The wine industry is not known for its racial diversity, but a new initiative aims to do its part in addressing that disparity with a free online course for BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of colour).
Industry Sessions is a free online wine course for BIPOC that was started by Jirka Jireh, a caviste at Ordinaire wine shop and bar in Oakland, where she has worked for the last two years. When the coronavirus crisis hit, and civil unrest related to the Black Lives Matter movement began to shake up US society, Jireh decided to channel her energy into positive activism.
She contacted James Sligh, a sommelier who teaches remote wine education, and together they created Industry Sessions, a free wine education course for BIPOC on Zoom that ships wines to its participants.
Uptake has been huge right across the US and continues to grow. The course leaves behind the coded 'somm-speak' in favour of clearer communication. Industry Sessions aims for inclusivity in a hitherto exclusive world.
Jirka Jireh photo credit: Liz Moughon
“We’re putting things in the lens of BIPOC not just bi-culturally but historically, telling the stories of colonisation, telling the stories of how wines were coming to the Americas on ships that also had slaves,” Jireh told LA Times. “Telling the story of wine in a decolonised way is not happening.”
“I just want to see more BIPOC people in positions of leadership where they get to make decisions,” Jireh said. “And I dream of being in a chateau in France with 45 BIPOC wine professionals at a yearly dinner and for it to just become life.”
Even now, the elitist, archaic world of wine and master sommeliers is characterised by a lack of diversity. The numbers confirm the lack of BIPOC in the industry. A 2020 study by the Grape Collective showed just 14% of California wineries are owned by women, and fewer than 1% of wineries in the U.S. are black-owned or employ a black winemaker.
It’s a modern-day cultural dissonance that belies wine’s ethnic and geographical origins, but things are changing, and slowly BIPOC are beginning to stake a claim of ownership within an industry that has so far excluded them.