Thursday, February 22, 2024

Kearney: Winemaker overcame obstacles of race and gender


With its vivid colors, ripe fruit aroma and ability to induce nostalgia, sangria was the ideal place to begin my wine journey. Its sweet complexity makes sangria more than a drink. It’s a new creation from two different worlds that don’t just come together, they create something new. Sangria mixes classic wine with a new, needed flavor — just like my journey as a winemaker. Because let me tell you, as one of two Black winemakers in Indiana, I add a dash of flavor to an industry that doesn’t always jump to embrace diversity.

Sip & Share Wines is a boutique winery producing a diversity of artisanal vegan wines — from Conjure Zinfandel featured in Forbes Magazine to Awaken Sweet White and Abundance Sweet Red, the original sangria poured in mason jars with straws. Out of more than 11,000 wineries based in the U.S., less than 1% are Black-owned, Black brands. Only .01% of winemakers in the U.S. are Black women winemakers. That disproportionate share drove my passion for creating Sip & Share Wines and propels my desire to create a community for Black and Brown wine lovers who are often overlooked and underrepresented within the wine industry.

Historically, winemaking for women, specifically Black women, hasn’t received the attention it deserves. While advancements in equity and inclusion have been made, much work is still to be done. May 5-6, I will speak about my journey and the importance of supporting Black entrepreneurs at the Indy Chamber’s Women in Business Retreat. While we should continue celebrating the Indy region’s progress, there is still work to be done to achieve equity for Black entrepreneurs.

Disparities don’t just color the path of Black winemakers, they can be seen across industries. Black entrepreneurs face a slew of disproportionate hurdles that make it incredibly difficult to launch, scale and succeed in business. Access to capital is the No. 1 barrier Black entrepreneurs face. With a large majority of the wine industry having generational wealth or being self-funded, Black wine entrepreneurs saw a lack of inclusivity. As a result, Black winemakers were not highlighted, celebrated or exposed to the market. But it’s not enough to identify the source of the problem, we must act to solve it. Suppliers have the potential to make lasting changes to ensure the wine industry includes Black and Brown suppliers and distributors. But there must be an incentive to propel inclusivity into action.

By genuinely committing to inclusion through metrics, the small business community can help inspire change. Organizations like Business Equity for Indy (BEI) make Indianapolis a more equitable place for Black entrepreneurs. BEI focuses on increasing the launch, growth and success rates of Black-owned enterprises by facilitating relationships, creating opportunities and positioning suppliers to gain access to new business contracts. How exactly does this get done? By hosting events bringing together Black-owned suppliers to create an inclusive business climate. By building greater equity and economic opportunity for the Indy region’s Black residents and people of color. And by creating opportunities — opportunities like inviting one of Indy’s Black-owned winemakers to provide beverages at events with those suppliers. Join me on May 19 at the Indy Black Chamber of Commerce for the Business Equity for Indy Procurement Roundtable — I’ll see and serve you there!

The best way to create an equitable place for progress requires our community members and organizations to work together as collaborative partners — just like fine wine, brandy and fruit blend perfectly to create a refreshing sangria. Ensuring minority business owners get the resources they need is the first step toward meeting the needs of our Black business-owner community. Our communities, our regions, our wines and our recipes don’t improve over time if we operate the way we always have. Let’s unite, collaborate and create new opportunities and flavors along the way.

Nicole Kearney is the owner of Sip & Share Wines. Sip & Share Wines produces vegan wine and creates community for overlooked wine enthusiasts.

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