It’s time to talk about the representation of Black women in the wine industry. We did just that with five Black women who are leading the way in wine in our Traveling Vineyard community. In this post, they share their passion for wine, how they got started on their wine journeys, and their thoughts on Black women in wine. What we found is that while much more progress is needed, energy is rising and we’re incredibly fortunate to have such strong, positive, and powerful voices making a difference.
How did you get started in wine?
Shavon Karney-Gibson | Illinois
I am a professional nurse, and in 2017 I was physically limited on the duties I was able to perform. So, I began my search for a side hustle that would not be mentally and physically overwhelming. That is when my Google search brought me to Traveling Vineyard. I was very hesitant initially because I had never heard of the company and I could not believe someone could get paid for sipping wine (LOL). I began filling out the Wine Guide inquiry form and I stopped at the last step four times, I was so nervous. On the fifth attempt, I went for it and completed the form. I received a phone call from leader Elizabeth shortly after. We had a great conversation and she invited me to shadow an event. I had a great time! Following that event, I knew I wanted to be a Wine Guide.
Mary Speight | California
I actually was looking for a way to earn extra money. I was working full time for a non-profit community mental health agency and I was running a solo private practice and I was thinking of closing it and I needed to make a little extra money to cover some additional expenses. I’d done direct sales in the past and I was scrolling through Facebook, and the opportunity actually popped up. I thought there was no way you can do wine tastings in the home—at least not in California. I prayed on it. I talked to my fiancé about it—and he said the same thing, “that would be awesome if it were legal”. I did some research, and the funny thing is, someone called me asking me about marketing wine before I called Traveling Vineyard, but she never got back to me. So, I called Traveling Vineyard and they put me in touch with Adriana Hartwig. I talked to her for a while before signing up (I never had the money). Then in May 2018, I decided to just do it. I loved the idea and the concept—I would listen and watch the Youtube videos […] and the one with Rick Libby is really the reason I signed up. I thought he was honest and sincere. I told Adriana that I only wanted the 20% discount (I didn’t think I would really market the wine) because I wasn’t a fan of red wine. But, I talked with friends at work and they encouraged me to sign up and they were the first to come to my launch event. I had so much fun! The tastings forced me to broaden my horizons and now, Small Hours Zinfandel is my favorite wine and I’ve some very close seconds.
Melissa Bellamy | Maryland
My boss had a virtual wine party, and made a random post on her facebook page that she was trying to get additional orders to increase her host rewards. As a wine lover I was all over that, I purchased a sweet bundle. I loved everything I received and I thought; I need more of this. I reached out to my boss and she said “I have wine parties twice a year with my wine lady and she doesn’t even work—she does this full time.” I randomly thought I would do it just for the wine. Within a few days I reached out via the website and received an immediate reply from my now Wine Mama Julie Skogen, she answered all of my questions. That night, I talked it over with my husband and he said, “As if our life isn’t crazy enough, you want to add more.” My reply was, “Yes you are right, but this would be all mine.” It is truly something that I can do that doesn’t involve my husband, my kids, or my nursing career—something that I effortlessly enjoy. Here I am a year later … and I couldn’t be happier!
Niqui Douglas | California
I found Traveling Vineyard completely by accident. I was Googling “unique wine ideas” for my oldest daughter who at the time wanted to open a wine bar with her best friend. I told them there was so much out there already, and that they needed to find a unique edge for their location. That’s what I was looking for, and to my surprise, Traveling Vineyard popped up in my search! I was so intrigued that I continued to dig a little deeper and realized I couldn’t find anyone in California doing this. As I continued on Google, Ashleigh Campbell’s Facebook page popped up and I thought, “this is genius!” I reached out to her immediately with tons of questions. Her first response is really what hooked me! She asked me if I had ever spoken to anyone else about the business because she didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, and if I had she could help connect me to them! I thought, “What a great company this must be if they operate with such integrity and support of one another!”
Wilma Brown Dinkins | Maryland
I found Traveling Vineyard eight years ago in a mom’s business group on Facebook, but because I was already doing direct sales, I was not looking into it for myself. The leader thanked me for being willing to share. When she shared the Taste of the Business call with me to pass on and I joined the call to have an informed conversation with my cousin in Virginia. That was all I needed, I was ready to join. I work Traveling Vineyard part-time. It’s part of my FUN factor.
There is so much to learn and there are amazing people providing insight on the culture of wine as it relates to the Black community.Shavon Karney-Gibson
What do you love about wine and working in wine?
Shavon: I have grown a lot since I began my wine journey. Prior to joining TV I would only drink sweet wines. Through TV, I have introduced my palate to different wine varietals and interesting pairings. Working in wine has opened a new world for me. Hosting events and engaging with wine lovers (new and seasoned) has led me to want to learn more. I have completed my studies for WSET level 1 through Napa Valley Wine Academy and looking forward to completing Level 2. Wine has also led me to become ShEO of Grape Crusher wine apparel. I wanted to put a fun and creative spin on wine apparel that shows off joy of sipping wine. When you look good and you’re sipping good, naturally you feel good!
Mary: I love being a Wine Guide and I really enjoy wine. Why? Because wine has a way of bringing people together … Since I’ve been a Wine Guide, over two and half years now, I’ve found it has been one of the most rewarding adventures for me. I am an introvert and making friends have always been a struggle for me. When I was much younger, me and my two younger sisters would hide under the dining room table when guest would come visit. We were deathly shy and to some extent I still am, but as a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve been forced to come out of my shell, and talk with people. Funny thing, that first year as a Wine Guide, I struggled and wasn’t certain I wanted to continue, but then something clicked, and I used my psychology skills for marketing wine and meeting people.
