This February from coast to coast, black winemakers and their wines will take center stage at four events that will create the ultimate food and wine experience in celebration of Black History Month.
To kick it off on February 16 in Richmond, Va., Benita Johnson and her partner George Hartsfield are set to host their annual event, The Exclusive Blacklist, now in its second year at The Shoppes at The Renaissance from 7 – 10 pm. Johnson, an accountant turned sommelier and wine educator, started the event in 2015 after seeing firsthand how black winemakers were underrepresented by distributors. While doing an interview with winemaker and musician Marcus Johnson of Flo Wines on her radio show, The Vine, she made a decision to put the event together so that others would become more familiar with the brands. “We make good wines,” says Johnson referring to African American winemakers. “But we don’t always get the same representation with our products as others.”
The Exclusive Blacklist Launches
At just $75 a ticket, wine enthusiasts will be treated to heavy hors d’ouerves and wine by Markell-Bani Fine Wines, Shoe Crazy Wines, Flo Wines and Serendipity Wines. Other brands to be featured include Mouton Noir and Brown Estate.
Johnson is excited about this year’s event after the success of the first one. With many still not familiar with wines by African-Americans, The Exclusive Blacklist is a chance to further educated wine enthusiasts about their options in a fun and interactive way.
Like so many, her first introduction to wine was in college and started on the sweet side only to gradually moving up to bold zinfandels and Bordeaux blends that she enjoys today. Curious as to why a riesling she liked while at a restaurant was different from the one she purchased at a store, she set out on a quest to find the answer by exploring vineyards throughout Virginia and talking to winemakers to learn all she could. She later opened the wine shop Grapes & Barley in 2005 and got certified as a sommelier in 2007. The wine store became known as a place to find great wine and also attend classes and tastings. She closed it in 2008 when the big retailers in town started selling wine and spirits. Deciding not to compete, it was a decision she doesn't regret especially since she and her partner were at the top of the game with the location. They still host classes and tastings not too far from where the shop was. “I sell personality. When I am doing the classes, people trust me. They are confident that I am telling the truth. I spend time with them and then they end up buying from me. I like to educate people to where it is fun,” says Johnson.
Her wine club, The Vine Wine Club, offers two wines carefully curated for just $40 a month for membership. Tickets for The Exclusive Blacklist are on sale now on the website. To join the wine club and learn more about upcoming classes and tastings, visit www.thevinewineclub.com.
Tasting Events Around the Country
As for the remaining events, just three days prior on Tuesday, February 16, chef David Lawrence along with his restaurant 1300 on Fillmore will host its third annual Sips with Soul event in San Francisco from 5:30 – 8:30 pm. This year’s event will once again salute African American winemakers such as Vision Cellars, Longevity Wines, Brown Estate, Sosabe Cellars, Marke Wines, Esterlina Vineyards, McBride Sisters, Rideau Vineyard and Indigene Cellars among others. Another great celebration with good food, wine and live music, pairings will include soulful hors d’oeuvres by Lawrence himself. Tickets are $125 and can be purchased by going online to www.1300fillmore.com.
Next, take a plane down to southern California to Beverly Hills where Zuri Wine Tasting with Tuanni Price will host her fourth annual Sip & Shop: A Toast to Diversity on Sunday, February 21 from 1 – 4 pm at Fleming’s Beverly Hills. Focusing on brands owned by women and people of color, the event will showcase wines by Theopolis Vineyards and Charles Wine Company among others. Tickets are on sale now for $65. To purchase, visit www.zuriwine.com.
Lastly, Oakland will end the month of food and wine celebrations as Sip & Swirl Events in conjunction with Urban Vines Food and Wine Group will host A Taste to Diversity: Urban Vines on Sunday, February 28 from 3 – 6 pm at the Imagine Affairs Art Lounge located at 408 14th Street. Try and buy wines from African American winemakers include Betony Faustin of Abbey Creek Wines out of Oregon while enjoying southern-inspired small bites by local African-American chefs. To purchase tickets for $45, visit Eventbrite.com.
Whether you are able to attend one of these events or not, be sure to support African American winemakers this month and all year long. For a complete listing, be sure to check out our Blacks in Wine, Beer and Spirits directory.