Black-owned wineries not only exist, but are measuring up to the competition by offering an experience worth tasting.
As the old adage goes, black people tend to age like fine wine, but more than that, we sell it, drink it and grow it, too – though not necessarily in that order. With the grape harvesting season drawing to a close, it seemed a good time as any to “wine down” with this list of BLAC’s top black-owned wineries and tasting rooms, all the way from California to the comforts of the Motor City. Here, you’ll find something to raise your glass to.
1261 East Munger Road
Black Fire Winery is one of those places you’ll spend a good chunk of your afternoon sipping Catawba grapes and marveling at a vineyard that can be compared to those of Napa Valley. Owner Michael Wells, former lieutenant of the Ypsilanti Fire Department, says it’s the perfect place to relax away from the city and set your phone on airplane mode because you can’t get a signal anyway.
Located about an hour and five minutes away from Detroit in Tecumseh, Michigan, Black Fire Winery is the only black-owned vineyard and tasting room in the state, according to Wells. A bottle of vino starts at $17.50 and wine tastings range from $16 to $25, which can include a meat and cheese tray or other seasonal items. Currently on the shelves is P.S. I Love You, a red, slightly-sweet petite sirah wine, and Cat, a red semi-sweet made from Native American Catawba grapes.
“The thing I am always trying to do is put something out there that I would drink,” Wells says. “We never make anything syrupy sweet and never make anything pucker-your-face dry. We always try to stay in the middle of that.” If you are not into wine, there’s beer and cider options too. “Wine is just like personalities – it’s different for every person and it depends on your palette,” Wells says.
Tips & Tricks for Preserving Your Wine
When I go for a bottle of wine, my instinct is to drink the whole thing. But for those who save a glass or two for another day, there are practices viticulturalists recommend.
Mac McDonald, owner of Vision Cellars, recommends pouring half of the remaining wine in a plastic bottle, squeezing the air out of it and twisting the cap on. Oxygen is the enemy of wine and this helps stretch the red longer.
Speaking of stretch, wine condoms are a thing. They help keep oxygen out and the fermented grape flavor in. The package is reminiscent of a Magnum in the shape of a, well – a condom. This one’s black though.
Drew Ryan Wine is a vino and urban vineyard that’s soon to come to the east side of Detroit. For right now, owners Matt Jones, Peter King and Merrick Steele are gearing up for a tasting between Thanksgiving and Christmas with beloved House of Pure Vin, showing off what they’ve been working on over the years. “We are going to try and keep our wine as natural as possible. We won’t be adding sulfites to preserve the wine,” says Matt Jones. “So we are recommending you drink our wine within the first 24 hours of opening it because we know that oxygen is the enemy of wine.”
That’s why he recommends a wine stopper if you don’t want all the glasses of wine that the bottle has to offer. He says this is the best way to preserve your wine. Next season, you’ll get a taste of their distilled Bordeaux blend with merlot grapes, cabernet and malbec, as well as a 2016 100-percent merlot, which sells for $28 a bottle. The high school friends became vintners about five years ago and began planning out the business last year. They decided to purchase land on the east side of Detroit because there are plenty of vacant lots and a great microclimate near the water that’s perfect for growing grapes.
“We are going to try and make it an urban winery and have some education with it,” says Jones. “We want to have some classes there. Ultimately, it’s going to be a vineyard; that’s the idea.” When their wine is on the market in mid- to late-2019, the bottles will be encapsulated in a handmade wooden case constructed by Peter King. In addition to wine, the self-taught vintners sell shirts, hats and wine glasses. Jones recommends a nice cabernet sauvignon for the fall season.
877-884-6622 • Chicago, Illinois
I don’t know about you, but as a wino, I have dreamed of the day I could coat my skin in rose-scented body butter with a merlot-scented candle burning in the background and a glass of riesling in my hand, especially after a long day. Luckily, this fantasy has come true at Love Cork Screw. “Our products seek to accentuate the five senses,” says owner Chrishon Lampley. “My motto is indulgence knows no boundaries.”
This limitless experience includes vintages, wine-scented body butter, wine-scented candles, a wine- and recipe-pairing cookbook and tees. LCS is currently stationed in over 50 locations including Target, Mariano’s, Whole Foods and various local bars, restaurants and stores in Illinois. With 75,000 bottles sold across the country, Lampley has carved a unique lifestyle brand out of what she loves most – wine. Each bottle goes for $11.99 to $16.99 and includes a variety of flavors from white to red like “Touch The Sky” Niagara, a Native American sweet white with fig accents; “We’re Moving On Up” cabernet sauvignon, a red with hints of black cherry and plum; or “Head Over Heels” sweet riesling, a red with lemon-grapefruit characters, just to name a few.
The wine-scented candles are all natural, soy-based and sell for $6 to $35. You can expect scents like “Chardonnay Insatiable,” “Merlot Risque” and “White Zen.” “(The candles) came about when I thought of people who don’t drink wine,” says Lampley. “I thought, ‘How about I create something they can purchase as well that makes sense for my brand.'” This question also birthed “Rubbing Rose” body butter, a silky-smooth skin moisturizer priced at $10 to $15. As we transition from summer to fall, Lampley recommends a riesling or perhaps a cabernet to wine down with.
Vision Cellars winery specializes in pinot noir and rose. Their wine is priced at $32 to $48 a bottle and ranges from a 2013 Pinot Noir Las Alturas Vineyard to a 2013 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard. Similar to other vintners, owner Mac McDonald shies away from telling consumers what they should or shouldn’t drink. “Wines across the board can be consumed (all year round),” says McDonald. “See, I have this theory that if you want to have an 18.5 Zinfandel with your catfish taco, that’s your money, and you ought to have what you want to have.”
But if you really wanted his opinion, he says, he recommends a good rose with a little raspberry or strawberry. McDonald is also a founding member of the Association for African American Vintners, an organization dedicated to educating blacks who want to make and sell wine. “We want to be able to spend a lot of our time trying to get young African-Americans as well as middle age older African-Americans to look at opportunities in the wine business and understand wine is more than putting (it) in a glass and sucking it up,” says McDonald. “There’s a lot of stuff going into the making and selection of the land, what type of grapes, your labeling, and more importantly than all of that stuff is your marketing strategy, (your) sales strategy.”
Jasmine Espy is a Detroit-based freelance writer