In the final days of February 2020, I again attended the Black Vines Festival despite growing anxiety about a new deadly virus gaining attention. I was committed to attending and supporting the event because its founder, Fern Stroud, had been so gracious in supporting me as I planned for my fall 2020 sabbatical studying the motivations, challenges, and business strategies of Black wine entrepreneurs. Despite my limited knowledge about entrepreneurship, and even less knowledge about wine, my college accepted my compelling case about the lack of diversity in wine entrepreneurship and granted a full, paid semester to conduct research in this area.
By August 2020, as I began conducting 90-minute in-depth interviews with more than 40 Black wine business owners, and surveying more than 100, I stumbled upon the website for the Oakland Wine Festival founded by Melody Fuller. As I read about Melody’s pioneering career as a wine communicator, festival founder, and venture into youth mentorship with the Exceptional Vine, I knew I had found a “partner-in-wine,” and I messaged her to convey my admiration and discuss my research. Within hours, Melody responded. Through an ongoing email exchange, she has provided access to wine resources of which I would never have been aware. Most recently, Melody encouraged me to apply to the Professional Wine Writers Symposium. The ability to hear from esteemed wine writers such as Jancis Robinson and Julia Coney further empowered me to pursue my dreams of adding my voice to the wine industry and establishing a wine café. Melody consistently connects me with those who can elevate my knowledge and presence, and to whom I can contribute my talents and skills. She referred me to the Lodi Appellation Inclusion Collective (LAIC) and its initiatives to create a more diverse and inclusive region. I have joined LAIC and will support its immersive enrichment experience for people of color this June.
By far, one of the ways that Melody has been an exceptional mentor and role model has been in introducing me to yet another mentor – Dr. Liz Thach, MW. As a business professor who transitioned into wine, her life is the ultimate blueprint for my own. Thanks to Melody’s continuing amplification of my work, Liz has agreed to be my research partner and interviewed me for an April 2021 Forbes article, which has attracted many additional opportunities. The power of female mentorship is extraordinary – and I commit to paying it forward to future women in wine.
My goal is to open a wine café and French-style salon in Fresno, CA, which welcomes and educates under-represented ethnic groups to the wine industry and features wines created by these same groups and women. Ultimately, my vision is to create a community space that celebrates wine and the tapestry of cultures that embody the Central Valley region. Honoring, amplifying and partnering with women for our mutual success has always been a core driver of my life and work, from my service in the world’s largest predominantly Black service sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., to informal mentoring and role modeling as a business professor.