Melissa: Aside from trying all the wines, I love the opportunity of sharing them. During a virtual zoom tasting last week, my host told the group “she knows what I like, just tell her and she will find what’s right for you.” During this journey I have learned my clients palate. I’ve also been able to get them to try new wine options with the use of Sommology pairings. The fun these ladies have when sharing wine has been comforting especially during COVID.
Niqui: I’ve spent so many years in sales and primarily corporate America, that when I discovered my side hustle in wine I was blown away by how happy wine makes people. I love that my wine lovers are always happy! They’re happy with our amazing wine, happy at my events, happy when I reach out to them to see how I can serve them, and in the rare instance something goes wrong (damaged shipment, didn’t love a wine, etc) they’re still happy that I’m taking care of them. It’s such a shift from the world I served in for 30+ years. Wine creates the most amazing memories for people and those memories bring us so much joy that it creates a culture of people who love and appreciate it so much they can’t help but be happy.
Wilma: I love the sociability of wine and its entanglement with food. I LOVE to travel so when I joined I had the idea that I would travel and learn to cook a favorite dish from the destinations visited. Then because of the wine education with the business, I’d know how to pair these dishes with the perfect wines. And because wine has so many origins, it will lead me to many more destinations.
Do you think that there is a lack of representation when it comes to Black women in the wine industry?
Shavon: I do believe there is a lack of representation of Black women in the wine industry. I had no idea there were so many beautiful Black women in the wine industry until about one year ago. Sadly, it takes for our worlds to be shaken by racism for a little light to shine and show that these women that have impacted the world of wine in more ways than others, leading the path in wine education, winemaking, wine journalism, and even consulting. Wine is a universal language and it should be represented as such.
Mary: Yes, I do. But I think it is changing. I think Black women are feeling empowered to do so. From owning wine bars to vineyards to creating wine, representing who they are is all empowering. I think for a long time, women, and Black women especially have felt inferior and told they “weren’t allowed” to participate in a man’s world producing a product for consumption. I think it’s because of the “good old boy” mentality, but I think it’s great that Black women are stepping up and not allowing that to continue to be the status quo and they are feeling brave to push down doors and knock over the old stereotypes, that they can only buy the product, and not be part of the world of producing it. I have been reading articles online of Black women representing the Black community in wine and I think that’s fantastic.
Niqui: The short answer is a resounding yes! However, this is not limited to just Black women, and it’s not limited to just the wine industry. Sadly, this is not new and it’s not easily resolved. While 2020 was a lot for the human race to endure, it also shined a bright light on systemic racism in a way that’s been long overdue. The second half of the year we saw many POC in industries across the globe sharing experiences that have not been given the platform we are seeing today. The Black community has is standing in solidarity in support of one another and working together for change that’s been talked about, written about, and sang about for hundreds of years. The attention given to the murder of George Floyd and the reaction of our community has forced people and businesses outside our community to also take a stand in support of ending systemic racism by doing more than making a statement. So, in answer to your question, yes there is a lack of representation in our industry as well.
How can the industry and related organizations support Black women in wine?
Shavon: I recently joined an organization called Black Girls Wine Society founded by Shayla Varnado. Black Girls Wine Society pairs sisterhood with wine experiences. We have a space to connect with Black women who love wine in our area and across the U.S., all while learning wine and creating memories.
Mary: Traveling Vineyard is doing a great job of encouraging Black women to continue expand their wine knowledge. And not making it a prerequisite to be a wine guide or to grow a team. I also think the fact that they do encourage Wine Guides to want to continue learning more about wine and pairings is helpful. I can use the information that I currently have and expand on it and I can use the information that is provided for me as a wine guide to reinforce what I am learning.
Melissa: With increased advertising for supporting small businesses, buy Black campaigns, and women entrepreneurs, I feel that there has been an outlet of increased awareness and interest that has been a success in providing a platform.
What’s your advice for Black women who want to be more involved in the wine community?
Shavon: My advice for any Black woman that would like to be more involved in the wine community is to just dive in. Utilize the power of social media. Make connections to Black women in the wine community whether they are an educator, small batch winemaker, wine influencer, wine enthusiast or join a wine organization. There is so much to learn and there are amazing people providing insight on the culture of wine as it relates to the Black community.
Mary: I would suggest they just do it. I subscribe to women, ALL women, being entrepreneurs, making their own money. And for the longest time, I’ve not seen women that looked like me doing what I’ve dreamed of doing, becoming a sommelier, owning my own vineyard/winery. But since finding Traveling Vineyard, I feel like I can work towards making the dream a reality. I was able to apply for a scholarship in the Diversity in Wine Scholarship Program, and work towards earning my wine certificate and maybe become a sommelier. There are other opportunities out there for Black women and I think if they are curious and they want to know more, they should jump on the chance to become involved. I know some would say wine is intimidating, because of the science behind it and they don’t think they can do it, to be part of that world. I think that’s silly. Wine is fun and exciting.
Melissa: Seek out a mentor in the industry, this will open the doors of networking. Become immersed with knowledge and allow your passion to lead you.
Niqui: While I’m no expert on this topic I can share there are so many new resources available since 2020 for POC to learn, work, and grow in the industry. Several organizations are providing scholarships, education, and more to help the Black community grow in an industry that has traditionally not made it easy for us to do business in. My advice would be to find what part of the industry you’re interested in and pursue it. Today more than ever there are resources to support your wine aspirations.
Wilma: My advice to Black women interest in wine is to keep an open mind. Sometimes our exposures can be narrow based on our social groups so until you allow yourself to step out of your comfort zone, you’ll never know what is available for you will fall in love with.
We’re so grateful to all these women who are talented Wine Guides and wonderful examples of what it means to be part of the Traveling Vineyard community. We encourage anyone (age 21+) to reach out to us an explore opportunities in wine. Cheers to growing better together!