to operate to be successful. If you weren’t constantly developing new beers and flavors, you weren’t “staying atop the feed” in consumer’s minds. The results of these flavor pursuits were admittedly varied. It led to some of the best beers I’ve ever tried, and some of the worst. It was a time in craft beer when people responded well to gimmicks, us included. However, I think we reached a point of overstimulation that coincided with the eventual maturation of the craft beer market.

Today, it feels like we’ve come full circle. The onslaught of new beers continues, though at a more sustainable pace. Much to our satisfaction, maturing beer tastes have put a new focus on well-made craft lager styles (e.g. Pilsner, Helles, Bock) . Consumers are responding less to overengineered brews, as the risk of disappointment rises with the price point. Beer also faces fresh competition from the surging non-alcoholic and THC categories. In this “secondary fermentation” of craft beer, providing honest, dependable beer has become paramount.

Fairstate FestbierIt has never been tougher to decide what to stock our shelves with. Amongst the beer available to us there is a bit of amazing, a lot of great, and a sea of good, acceptable or worse. Our goal is to offer the freshest selection of the best quality beer we can provide. Although we make these decisions as a team, we rely on guidance from the most important people, our customers. Sharing your tastes and feedback with us is invaluable in shaping our selection and helps us best support the breweries that you want to thrive.

At this stage of craft beer, the future is in your hands. Support your local breweries and your locally-owned beer shops!

Complicating the Black Relationship to Wine: Part 2

Barrel holding two wine bottles
Kaleigh Swift

Kaleigh Swift

Kaleigh has been working with the France 44 events team since January 2023. She received her WSET 1-3 certifications through France 44. Kaleigh also works in communications at the University of Minnesota. In her free time, she enjoys playing and watching volleyball, spending time with her cats, and working on house projects. Kaleigh is an avid vermouth fan and never misses an opportunity to introduce someone to Spanish-style sweet vermouths!

If you read part 1 of this blog post duo, you’ll know a bit more about the early history of fermented alcoholic beverages in pre-colonial Africa, along with some mentions of the first Black viticulturists and vinters in the United States.

Now, we can look more at the “why” behind that history, to help make sense of how we got to today, where Black presence in wine is becoming more visible. This post will look more closely at false stereotypes, Black perceptions of wine, and on my own personal experiences as a consumer and professional in the industry.

While researching the origin of the stereotypes I mentioned last week, which assert that Black people don’t like fuller-bodied, complex wines, I ran into quite a few interesting finds. Several articles that re-affirmed these stereotypes with less than impressive lines of reasoning, some blog posts pushing back, and even a few published research papers.

Quite a few modern pieces hypothesized an explanation for these stereotypes that I think is logical. Racism and white supremacy is a socialization process and system of power that dehumanizes Black and indigenous people, erases their cultures and histories through colonialism, and insists that they are fundamentally incapable of producing complex and “civilized” societies. Through the normalization of these beliefs, especially in America, harmful stereotypes have emerged, rooted in the assertion that Black (and indigenous) people are too uncivilized to understand, participate in, or comprehend the complexities of society.

Black people, almost by default, get excluded from, or written out of wine history because acknowledging our ancestors and their contributions also forces society to reconcile with the fact that, as I mentioned last week, “undoubtedly, where grapes were grown and wine was produced in the new world, slave labor was being used to do so”. Black history and the history of wine are intertwined. We, in fact, are fully capable of understanding wine, having complex palates, and knowledgeably producing quality products.

Articles seeking to broaden the discourse on the Black experience in the wine industry often begin with personal narratives of authors encountering assumptions about their presence at industry events or being directed towards budget and sweeter products. These anecdotes underscore the persistent challenges of racism in the field.

And in my research for this blog, I started to question whether or not this stereotype I’ve been researching, the preference for sweeter wines like moscato among Black wine drinkers, actually existed, or whether it had in some way been manufactured by the industry insisting and marketing folks into believing that was the case.

On the one hand, let’s acknowledge that moscato is an easy drinking wine that is a great intro for folks who are new to wine, or just looking for something a little sweeter. On the other hand, that is the case for all people, not just Black people. And our ability to enjoy wine doesn’t stop at moscato alone, as evidenced by Mother Vines: A History of Black Women and Wine, a research project explaining over 400 years of documented history of Black women’s relationships to wine and exploring this intersectionality between race, class, and gender.

My own experiences of wine have included very little moscato that I can recall. Even prior to studying wine, I purchased primarily Pinot Noirs or Sauvignon Blancs. I was always willing to try new things and found wine to be utterly fascinating.

Some years ago, I started visiting my uncle regularly in the Bay Area, and one of our favorite things to do was go up to Napa wineries. It was during these visits that my journey to becoming a wine professional started. Not because I was in awe of the folks presenting us wines in Napa, but often because I felt like I wanted to know more and my inquisitiveness was often met with derision and hasty answers, lacking depth.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be nurtured by the wine professionals at France 44 who saw my interest as a positive quality and happily answered my questions throughout WSET (a wine certification program administered by France 44), and beyond. I am excited and proud to be Black in wine, and have found a lot of joy in this journey. Unfortunately, this is not the experience of many. We have a long way to go before people who have historically been written out of wine are able to be fully recognized and appreciated for their value and contribution to the industry.

