Photo Credit: Courtesy of Urban Connoisseurs| Facebook
Marcia Jones: The Woman Creating Opportunities For Black Winemakers
Marcia Jones can’t pinpoint precisely when she fell in love with the wine industry, but she does remember that when she discovered Black winemakers, everything changed.
“I think that’s when the passion really developed because up until then I was not a huge wine drinker, Jones told Travel Noire. “I maybe would have it with dinner on occasion or out with friends, but I wasn’t an avid, ‘I’ve got to have wine with everything’ kind of girl.”
She continued, “So when I discovered that we were in the industry, I think that intrigued me to want to know more, and the more makers I met or heard about, the more I wanted to delve deeper into it, the more I wanted to taste the different varietals, from different regions.”
When Jones started her Black wine enthusiast journey she estimates that there were roughly ten on the market. Now there are well over 70 worldwide.
Not wanting to make wine herself and wanting to create awareness about the winemakers of African-descent, Jones started Urban Connoisseurs in 2012. Today their mission has expanded to include encouraging the next generation to consider careers in the wine industry in addition to supporting their development with “best wine practices, scholarship donation, and internship opportunities” to future Black winemakers.
“I’ve done it a little differently each year,” Jones shared. “I really would say the early years of my exploration were getting to know the winemaker, doing a lot of research and discovering just how many black winemakers there are out there, and then understanding the business and trying to figure out what I want to do with that business.”
When the Covid-19 pandemic started, Jones and Urban Connoisseurs found themselves in limbo with programming. Should they wait until everything opened up or go virtual?
“I didn’t want to do the typical wine festival where a winemaker is standing behind a booth pouring his or her wine and people are shoving their wine glasses in their face. That’s really not wanting to know about the wines and about the winemaker. I want it to make it more interactive.”
The result of her brainstorming is the inaugural International Winemakers Summit happening Feb. 19 to 21, where attendees will be introduced to a global slate of diverse winemakers.
“We do have a winemaker coming in from South Africa, not coming in, but participating because nobody’s coming together,” explained Jones. “And then we have another winemaker from Canada. We have a champagne maker from France who’s participating. And then the rest are from the US. But I also wanted to highlight that Black people are in all areas of the wine industry, so the moderators of each session are sommeliers.”
Jones also made good on her promise of support for future vinters.
“I created the Black Winemaker’s Scholarship. I wanted to be a part of a legacy, so to speak. I wanted to do something that new up-and-coming winemakers could be a part of. The cost of education is still challenging. I want it to be a burden easier.”
To see her goal come to fruition, Jones partnered with the United Negro College Fund to create a scholarship in viticulture and technology. She fundraised to be able to provide substantial financial assistance, despite concerns that there may not be any interest in the field. The naysayers were soon proven wrong — on the first day it became available, 20 applications were received. Jones plans for the scholarship to be offered annually.
But this is merely the beginning. She is curating a wine box featuring all Black winemakers in honor of Black History Month for two-time James Beard recipient Edouardo Jordan. She also hopes to continue working on a documentary that shut down production due to the pandemic and a tabletop book.
In March, Jones plans to kick off her wine club which gives members four different bottles from four different Black winemakers every quarter.
“I always felt like I just wanted to create the awareness that we’re out here and we’re in the industry.”