Headquartered at 2271 South Vasco Road, Suite B in Livermore, California, this non-profit organization was founded by Mac McDonald in 2002. The objectives of the Association of African American Vintners (AAAV), as per its website, are to “increase the quality of wine communications to all, and to grow awareness of the Association of African American Vintners; foster a spirit of cooperation among all growers, wineries and industry groups; develop a sense of community among members of the organization through friendly and informal networking and social functions; increase awareness of diversity in our industry to all wine consumers through public pouring events showcasing AAAV member wines; and facilitate access to relevant viticulture, enological and related information through voluntary sharing among members.”
For more than two decades, this group of African Americans have worked diligently to increase diversity in the wine industry. Their work includes being supportive of Blacks who are growers, owners and other professionals. Comprised of more than thirty vintner members, the AAAV also has members who operate in various capacities within the wine industry. Vintners include Theopolis Vineyards, Tympany Vineyards, Corner 103, Uncorqued Selections, Wachira Wines, Indigené Cellars, Ikavina Wine and Spirits, Okape Wines, Charles Woodson’s Intercept and Stuyvesant Champagne. Professional and industry members, such as E. & J. Gallo, Brand Ambassador/Boisset Collection, The Wine Noire, Zuri Wine Tasting, Napa Valley Wine Academy, Jazzy Jubilee Wine Bar, Constellation Brands and Haley House Bakery Café are actively involved with the Association of African American Vintners.
In “A Voice for Black Winemakers” featured in Wine Spectator, MaryAnn Worobeic, its senior editor interviewed key persons of the Association of African American Vintners. These were McDonald of Vision Cellars in Sonoma, who also serves as the chairman of AAAV; Phil Long of Longevity Wines in Livermore Valley, who acts as the president of AAAV; and Lou Garcia of Stover Oaks Winery in the Sierra Foothills, a board member of AAAV.
Its mission to increase awareness is supported by expanding the realm of possibilities of involvement. For certain, they want to heighten their visibility as an exceptional product to consume. The AAAV is utilizing several modes to meet their goals. It includes having a significant presence in social media, symposiums as well as the Black Winemakers Scholarship Fund. This fund, created in cooperation with Urban Connoisseurs and the United Negro College Fund, supports African-American students at member institutions of higher learning who seek a career in the wine industry. This is especially significant, as the 21st century has brought more nontraditional options for African-Americans seeking to enter this field.
In the interview with Wine Spectator, Long shared, “… I didn’t know winemaking was an option when I was a kid. So we’re trying to open more paths to younger African Americans who want to come down this path to this industry, through scholarships, internships and mentorships. And that’s our goal now – to grow our voice as a whole, to grow awareness as a whole, and to make a path for younger minds.
We’re trying to broaden our scope. In the early days of AAAV, we were really [focused on] making wine or growing wine. Today there’s obviously many, many opportunities for African Americans – not just being a winemaker, not just being a grape grower- like being a sommelier or going down the road of chemistry but applying it to wine. There are many paths to the industry, and we’re trying to expand our vision, targeting a broader number of students.”
Garcia agreed, detailing, “From my perspective, there are a lot of people now of color in the industry – sure the percentages are still tiny. But the people that are getting in are getting in at a later age. That’s why a scholarship fund is so important. Because if we can get folks to get in it when they’re 20 or 22 years old, just out of college or go to college for this, that will be a massive change.”
To this end, the Association of African American Vintners also provides opportunities and shares information regarding internships and employment for African-Americans. Positions have ranged from estate director and winery office manager to tasting assistant and harvest cellar assistant. It is incredible to consider the expanse of possibilities within the wine industry despite the racism that still exists within. This discrimination reinforces McDonald’s view that the work of the AAAV is most essential. In speaking with Worobeic, he recounted, “I don’t think they offer enough opportunities in the business. I’ve been around for a long time, and I’ve done a lot of stuff, and not just talking about California. I’m talking about all over the United States. When you walk into a place, there’s an assumption that you really don’t know anything about wine. That’s going to turn you against the wine industry. And I see that even to this day.
Example: I was in a restaurant and I told the person to bring me an ice bucket because I had a red wine and it was probably 72 degrees. I told him to put the wine in the bucket. And he goes, ‘Sir, that’s a red wine.’ And I said, ‘I know. If you want a tip out of me, bring me a bucket.’ He brought the bucket, and when I paid the bill I gave him my card. And he said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know you were Mac from Vision Cellars.’
It doesn’t matter. He was under the assumption I didn’t know what temperature I’d like my wines.
So I think those types of things still exist – there’s an assumption that you don’t know anything about wine.”
To counter this, different levels of membership are available as well as mainstream organizations, such as the Wine Enthusiast Foundation, work in collaboration with the Association of African American Vintners. Membership options are Student, Friend, Professional/Industry, Negotiant and Vintner/Grower. New members’ fees will be subsidized by the Foundation, who has partnered with the AAAV to increase membership. One act of their collaboration is a membership matching program. There are also opportunities to support the Association of African American Vintners on a bronze level, a silver level, a gold level and a platinum level.
To learn more about the AAAV, you may contact (707) 478-7222 and or [email protected].