Complicating the Black Relationship to Wine: Part 1

Kaleigh Swift

Kaleigh Swift

Kaleigh has been working with the France 44 events team since January 2023. She received her WSET 1-3 certifications through France 44. Kaleigh also works in communications at the University of Minnesota. In her free time, she enjoys playing and watching volleyball, spending time with her cats, and working on house projects. Kaleigh is an avid vermouth fan and never misses an opportunity to introduce someone to Spanish-style sweet vermouths!

The key to understanding Black people’s historical and modern relationship to wine–grape growing, winemaking, selling, and consumption–is to look at Black people’s relationship to this land, this society, and our ancestors. 

We are well overdue for a confrontation of the harmful stereotypes around Black people’s “preferences” of sweeter wines and assumptions that we have no interest in more complex, robust, full bodied beverages as writer Kimberly Marie Ousley details in her 2017 article “Stop Telling Me to Drink Sweet Wine Just Because I’m a Woman of Color.” 

We won’t get through the entirety of this conversation in this one blog post, but I hope to at least direct you towards some good sources, and of course some good wines! We’ll focus on some broad topics that will help to sketch a more nuanced picture of how we got to today, where less than 1% of the US’s more than 11,000 wineries are Black-owned, and it’s commonly assumed that Black people have had no place in winemaking history.

The intentional fermentation of grape juice into an alcoholic beverage is thought to date back to the early neolithic era with earliest evidence dating back to 6000 BCE from the Gadachrili Gora settlement in Georgia. (Did you make it to our Ancient wines pop up? So cool!) By 2700 BCE, a winemaking industry was well established in ancient Egypt, a civilization that was also actively trading with others in the Mediterranean, North Africa, West Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Near East.

The wine industry in Egypt was likely brought by experts from the Levant. And while grapes and wine didn’t feature prominently in Africa until the time of the Egyptian dynasties, the fermentation of fruit and grain juices was far from uncommon across the entire continent of Africa (and across the whole world). 

Early alcoholic beverages were likely early forms of mead, as honey was a product cultivated as early as 40,000 years ago. Palm wine, a popular beverage made from the sap of certain types of palm trees in west Africa, has also long been important to cultural and social traditions.

In the “modern era” (meaning settler colonialism onward), wine’s importance to Western European culture and ritual necessitated its export to the places they colonized. 

And undoubtedly, where grapes were grown and wine was produced in the new world, slave labor was being used to do so, though written documentation is scarce. The estate of Thomas Jefferson confirmed that enslaved laborers were in fact responsible for cultivating the 193 acres Jefferson had designated for producing wine grapes. The earliest written record of a Black person making wine comes in 1888 when in Orra Langhorne’s book Southern Sketches of Virginia, she recounts a visit to the Charlottesville, VA estate of Robert Scott, a Black man, where she enjoyed, “…an excellent glass of wine made from his own grapes.”

Much of Black people’s historical relationship to wine remains obscure, though anecdotally many families’ histories speak of their ancestors making “jug wine” for consumption by their own families or communities. Sound familiar? This is how much of the wine of the world is produced–locally and at small scales. This method of production undoubtedly made wine more accessible and cost effective for Black people. 

However, over the course of the 20th century, Black land theft likely made any small production that was in existence virtually impossible. The longstanding socio-economic disparities caused by systemic racism, particularly around access to land ownership and capital, has played an outsized role in the lack of diversity in the industry. 

Less obscure is Black peoples’ historical relationship to liquor production, including famous brands such as Jack Daniels. The crops used to produce many types of liquor were more readily available and actively grown in the US for food–unlike grapes–leading to continuous production of liquors even during prohibition.

We got the first Black-owned winery in 1940 in Clarksville, VA, where John June Lewis Sr. opened a small commercial winery that successfully produced a dry red wine and a dessert wine made from dried (raisin) grapes. In the decades leading up to the 21st century we have a small handful of trailblazing Black wine professionals making splashes in the industry, such as Deneen, David and Coral Brown of Brown Estates in Napa, Mac McDonald of Vision Cellars in sonoma, and Iris Rideau of Rideau Vineyards outside of Solvang. These wineries still exist today! In recent years, the presence of Black viticulturists, winemakers with vineyards and estates, and even négociants is actively increasing and becoming more reflective of consumers. 

The conversation continues in part 2 HERE!

We’re highlighting some of the work of fantastic producers this Black History Month. You can learn more about and purchase some select products below!

In Sheep's Clothing Cabernet

Black cherry and dark brooding blackberry balanced by bright lifted notes, this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from both Wahluke Slope and Red Mountain in Washington state. The opulence of fruit is dominant, balanced by smooth tannins and a long finish.

O.P.P. Pinot Noir

An accessible, great value wine that stays true to the character of the vineyards from which it was born. Earthy, spicy, floral, herb-framed flavors of cherry with gingery wood spice tones.

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

A fruit-driven, full-bodied, complex red blend sourced from Southern Oregon and Washington State. The rich, ripe, voluptuous fruit comes from the Syrah out of the Rogue Valley in southwestern Oregon, with just enough Washington Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to give it complexity and structure. Barrel aged for 10 months.

McBride Sisters Red Blend

A hint of toasty mocha carries the robust plum and cherry aromas through to the lush, full palate. Soft, round and full of jammy fruit, this wine finishes with an elegant touch of fine-grained tannins.

McBride Sisters Sauvignon Blanc

Generous tropical fruits pair with white flowers and citrus on the nose. Ripe peach and mango aromas play with more exotic fruits like passion fruit and Fuji apple. In the mouth, key lime flavors hang on a medium full body, which contrasts beautifully with the firm acidity and mineral tone on the finish.