Nearly four years ago, as the racial justice protests in the wake of the George Floyd murder highlighted structural barriers to equality in our society, the wine industry came under harsh criticism for its lack of diversity. The industry, like many others, responded with programs aimed at improving diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI. Companies pledged millions of dollars toward scholarships and other efforts to improve career paths for minorities and promote Black-owned brands.

Where do these diversity efforts stand now? So far, the record is mixed. There have been successes, but corporate commitment to diversity efforts has waned. Doors that opened three years ago have begun to close.

Donae Burston of La Fête Wine Co. at an event at the Urban Grape in January in Washington. John Devaney/Urban Grape

Donae Burston represents a success. A veteran of luxury champagne brands such as Dom Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot and Armand de Brignac, Burston launched La Fête du Rosé in 2019 to appeal to a young audience interested in the party of life. In May 2021, Burston got a boost when drinks behemoth Constellation Brands invested in his company as the first effort of its Focus on Minority Founders program announced the previous year.

Three years later, with his company rebranded as La Fête Wine Co., Burston offers a white and a red in addition to the rosé. All are from Provence, evoking the lifestyle of the Cote d’Azur. La Fête wines are distributed in 32 states, with national placement in Target stores and regional placements in Kroger and Whole Foods Market. La Fête has now expanded to the Caribbean, and will soon appear on shelves in France and Britain.

The investment from Constellation has been “tremendous,” Burston told me in an interview. “You need funds to service these big retail chains,” he said. “They’ve been helpful in teaching us the playbook to succeed in retail.”

Constellation announced its program to great fanfare in 2020, pledging to invest $100 million over 10 years in wine, beer and spirits businesses founded by minorities. As of August last year, it had invested $22.3 million, spokeswoman Carissa Guzski told me in an email, citing La Fête Wine Co. and Sapere Wines as the “most recent” recipients. Both of those were announced in the first half of 2021, however. Guzski also pointed to Constellation’s purchase last June of Domaine Curry, a Black- and woman-owned luxury wine brand, and the company’s DEI efforts in its own workforce and with suppliers as evidence of its continued commitment to promoting diversity.


The Napa Valley Vintners trade group created a scholarship in 2021 through the United Negro College Fund, pledging $200,000 over each of the next five years. Spokeswoman Teresa Wall told me in the first three years, they received 68 applications and awarded 30 scholarships, including six renewals. Most were in the winemaking and marketing fields. The NVV also held 10 DEI workshops for staff from 191 member wineries over the past three years, Wall said.

Matthew and Jon’ll Boyd, the founders of Boyd Cru Wines. Trene Forbes/Boyd Cru Wines

Diverse Power Brands, which connects minority-owned businesses with potential retail and distribution outlets, announced in January that it had helped Target select seven companies to feature in its stores this year. Among those was Boyd Cru Wines, a brand launched last year by Jon’ll and Matthew Boyd of Silver Spring, Maryland. Their wines will be featured at a D.C. Target store. Target also selected Mai Vino, a brand packaged in 1.5-liter pouches created by Mai Vu, a Vietnamese American.

There have been promising small-scale successes. Domestique wine shop in D.C. launched a fellowship program in 2020 to help break up what co-owner Jeff Segal called the “stuffy, White boys’ club” of wine by providing career training to candidates of color. Kayla Mensah, Domestique’s first fellow, is now a wine consultant in southern Virginia. Subsequent fellows were Dante Clark, who went on to launch Preshift, a pop-up wine bar in New York City, while working for a natural wine importer, and Anisah Baylor, a D.C. bartender who created a vermouth brand called Vermoof.

Segal told me the store and its partners are retooling the fellowship program and working to partner with Common Wealth Crush, a winemaking “incubator” (formerly known as a custom crush facility) in Waynesboro, Virginia, to help fellows get into wine production.

In 2018, TJ and Hadley Douglas of the Urban Grape in Boston, which bucks the tradition of European hierarchy in wine retailing with the aim of attracting new and diverse customers, began developing an internship program to train people of color for jobs in wine. Their timing was good. The program launched in June 2020, mere weeks after Floyd’s murder, and Urban Grape partnered with Boston University and Jackson Family Wines, which includes the popular Kendall-Jackson and La Crema brands. They sponsor two interns a year through the Boston store and plan to expand the program to their new D.C. store next year.

Meanwhile, conservatives have painted DEI as “woke,” and many corporate efforts have lost steam. After an initial pandemic jump, wine sales have declined, creating pressure on the bottom line.


“I’ve seen companies who created DEI departments three years ago close them altogether,” says Ikimi Dubose-Woodson, co-founder and CEO of the Roots Fund, an organization created in 2020 to boost wine education and career opportunities for minorities in wine. In-person diversity training has reverted to short online training modules in many companies, she said.

Burston echoes that assessment. “In 2020, everyone wanted diverse suppliers,” he told me. “We were getting emails and phone calls out the wazoo. Now, being a minority supplier doesn’t count for much. Part of that is the political climate, but it’s also consumers. If consumers aren’t demanding products by minority producers, the wineries and distribution companies will say, ‘Hey, we tried,’ and move on.”

The way Julia Coney, who founded Black Wine Professionals in 2020, sees it: “A lot was done for show, and now it’s back to business as usual. There was a lot of talk about getting more Blacks into wine, but not about supporting them in the industry so they would want to stay.”

Like young vines, diversity efforts will take years of commitment and nurturing, through the drought of a political backlash, before they have any chance of bearing fruit.

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