When Channing Frye retired in 2019 after 15 years as a solid power forward in the N.B.A., he was at loose ends. With no long-term plans, he said, he began to feel depressed.

“My wife said, ‘What do you love?’ I said, ‘I love people and I love wine.’ I could become a party planner or I could go into wine.”

Mr. Frye chose wine. He established a label, Chosen Family Wines, based in Oregon, where he had settled with his wife, Lauren, after playing for the Portland Trail Blazers early in his career. His partners include Kevin Love, his former teammate with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who is still playing, now with the Miami Heat.

But what sets Chosen Family Wine apart is its commitment — its mission, really — to bringing wine to communities that have long been neglected by the wine industry. While some companies have made efforts to bring people of color into already existing corporate structures, Chosen Family set about meeting people on their own terms to introduce them to wine in comfortable and familiar contexts.

“We want to move with intention, to show people how approachable wine can be,” said Tiquette Bramlett, vice president of Chosen Family. “When they’re talking about wine, I want them to speak on what they know. We can’t use all the Eurocentric language that’s standard in the textbooks.”

In the racial reckoning that took place after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, many in the wine industry promoted major efforts to diversify both the industry itself and its customer base. With some exceptions, many of those efforts turned out to be short-lived.

“I’ll be honest, D.E.I. is dead,” said Ikimi Dubose-Woodson, the executive director of the Roots Fund, a nonprofit that helps people of color gain access to the wine industry. “It was a fashion trend, almost. A lot of corporations that made commitments have pulled them back. They say they can’t afford it.”

Far more successful are the Black wine professionals, who have put wine in the context of familiar and cherished elements of Black culture. People and organizations like Jermaine Stone, who has integrated wine and hip-hop; Oenoverse, which is dedicated to building a more inclusive wine industry in Virginia; and Chosen Family are pushing forward with community-based, grass roots approaches.

But making people feel welcome after a lifetime of feeling excluded requires methods other than the standard practice of memorizing grapes, places and producers and plunging into describing aromas and flavors.

“You have to be patient, really patient,” Mr. Frye said during a visit to the Chosen Family tasting room in Wilsonville, Ore. “You can’t talk down to people. You have to meet them where they are. You have to meld two different worlds.”

Mr. Frye, who is unimposing despite his 7-foot stature, speaks plainly, free of the pedantic wine jargon so easily associated with snobbery and pretension. He finds ways to relate wine to the cultures of his audience rather than to the pastoral images derived from European countrysides.

“If you love wine, I want to relate to you,” he said. “Chardonnay goes with salmon, but how many people eat salmon in Mississippi? Chardonnay goes with catfish, too. You make wine not scary. Have a party, good music and a DJ. Serve wine. People say, ‘I didn’t know wine could taste like that.’”

Ms. Dubose-Woodson says the wine industry ought to have a stake in opening its markets to people of color. She says it’s a matter of demographics, particularly as the baby boomers, who have carried the industry economically for so long, age out of their prime buying years.

“These are the communities who are going to replace the old white people,” she said. “If you’re not going out to these communities, you’re losing that dollar.”

It’s also in the interests of people of color to gain at least a working knowledge of wine, she said, just as some prestigious business schools require their students to learn about wine, so they can function in high-end social environments.

“They need to be able to network, it’s a business necessity,” she said. “Black and brown leaders in their own communities, we deserve this knowledge so we can thrive in these environments.”

The process of building new markets requires time and investment, beginning with comfortable opportunities for gathering, with wine available in what Ms. Bramlett calls safe spaces.

“Being able to come in and be as you are is a powerful feeling,” she said. “You can make wine exactly what you want it to be.”

Mr. Frye says Chosen Family has offered opportunities pitched to Black audiences, like joining with “Wining While Black,” a group that organizes Black-oriented networking opportunities.

“Then we have a follow-up tasting seminar,” he said. “We build positive associations with wine. Don’t tell people they are wrong.

“It’s an untapped market. Once they trust us, they are empowered to go out and explore. But you have to invest. It’s not an immediate return.”

It helps that, unlike many celebrity wines, Chosen Family’s wines are really good. Its selection, all from purchased grapes, centers on the Willamette Valley and ranges from simple but delicious chardonnays and pinot noirs for around $25 to $30 to reserve set of chardonnays and pinot noirs that are subtle and lively but more complex and age-worthy than what Mr. Frye calls the “daily drinkers.”

Chosen Family also offers a series of what Mr. Frye calls collaboration wines, in which Chosen Family partners with another producer to make single-vineyard wines from different parts of the Willamette Valley, like a beautiful, saline chardonnay, made with Lingua Franca in the Eola-Amity Hills. Its offerings also stray beyond Oregon, including an intense Sonoma Coast pinot noir and a fresh, complex Howell Mountain cabernet sauvignon in partnership with Salty Goats.

“We want to constantly be looking for new things and putting new winemakers on the map,” Mr. Frye said. “We’re reaching for a demographic, why only give them one kind of wine? I don’t drink like that. Why not share these regions and these winemakers?”

Mr. Frye was introduced to wine when his wife took him to visit Domaine Drouhin when he first came to the Trailblazers in the 2007-08 season, and he’s been learning ever since, both from teammates during his playing days and on his own.

“I do more listening than talking,” he said. “Wine has so many layers, so many different facets. It’s like you’re going through the closet to Narnia.”

Mr. Frye has faced his own obstacles gaining acceptance.

“People think it’s a money grab or a vanity project,” he said. “I’m always asked, ‘Why are you so Black-centric?’ We’re not. But I’m new at this. You know who wants to work with us? Black and Hispanic people.”

However challenging, he’s finding fulfillment in the work.

“I love that we are breaking down barriers one sip at a time,” he said. “Whether you are white or Black, if you come here you should feel different when you leave.”



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *