BY ABIGAIL GREEN, M.A. ’01
- M.A. ’02, The University of Baltimore
- Ph.D. in marketing, Drexel University
- Tenured marketing professor,Craig School of Business, Fresno State
- Published Terroir Noir: 2020 Study of Black Wine Entrepreneurs
During a 2017 outing to a wine festival in Oakland, California, Dr. Monique Bell, M.A. ’02, was astonished to discover a thriving community of Black winemakers and enthusiasts she never knew existed. After becoming a tenured marketing professor at the Craig School of Business at Fresno State, Bell decided to spend her fall 2020 sabbatical studying Black wine entrepreneurs and consumers. Almost no research on the topic existed.“I thought I would be frolicking in vineyards, but Covid had other plans,” says Bell, who holds a master’s in publications design (now integrated design) from UBalt, as well as a Ph.D. in marketing from Drexel University. One unexpected benefit was that via Zoom, she was able to connect with many more vineyards than she could have in person. She ended up surveying more than 100 Black wine entrepreneurs—and personally interviewing more than 40—from all over the world, including in Germany, South Africa and New Zealand. Her research culminated in the publication of Terroir Noir: 2020 Study of Black Wine Entrepreneurs.
Bell discovered that less than 1 percent of the 11,000 wineries in the United States are Black-owned, and only 2 percent of wine professionals (e.g., importers, distributors, media, etc.) are Black. Most of their vineyards are first-generation businesses, and almost 80 percent are self-funded. Bell also learned that Black winemakers shared several common barriers to success. “Financing and access to capital was the No. 1 challenge,” she says. “That’s reflected in other academic literature and research, too. You can see reports about how African Americans [applying for] home loans and business loans are rejected at higher rates than other groups.”
“Dr. Bell’s research has crossed
barriers and given Black wine entrepreneurs a voice in the wine world.”
Unsurprisingly, Bell’s research found that another hurdle for Black wine entrepreneurs is racism, both explicit and implicit. One of her interviewees said, “People assume that because you are a Black person holding a glass of wine, you are ‘the help.’”
During the course of her research, the Black wine industry was feeling the effects of the social justice movement that arose in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in 2020. The push to #BuyBlack and #DrinkBlack emerged as a way for consumers of all backgrounds to show their support by seeking out Black-owned brands, Bell explained in a talk she gave at the Craig School of Business, titled Consumer Activism and Black Wine Entrepreneurs. Many wineries saw a jump in profits. However, many of those Bell interviewed also mentioned the emotional toll, and their desire to not just be part of a temporary trend.
In addition to Terroir Noir, Bell contributed her findings to the Sip Consciously Directory, an online resource of Black-owned wine businesses created in partnership with media company Uncorked & Cultured. Her research has been featured in Forbes, Ebony and Wine Enthusiast, which nominated her as its 2021 Social Visionary of the Year. Earlier this year, she received the 2022 Education Award from the Association of African American Vintners at its 20th Anniversary Symposium. At the ceremony it was noted that, “Dr. Bell’s research has crossed barriers and given Black wine entrepreneurs a voice in the wine world” and “She took up the mantle to capture critical data demonstrating the engagement, financial power and need for Black people in the wine industry.”
Bell’s research also found its way into the curricula of her courses at Fresno State. In her Promotions class, students develop a marketing communications plan for real clients—such as one of Bell’s interview subjects, a Black wine importer in Atlanta. “She actually hired one of my students afterwards,” says Bell.
Another semester, the class enjoyed working on a campaign for a startup app called Somm Says (short for Sommelier Says), a wine tasting app that lets you compare your basic evaluations of a wine with an expert’s. “The idea is that there’s no right or wrong answer. What you taste is what you taste.” Though, Bell admits, “I’m actually still discovering my palate. I don’t drink nearly as much wine as people think I do!”
Baltimore-based writer Abigail Green is a regular contributor to the magazine.
Three Wines to Try
LA FETE DU ROSE, created by Baltimore native Donae Burston, is produced in partnership with a vineyard in Saint Tropez. “Some of the more contemporary Black wine entrepreneurs are brand owners. They create a custom blend with an existing winery,” explains Bell.
PHILOSOPHY WINERY & VINEYARD is the first African American women-owned winery in Maryland. They produce several different kinds of white, red and rose.
McBRIDE SISTERS WINE COMPANY is a California-based vineyard offering a variety of wines, including sparkling and canned, available nationally.