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Real Wolf of Wine. Hip-Hop. Unconventional pairings. Culture.
For many, the wine industry is considered top-tier in the world of hospitality, but that doesn’t mean you have to change your image to get what you want. With a creative and riveting approach to making wine education and appreciation accessible within a historically non-inclusive space, sommelier, consultant and music curator Jermaine Stone is bridging the gap between social classes and building community with style and grace.
Initially, the industry disruptor didn’t plan on pioneering a wine subculture, but his first role in wine operations planted the seed.
Stone has embraced many roles within the wine industry, from auctioneer to sommelier, and adds the founder of the marketing and branding firm Cru Luv Selections and creator of the first-ever Wine and Hip Hop Festival to his impressive résumé.
Raised in the northeast section of the Bronx, New York, Stone fell in love with hip-hop at an early age. He recalls kids paying him to write rhymes in the third grade and reached some success by appearing on the radio and television after high school.
Ultimately, he admits that he didn’t love the inner mechanics of the business as much as making music, so he decided to move on.
Stumbling into Wine
Around college age, he obtained a job at Zachys in White Plains, New York. Although he initially thought he’d be manning a liquor store, his journey began in fulfillment, working as a shipping coordinator before elevating himself to the logistics director. He eventually moved on to a different auction house on the west coast called Wally’s and became a founding director.
Sadly around this time, Stone’s mother became ill. He decided to leave the auction house to care for her. His return to the east coast allowed him to pivot to consultancy, which seemed natural due to the experience he gained working in auction houses.
Understandably, marketing oneself in the wine space is expensive. Stone created the Wine and Hip Hop Podcast to offset costs and garner attention.
“I knew that my wine-collector friends liked hip-hop, and my hip-hop friends liked wine,” says Stone.
After merging the two, he began consulting for private collectors and wine conglomerates before collaborating with influencers within the hip-hop and wine industries— that flowed to educating sales teams on how to communicate with different cultures.
Wine isn’t just a European concept. You can find superior vintners on almost every continent—and the dinner tables of many homes. “You can learn a lot about the world through wine because it’s always regional,” Stone says enthusiastically. “It is named after a specific place, and part of that place goes into the winemaking process.”
Stone consistently finds inspiration from his childhood neighborhood and his Caribbean roots. He attributes his work ethic and friendly nature to his upbringing and love for Caribbean cuisine, like pairing the spicy and savory Jamaican beef or chicken patties and coco bread with Spätburgunder wine during an episode of his show, “Tasting Notes from the Street.”
The show, “Really just follows my path in discovering the world,” says Stone, who has almost two decades of experience in the industry.
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“I got into the wine business when I was 20 years old,” he mentions. “As a young guy, I saw the world through wine—and I didn’t know that a place like Bordeaux existed before I got into wine.” He also understood that his background and interests juxtaposed what he envisioned.
According to Stone, his events are more about what he’s doing behind the scenes. In essence, “It’s about educating wine conglomerates about what they should be introducing to our community,” and to stop pushing the wine they don’t enjoy and instead focus on quality and respecting the community.
“So much of my content is exploratory; everyone is not going to like everything,” he acknowledges. “The point is to try something you never knew existed—and you might find something you like.”
Becoming the Real Wolf of Wine
Stone admits that it was challenging at first to maneuver throughout the industry. At times, he found himself dimming his light to blend in, whether that meant code-switching or donning an uncomfortable suit.
After consulting with a friend and wine insider, he felt confident enough to break through industry barriers as his authentic self—and became the Real Wolf of Wine. You will find Stone introducing new pairings to people on the streets of the Bronx to enjoying a rare vintage with celebrities and legacy winemakers in the heart of Champagne.
Stone balances earthy, aromatic flows with emotive rhythms during events, interviews and while hosting his podcast. Most notably, he was featured on Wine Enthusiast’s coveted 40 Under 40 Tastemaker list in 2020. With the accolades rolling in, it gave credence to how powerful the atypical pairings could be in the world of wine.
“Wine has been present in hip hop for decades and has always been an aspiration culture,” says Stone. “We’re always talking about ‘high society’ in a certain way,” he continues. “A line that I bring up from Jay-Z’s ‘Can’t Knock the Hustle’ in ‘96 is, ‘I sip fine wine and spit vintage flows.’”
He explains, “Jay-Z is the king of the double entendre.” He continues, “I spit vintage flows’ like he’s rapping, but in all actuality, he’s talking about being at a winetasting.”
He also directs us to verse three of Nas’s “Affirmative Action” track: “Yo, my mind is seein’ through your design like Blind Fury. I shine jewelry, sippin’ on crushed grapes, we lust papes….” Another source of nostalgic inspiration.
Around 2006, he saw more of a definitive change. Stone remembers hearing Raekwon referencing Krug and Jay-Z boasting about Petrus. Other rap legends that have mentioned wine include Drake, Kendrick Lamar, the Notorious B.I.G. and Lil’ Kim. All signs point to wine and hip-hop being a multi-faceted space reaping with opportunity.
The Wine and Hip-Hop podcast grew from Stone’s love of two cultural icons and his desire to share the best of both worlds. Aficionados can share his intersectional enthusiasm with his New York City, wine, and hip-hop-inspired merchandise called “The French Collection.”
For those interested in trying wine and hip-hop-inspired pairings at home, Stone recommends starting with a song. Listen carefully to the melody and how it makes you feel—and if you are hosting a party, how would you like your guests to feel?
Music creates the foundation of your pairing(s) before layering the food and wine. Ask yourself if the song makes you want to dance, sing along or close your eyes. If it is a familiar song, what memories does it bring?
How to Pair Wine Like a Hip-Hop Legend
“You can’t pair a Chief Keef song for your older brothers that listen to Afrika Bambaataa.” According to Stone, the first thing to consider when pairing wine and hip-hop is to study the vibe of the room. Next, choose a song you think will resonate with your audience, matching the intensity of the wine. Finally, think about what you’d like to communicate or highlight through the wine and music.
Both wine and hip-hop are significantly nuanced, reveals Stone. For example, you can pair Kanye West’s song, “Homecoming,” with a glass of wine from northeastern Italy—preferably from the Friuli region. The point is to focus on the terroir. You know, the home territory. A second option and a fantastic way to remember the second fermentation phase or tank method of Prosecco DOC is to pair it with Master P’s “The Tank.”
For the third pairing, Stone highly recommends sipping a Clean Slate Riesling (a nod to the thin slate stones in the vineyards of the Mosel River Valley in Germany) while listening to the hypnotic lyrics of “Stoned on Ocean” by Curren$y.
For our final pairing, Stone offers up Screaming Eagle’s Second Flight accompanied by Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker the Berry” and an ode to Lamar for paving the way for the second era of California’s hip-hop legends and the deep, red color of the wine.
For more inspiration, take a fantastic voyage through hip-hop’s past and present while listening to one (or all) of the hypnotic playlists Stone personally curates on his website.
His experience in operations has become an invaluable tool and resource for those considering a career in wine, even if they don’t intend to become vintners or sommeliers. Channeling that unbridled, creative energy motivates him to achieve Black excellence on his terms—not just for himself, but for the culture.
If you’re interested in learning more about Jermaine Stone, the Real Wolf of Wine, and his ventures—he is working on a show that takes you behind the scenes of the wine importation process and how he maneuvers through the industry—head online to his website and connect with him on Instagram.