After Phil Long and his late wife Debra moved to Northern California during the early naughts, they found themselves so enamored with the winemaking culture that they started making syrah in the garage of their three-bedroom house.
Their hobby turned into a small business in 2008 with the opening of Longevity Wines in Livermore, 45 miles east of San Francisco. Today, the Black-owned winery’s Pinot Grigio, Zinfandel and other varietals can be found in 4,000 stores, including Total Wine & More, Food Lion, Fresh Market, and, this spring, in Sam’s Club. Longevity produces 3,500 cases a year — seven times as many as it produced its first year.
After experiencing his own success, Long’s mission is to help other Black-owned wineries grow through his role as the president of the Association of African American Vintners (AAAV), which provides scholarships, mentoring, and marketing for Black and minority winemakers.
“The people who make wine should be as diverse as the people who drink wine,” Long says.
Long became president of the association just before the Black Lives Matters movement unleashed a groundswell of support for Black-owned businesses, including winemakers. AAAV, which sells its members wines on its website, saw more online orders during the first two weeks of June than in all of 2019, Long says.
Within the past 14 months, the association’s membership has skyrocketed from 18 to 130 wineries and wine brands in 15 states.
“I went from being the president [of AAAV] to the spokesperson for African American wine industry overnight,” Long says.
Starting a winery requires amassing significant capital and land, which have been historically denied to Black Americans. Additionally, most Black wine owners don’t come from wine-producing families who can pass along generational knowledge.
“When Europeans came, they came with grapevines in their pockets. We all know [Black Americans] didn't get here this way,” Long says.
An informal survey of AAAV members reveals that getting loans and establishing the necessary relationships to grow their brands are the biggest challenges for Black winemakers.
“My biggest challenge was connecting with industry leaders in each channel of the wine business,” says Vice Wines founder Malek Amrani. “Access remains a challenge for many entrepreneurs in our industry, perhaps even more when the newcomer is perceived as an outsider, not only in the US, but globally."
Striking the right relationships helped Longevity grow, Long says. A partnership with Bronco Wine Co. to distribute his California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and the help of a publicist, who got the wine and its heart-filled label on national TV shows, including HBO’s Big Little Lies to CBS’ Big Bang Theory, raised the national profile. Making those connections is one of AAAV's missions.
The role comes at a challenging time for wineries, many of which had to close their tasting rooms due to the global pandemic.
"Wineries that previously depended on tasting room visits and sales have had to compensate for lost revenue,” Long says. Longevity recently resumed outdoor tastings and hopes to restart indoor tastings soon.
While most members are Black or minority-owned, any vintner can join the association to help the cause, he says. Wine drinkers can also buy wines from these 10 Black-owned wineries.
Love Cork Screw
In addition to several wines, the Chicago winery’s website also sells candles, body butters, coasters and an assortment of apparel.
The year-old Texas winery sells its first wine, an off-dry riesling, on its website.
Jenny Dawn Cellars
The Wichita winery ships its 11 varietals within Kansas and 37 states.
Shoe Crazy Wines
Based in Richmond, Va., Shoe Crazy sells its sweet and dry wines in regular and mini bottles you can purchase on its website or in retailers in five states. They also sell non-alcoholic wines.
The three-year-old New Orleans winery offers virtual and in-person wine tastings where you can try its reds, whites and rosés. If you’re shopping online, pick up its Louisiana-map shaped cutting board.
Maryland’s first winery run by African American women, the winery’s inaugural vintage, the 2019 Reign Rose, can be shipped to 14 states and DC.
Sip & Share Wines
The Indianapolis winery’s seven vegan wines incorporate feel-good messages. Buy the Gratitude Red Blend and Manifest Chardonnay in regular or sample-sized tasting bottles on its website.
The Vice Wine
The maker of Napa Valley wines sells gift boxes, wine bundles and individual bottles on its website.
The St. Petersburg winery sells its bottled and canned roses and sparkling whites online and in stores in Florida, Texas and Oregon.
The Wilcox, Ariz., vineyard sells its riesling, cabernets and other wines in their tasting room. They also ship within Arizona.