Wine Unify

by Lucy Anderle

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It was early June and inaction was no longer an option. 

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests, companies in every sector were grappling with issues of racial equity. The wine industry was no exception, and the world watched as article after article surfaced decrying the overwhelming whiteness of wine. 

It was a problem that winery executive DLynn Proctor, Martin Reyes, Master of Wine, and Mary Margaret McCamic, Master of Wine had been discussing for years. The three friends worked in the Napa Valley and witnessed firsthand the fine wine space’s aggressive gatekeeping and homogeneity. 

What began as a series of late night texts developed into richer conversations about how to eradicate the inequality all three of them observed.

“To continue not to do anything about it felt like turning my back on people I loved, like a betrayal,” described Mary Margaret. 

They decided to found a non-profit called Wine Unify, with the goal of increasing access to wine education for underrepresented minority groups, and to amplify the voices of people of color already thriving within the industry. 

In DLynn’s words:

“Change access. Change optics. And reshape aspirations.” 

“It was a very powerful, intense, emotional moment,” Martin remembers. “I suddenly realized I’d been planning and listening for so long and now was the time to just do it.” 

They agreed that education was going to be the key. Their individual pursuits of wine certifications felt central to their successes. The more Mary Margaret, DLynn, and Martin learned about wine, the more they felt wine belonged to them, and they belonged to wine. 

Wine Unify officially launched on July 1st, 2020 with a three part platform centered around education: Welcome, Elevate, and Amplify.

The “Welcome” initiative extends a hand to new members of the wine industry by way of funding education and emphasizing community building. Through robust sponsorship and individual donations — including the support of the Napa Valley Vintners, the Oregon Wine Board, Washington Wine, Jancis Robinson, Louis Roederer, Stölze, Coravin, Wine.com, Robert Mondavi, and the Napa Valley Wine Academy — Wine Unify has raised enough money to offer a series of scholarships for the WSET Level 1 program. The first round of recipients will be announced shortly, and due to overwhelming enthusiasm and a surplus of qualified candidates, Wine Unify is excited to be able to provide more scholarships than initially anticipated. 

Recipients will receive funding for Level 1 of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) certification in addition to six glasses from Stölze, and gift cards to Wine.com to purchase supplemental study wine. Wine Unify feels community building and networking are central to the success of new students, and has created a calendar of group check-ins, study dates, and custom online resources available to the first cohort of recipients. 

 “It’s one thing to work toward a wine credential–it’s another to feel like you belong in the program that bestows it,” says Martin. 

The “Elevate” initiative seeks to support underrepresented minorities currently working in the wine industry through targeted funding for their continued education, access to wines critical for their studies, educational tools, and mentorship by notable BIPOC wine professionals. Wine Unify is preparing to open applications for the “Elevate” initiative to be awarded partially in 2020 and 2021. 

Finally, the “Amplify” initiative showcases the wine industry’s existing diversity. Wine Unify publishes a monthly letter that includes community news, features, and updates. Team members nominated BIPOC industry professionals to highlight on the Wine Unify Instagram each week. There they also host Live tasting series. The Wine Unify website is home to photography, interviews, and opinion pieces about the intersection of wine and race, as well as tasting talks and resources for community building. 

It was particularly important to Martin, Mary Margaret, and DLynn to recruit a dynamic board of directors, advisors, and mentors in which potential wine professionals can see their futures reflected. 

The Wine Unify Board of Directors includes Alicia Towns Franken, Jessica Trujillo, and Priyanka French in addition to the three aforementioned founders, while the Advisory Board includes Tonya Pitts, Anna-Christina Cabrales, Julia Coney, André Mack, Yashodhan ‘Billo’ Navarro, Master of Wine, and Annette Alvarez-Peters

There are many ways to get involved with Wine Unify. Companies or individuals interested in sponsorship or making a donation can visit the Wine Unify website. Most importantly, Wine Unify asks that people share the information about their initiatives with anyone who’d like to learn more about wine and identifies as a non-white underrepresented minority over the age of 21. 

“This is the least we can do as human beings who love wine,” Mary Margaret finishes with a smile. “Thank god I’m not the only one in the industry who feels the same.”