When Angela McCrae and Monique Bell, Ph.D., connected on LinkedIn in 2020, they bonded over wine. But as they talked about their shared passion, they’d learn that wine would also keep them united, as they channeled that interest into a powerful initiative.
As of 2019, the United States wine market topped $70 billion and with the Sip Consciously directory, Bell and McCrae are determined to help Black entrepreneurs get their fair share.
The initiative is part of McCrae’s Uncorked & Cultured, a media company and lifestyle brand which includes a database of Black wine entrepreneurs, wine experiences and informative content. It aims to serve as a resource for consumers while also helping those in the business connect with one another.
McCrae grew up in Hyattsville, Maryland, and moved to California as an adult to pursue film and TV production. Her grandmother owned a nightclub and her father worked at a liquor store, so she was always orbiting the business of alcohol in some way. She received a proper introduction to wine in college when she was regularly tasting popular mass-market brands.
But older and wiser in California, she fine-tuned her palate and enjoyed learning more about how to pick a bottle and decipher what was in it. During her time as a media professional at NBC Universal, she planned a 20-person team event, compete with a bike tour in Santa Barbara. From there, she fell in love.
McCrae launched Uncorked & Cultured in early 2021 as a resource for culturists to meet one another and bask in wine, wellness and adventure.
Bell also had some general experience with wine, but she didn’t recognize her calling until the 2017 Black Vines Festival in Oakland, California, where she met Black vintners face to face. Seeing Black consumers, winemakers, and distributors in one space was life-altering for Bell.
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As a tenured marketing professor at Fresno State University, she already understood the importance of data and the convergence of her passions — wine and data — came into focus at the festival.
“I didn't know that we could and did own vineyards and land. So that was a really an awakening for me, in a positive way. I decided from that point that, that [Black wine entrepreneurship] was something that I was going to study,” says Bell.
Two Wine Lovers Connect
The two, both Morgan University alum, connected via LinkedIn when Bell reached out to McCrae for some insight into the world of Black wine entrepreneurs. McCrae’s Uncorked & Cultured hosted wine events and a social media interview series and with that knowledge, she’d be able to provide valuable insight to Bell’s curiosity.
McCrae knew she wanted to create a database of Black wine entrepreneurs and Bell was enthusiastic about helping to realize this project. From the start, there were plenty of unanswered questions: How does one get into distribution? How many Black wine importers are there? Where are the Black-owned wine shops? And while there were single blog posts on each topic, they often only touched on one area of expertise instead of capturing all fields of Black wine entrepreneurship.
Today, as chief of cultural insights for Uncorked & Cultured, Bell helps contextualize and curate the many narratives of Black wine entrepreneurs, rounding them up in formats like the survey.
“I don't want our young people, particularly young people of color to be in their 30s, like I was, before they know that this world exists. I kind of tried to keep that up at the forefront — that awareness and exposure for younger people,” says Bell. “For those already in the industry who are entrepreneurs, I want them to have greater access to capital.”
Results of the Black Wine Entrepreneurship Survey
Although Bell was a driver of the survey, it has contributed to the Sip Consciously directory effort by giving both women a baseline for what changes are needed in the industry.
“Data is so important. We're creating a platform because, as we know, corporations, industries, and the government don’t move unless you have the numbers to back it up,” says McCrae, who is now based in New York.
“We want to make sure that through these resources, other Black business owners really see the value of how having the numbers, doing the research, getting into the nitty-gritty of it, can really help benefit their business.”
The survey was completed between November 2020 to March 2021 by approximately 100 entrepreneurs with findings that were telling but not particularly surprising to Bell and McCrae.
“When you're doing research, you already know the answer, but you have to substantiate it. There is this drive among Black wine entrepreneurs to really give back. There's a high level of focus on corporate social responsibility,” says Bell.
77% of survey respondents said they wanted to create a lasting legacy. During 2020’s heightened racial climate and the revelation of just how much Black consumers spend on wine, this was a timely finding.
“Within businesses, whether it's wine or other industries, White families have generations of wealth. When you look at the wine industry, it's really intergenerational — third, fourth, fifth generation businesses. And we, as Black entrepreneurs, often don't have that luxury,” says Bell.
With 88% of Black wine businesses self-funded or funded by family and friends, it’s clear that there’s a dire need for access to capital. “We know there are some systemic barriers to funding. With an exclusive, expensive and risky venture like perhaps winemaking… the cards are really stacked against them. For those who are able to make it and be successful, it's really a miracle that they've done that,” says Bell.
There are many ways for Black entrepreneurs to get into the business and partnering with major brands is a viable option. The all-too-common celebrity alcohol endorsement isn’t necessarily a negative partnership, but McCrae believes these arrangements should be based in reciprocity. “There needs to be some social responsibility about this type of [partnerships]. If we're doing this for you, what are you going to do for our community?” she asks.
Facing Entrepreneurial Challenges Head-On
The two are excited to eventually broaden the list out to include additional BIPOC wine businesses. “We're building partnerships with [Latinx] wine organizations to try to find out how we can be a resource for them. Even from preliminary conversations, it's a challenge for them,” says McCrae.
Earlier this year, Uncorked & Cultured’s Inaugural Juneteenth Napa Crawl gathered Black folks from around the country. Over a five-day experience, Uncorked & Cultured met with Black winemakers, including James and Janet Moss of J. Moss Wines, and visited the Napa Valley Wine Academy.
In addition to resources and educational and social experiences like their Napa Crawl, the Uncorked & Cultured team will continue to prioritize wellness and travel.
They hope to publish a new survey on an annual or semi-annual basis.
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When looking ahead, McCrae says, “We want to make sure Black people, no matter what background, have a home to learn about each other's cultures, and we want to continue to spotlight entrepreneurs all over the world. Right now, we're just getting started.”
To view the Sip Consciously directory, view video content and more, visit https://uncorkedandcultured.com/. You can also follow along on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. For additional cultural insights, follow Dr. Bell on Instagram.