Theodora Lee on a tractor /
Photo Courtesy Theopolis Vineyards
Black winemakers are often asked, “Where’s your vineyard?”
When many people envision a winemaker, they picture someone strolling through their own vineyards—and this person is almost always white. According to the Agricultural Human Values journal, currently only 2% of agricultural land is owned by Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC).
“There is an internal divide within the wine industry regarding what constitutes an authentic winemaker and a [consumer] perception that wine is only authentically made at [estate] vineyard[s],” says Dr. Monique Bell, author of Terroir Noir. “There is [also] definite bias related to race, age, gender, and other characteristics when it comes to who looks like a wine producer.”
There are several reasons for this inequity, but some can be traced directly to Manifest Destiny and the Homestead Act of 1862.
Manifest Destiny was a 19th-century belief that the United States was destined to expand westward. It was used to defend the genocide of Native Americans and acquisition of western territories like modern-day Oregon and California. After annexing those lands, the federal government passed the Homestead Act of 1862.
“There is an internal divide within the wine industry regarding what constitutes an authentic winemaker.”— Dr. Monique Bell
The Act gave 160 acres of land in the western territories to U.S. citizens for the equivalent of $500 today. To put that in perspective, undeveloped vineyard land in Sonoma and Napa Valley, areas included in the Act, currently goes for over $100,000/acre, a marked escalation.