Above: American artist and entrepreneur Jay-Z bought a Champagne house and launched his own wine after racist comments by a Champagne executive (photo via NRK-P3’s Flickr Creative Commons).
The American artist and entrepreneur Jay-Z made headlines in 2014 when he purchased a historic Champagne house and announced his plan to launch his own line of méthode Champenoise wine.
The move was prompted by overtly racist comments made by an executive for the singer’s favorite Champagne brand.
When asked what he thought about American rappers singing about the wine and using it as a prop in their music videos, said executive replied: “That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Pérignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”
The rapper would later sing:
I used to drink [said Champagne], them motherfuckers racist
So I switched gold bottles on to that Spade shit
Jay-Z’s new label is known as “Ace of Spades.”
A year prior, a noted Italian winemaker had published a racist rant aimed at Italy’s newly seated minister for integration, the country’s first Black cabinet member. When confronted by previous fans of his wine online, said producer doubled down and publicly professed his acute animus toward Black people in general.
Some years earlier, in the pre-social media age, an Italian winery known for its white wines published a much circulated flier with an image of a young Black woman on it. Her chest was uncovered and she had a glass of white wine in her hand. The caption read: “I like whites, too!”
Those are just the public instances of overt racism that come to mind. But they are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Just ask any Black wine professional, whether writer or tradesperson, what it’s like to be the only Black person in the room at a given tasting. The anecdotes of ignoble treatment will be myriad.
As the world of wine tries to move past its historic hostility toward Black people, a new movement for inclusion, equity, and dignity-based treatment has taken shape among White wine trade members.
That’s a good thing, no doubt.
But in the light of the industry’s newly found self-awareness, the reaction to a recent post of mine was all the more surprising.
After I suggested that we change the name of an Italian grape variety to make it inoffensive to Black people in this country, I was accused of wokeness. Is that really such a crime? Especially given the industry’s historic antagonism of Black people, is it so wrong to make a similar proposal? Evidently a number of people feel that way.
What I’m proposing — an evolution of the grape name, not a so-called cancellation — has nothing to do with wokeness or cancel culture.
It’s inspired by common decency and sense.
To all of my detractors, I propose this. You stand before a group of roughly 100 wine lovers in a restaurant on a Thursday night in Houston where nearly half the crowd is Black. Let’s even throw in a small sound system into the equation so that your voice is crystal clear. And with bottle in hand, you try presenting a grape called Negroamaro.
I’m not asking Italians to change their grape name. I’m asking them and their American partners to adapt it for Black market here in the U.S.
I’m not asking the world to cancel every name that has the word Negro in it. I’m asking the wine world to acknowledge that Black people like Italian wine, too.
I’m not asking my fellow wine professionals to diminish Italian viticulture or culture at large. I’m asking them to pay attention to the sensibilities of Black wine lovers in this country. A group that has been historically overlooked, ignored, and maltreated by the wine industry. If you claim that you haven’t seen ample evidence of that legacy in the #BLM era, you are disingenuous.
With all the EU funds that will become available next year for Italian winemakers to promote their products in America, where they sell 70 percent — yes 70 percent — of their output by most industry estimates, will it be so painful for them to create a new label for our market?
I can assure you it will be plenty painful for many Black wine lovers if they don’t.