In the past couple of years, the USA has seen a flourish of social justice initiatives to address the shortfalls of ethnic and racial inequalities in many areas of society. The wine industry is no exception. With everything from Black Wine Professionals, The Roots Fund, Wine Unify, and Lift Collective, people within the wine community have taken to organizing ways to spotlight voices and leadership, all in the name of greater diversity and inclusiveness within the wine industry. A prime example of this initiative will happen today with the LatinX State of the Wine Industry Summit. This virtual event serves as an educational vehicle to share the impact of the Hispanic and LatinX contributions to the wine industry. Just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month, the project is a collaboration between Uncorked & Cultured, Hispanics in Wine, and Gabriela Fernandez, host of The Big Sip on Napa Valley's KVON AM Radio.
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"We wanted to celebrate key leaders and trailblazers in the LatinX/Hispanic wine community whose diverse narratives have contributed immensely to the growth of the wine industry," says co-founder Gabriela Rodriquez. "You could say this is in direct response to the lack of representation of people of color in this industry in general, but also a way for us to highlight LatinX/Hispanics in wine outside of the traditional box they have historically only been shown in-- the labor force in the vineyards."
The summit will showcase a lineup of panelists from all sectors of the industry, including vineyard experts Sam Parra of Parra Wine Co & AHI VOY, Amelia Moran Ceja of Ceja Vineyards, and Irineo Hernandez Barron of Constellation Brands, Sommelier and wine consultant Marquita Levy, and Gabriela Pilar Fontanesi for Allyship & Advocacy for Vineyard Stewards, among others.
Martin Reyes of Peter Paul Wines and forthcoming LatinX-inspired wine label Origen Sur will lead a panel discussing marketing and media for Hispanic consumers. As the first Master of Wine of Mexican descent in the United States, the topic of enhanced inclusion is top of mind for him. In 2020 he helped to co-found Wine Unify, a non-profit organization to help dissolve barriers to entry within the wine industry for ethnic and racial minorities through education, outreach, and networking.
From an economic and business perspective, the timing is just right. The LatinX community is not only the largest race demographic in California (as reported by the 2020 Census), but research also shows that year after year, Hispanic wine consumption has increased by 31%. Nielsen data estimates that by 2023, the expected buying power of the U.S. LatinX population is expected to top $1.9 trillion, which is higher than the gross domestic product of countries such as Australia, Spain, and Mexico.
"It's interesting because [wine consumption] was approaching a glut when COVID hit, and at the same time, places like California were suffering from low yields due to fires and drought. In some ways, these catastrophes 'saved' the market from being over-leveraged,” says Reyes. "It's just smart business sense to focus on those outside of the conventional wine consumer profile, such as the LatinX community to capture a broader audience. It's obvious how much the spending power exists from the LatinX market. It doesn't hurt that it's the right thing to do. Now is the time that we start building a bigger tent for any and all who want to get into wine."
For Reyes and others like Fernandez, this is more than a professional platform. It's also personal.
"Having grown up in Napa, I have always been very aware of the 'place' Latinos have been given in wine--the vineyards," says Fernandez. "That is not the only space in which we exist. We contribute in so many ways and have not only been the backbone of the industry, and its growth through our physical, mighty labor force in the vineyards, but we have also contributed as winemakers, viticulturists, and marketing, hospitality, media, and executive-level professionals. Those stories are rarely shared, yet they exist. It's time the world becomes aware of these diverse narratives and the people who have paved the way from the beginning."
From trade professionals to press and wine-loving consumers, attendees will get a chance to network with each other, as well as event sponsors and community partners, who will be promoting special offers, opportunities, and initiatives.
"We hope allies who participate learn more about why it's important to support this ongoing initiative and how they can directly get involved by providing mentorship, professional development opportunities, resources for wine education, financial assistance, and job placement to secure the pathway for communities of color in wine," says Fernandez.
The LatinX State of the Wine Industry Summit serves as a piece of the puzzle in the evolving landscape of diversity and inclusion in the wine world. Looking at community building as an essential part of sustainably changing systemic strongholds in the wine industry, the event's organizers hope that those in the wine industry will "support and invest in future diverse 'vinovators.'"
From Reyes' perspective, it's a fulfilling way to marry his personal and professional identities. "I'm proud to be a part of a kind of industry that's worth fighting for. Events like this are helping us all move in the right direction," says Reyes, echoing the sentiments of Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. that "the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice." If you ask Reyes, "Everyone belongs. Everyone has the right to enjoy a glass of wine."