The SOMM Journal

June / July 2018

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Page 26 of 132

26 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } JUNE/JULY 2018 { diversity } BEING A CALIFORNIA girl, it feels natu- ral to put my car on the road and wander up to Sonoma County or the Napa Valley to taste delicious wine. The beautiful drive from Oakland, California, where I was born, takes about an hour if you want to taste in the middle of the Napa Valley, or about two hours should you wish to visit the nor thernmost appellations of Sonoma County. During a wine journey to Sonoma years ago, I wanted to try a winery I had not yet visited. Back in the 1980s, which is when this story unfolds, Sonoma County winer - ies did not charge a fee for wine tasting. Matter of fact, by the end of the day, you could drive home with free logo wine glasses from every winery you visited. As I pulled into the gravely parking lot, I exhaled. I felt excited to be there as I walked into the tasting room and read every wine bottle, framed magazine, and newspaper article, just as I study paint - ings and artifacts when visiting museums. As a writer, I like to get a feel for what's happening on both sides of the counter or table. Discretely eavesdropping has always been a great tool for doing this, and this day was no different. The person pouring sounded jovial and witty as he told corny jokes, but he eye - balled me with an intensity reserved for a hawk focused on its dinner prey. The smile he instinctively gifted to the people tasting suddenly vanished into a straight line as he gathered the wine bottles previously rest - ing on the counter into both of his fists, whisking them away onto a shelf behind him. I surmised that he must have believed I had driven all the way from Oakland to abscond with an open bottle of wine. Uncomfortable and embarrassed, I looked at all three people who were silently glaring at me, overdid my ever- present smile, and said, "Hello." As I walked toward the tasting counter, I did not won - der why I was smiling and being friendlier than the person who was supposed to be trying to sell me wine, pour me samples, and hook me as a lifelong customer. I didn't wonder because this was not the first time this had happened to me— and it would not be the last time, either. You see, even today I'm sometimes still seen as a suspicious person who does not belong in the tasting room. On my wine journey, I have been questioned inappro - priately, poured miniscule amounts in my glass, and treated as a threat to the winery. While it's difficult, I smile. I keep visiting. I pretend I don't see or hear things that cut and shatter the soul into more pieces than what results from dropping an expensive wine glass onto concrete. Have you ever been backed into a strained conversation about your background or heritage before you took a sip of wine? Do you sometimes wonder why people on both sides of the tasting table are looking at you with suspicion? Have you ever had to justify your presence in a tasting room? Well, welcome to the world of being black while fine-wining. Don't get me wrong—this is not 100 percent of what I experi - ence. When tasting abroad, no matter which country I am visit- ing, I am treated like royalty and have never experienced an inkling of being profiled. People ask me today if wine tasting, especially fine-wine tasting for black people, has changed since the 1980s. I say, sure, to some extent, but not a whole lot. As a wine industry professional, my experiences are overwhelm - ingly quite positive and, in many cases, extraordinary. I know this is in part because of evolved thinking and empirical evidence that African Americans do drink and buy a wide variety of wines, including high-end wines. Because I am in the indus - try, I am somewhat shielded from what I hear from a number of African American wine consumers: Wining while black is real. On that note, here's three things wine industry professionals can do to positively impact the wine tasting experience for African Americans. Treat black visitors or appointment seekers as you would like to be treated. Be open to confronting what implicit biases you may have about black wine consumers, and, finally, seek the input, training, and consultation of African Ameri - cans who work in the wine industry. Melody Fuller is the President and Founder of The Oakland Wine Festival and The Exceptional Vine. She is also a wine and food writer, wine educator, and wine judge. Fine-Wining While Black A PERSPECTIVE FROM MELODY FULLER, FOUNDER OF THE OAKLAND WINE FESTIVAL

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