The history of making wine

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Support for African American vintners is growing.

By Mary Malik

Early history of African Americans first mentioned vineyard workers for Thomas Jefferson who had hoped to produce wines similar to the French style that he loved.

“There is little additional history of African Americans in the growing of grapes or the winemaking process until 1997, when New Orleans native Iris Rideau started her vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, being drawn to the way Rhône varieties paired with her beloved Creole cuisine,” says Jim Sperk, of the Northern Ohio Wine Guild. “Today there are more than 7,000 wineries in the United States but only 20 or so of them are owned or feature wine made by African Americans. This may be because there are so few generational owners or growers who have had the business passed down to them.”

However, according to Jim, today there are a growing number of African American grape growers, sommeliers and other wine professionals trying to overcome racism and stereotypes in the industry, and they’re attracting major recognition for their efforts.

Many are getting support from organizations like the Association of African American Vintners (AAAV), which helps through small business loans and the promotion and hiring of Black wine professionals.

One of the goals of the AAAV is to introduce and support African American winemakers and increase awareness of diversity in the industry to wine consumers through public pouring events showcasing AAAV member wines.

“Black consumers are being recognized by the wine industry as a growing segment of the business,” says Jim.

For information on the Northern Ohio Wine Guild, contact Jim Sperk at