Black Vines celebrates diversity in winemaking

Diversity may not be something that you think about when you pick up a bottle of wine for dinner, but you might want to.  Every winemaker has a story, and the wine they make is a part of sharing their story with you.  

We met Theodora Lee of Theopolis Vineyards at her custom crush facility in San Francisco.  Lee is also affectionately known as Theopatra, Queen of the Vineyards. She founded Theopolis Vineyards back in 2003 and she will tell you she loves wine.  She will also tell you that when she sits in a room with other winemakers, “I am usually the only black woman for sure I can say that.”

She’s hoping to change that by telling her story. Lee is a lawyer by trade and back in the 90's her work took her to Napa and Sonoma and she says there were so many moments where she would lookout at the vineyards and think about her childhood.

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Her father had a farm outside of Dallas, Texas. “I couldn't raise cattle horses like my dad but I could grow grapes and sell them to award winning winemakers,” said Lee. 

She admits didn't know much about wine so she educated herself taking classes at UC Davis and asking a lot of questions from the experts.  She bought some land in 2001 but then her plan to sell her grapes to winemakers hit a hitch. “I had picked in the rain,” she said but the winemaker thought the sugar level was too high so “he rejected those grapes so I had 8 tons of grapes with no home, so I found a place up in Mendocino to custom crush them.”

That led to her bottling her 2012 Petite Sirah in 2014, “and it won gold at Sunset Magazine.”

As a vintner she said she has found herself faced with something else, a lack of diversity, saying” there are other African American vintners but they are few.’

That’s why Fern Stroud says she founded the event known as Black Vines.   Its purpose is to shine a light and give exposure to African American winemakers.  It is now in its 8th year.

“Black Vines started as a Black History celebration sort of as an ode to just celebrating us,” said Stroud, “so we created a space where we could highlight black wineries, and diverse arts, so we have different arts in various genres of art.”

Stroud said diversity in winemaking is important because “when you don't include a demographic often time you don't get the variety. You are missing out, and everyone is missing out when we aren't' inclusive.”

She also hopes the event will inspire, saying “it also influences young people who never thought they could get into the wine industry much like the tech industry to say hey I see people who look like me doing it and I can do it too.”

But beyond the potential winemakers of the future, there are also the wine lovers of today.  Stroud said the event has led to a whole new community of wine drinkers. “Hundreds every year,” she said “we get new people in and I literally have people now, they were only hard alcohol drinkers I never though they'd be a part of wine clubs and they are buying more wine than me.”

That’s what Stroud said the event gives to the industry.  More winemakers with stories to tell. More wine drinkers who appreciate every glass. 

Event: Black Vines. A toast to Black Wineries and Diverse Art is open to all 
Saturday February 23 at Defremery Park 1-5 pm
Tickets are available online and are 60 dollars