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How Dwyane Wade and UC Davis are working for more diversity in wine world

With 18 million Instagram followers, Dwyane Wade is expected to be a powerful force in helping UC Davis increase the diversity of its students pursuing careers in wine.

The three-time NBA champion and 13-time NBA All-Star recently was tapped to become a member of the university’s executive leadership board for the department of viticulture and enology. Wade, who retired two years ago, found an intriguing pastime off court as the co-founder of Wade Cellars in Napa Valley.

“In addition to our shared goals of furthering diversity in the wine industry, Dwyane really knows how to build a brand,” according to David Block, the chair of the department. “One of the things we haven’t been successful at is attracting Black students.”

In 2012, the department created the Broadening Horizons project, to increase the proportion of traditionally underrepresented students pursuing careers in all parts of the wine industry. Over the past decade, there have been some promising outcomes; Latino students now make up 25% of students enrolled in viticulture and enology programs at UC Davis, up from less than 10%.

“I’m not certain what the statistic is for Blacks, but I think it’s probably 5% or even less,” Block said. “Having the university be a starting point for creating leaders from many backgrounds is important. It’s really important that it starts in academia.”

Block said Wade was a natural to help the university with its diversity goals because he’s an active participant in efforts to change the status quo. He launched the Social Change Fund United to invest in organizations focused on empowering communities of color, and he founded the Wade Family Foundation to provide help for marginalized communities in need.

“I’m excited to join forces with UC Davis to support their efforts in bringing more diversity to the wine industry and make it more inclusive,” Wade said in a statement. “Wine is for everyone, and I look forward to working with my fellow board members to create meaningful and impactful change. Together we hope to reach and inspire our community to pursue a career in the wine industry by creating a more equitable and viable pathway to achieve those dreams.”

Block said the big hurdle to increasing diversity in the wine industry is reaching people who don’t know that working in the wine world is an option for them.

“It’s getting people who have never considered grape growing or winemaking as a career,” he said. “It’s reaching people who have not grown up in a culture of wine.”

Block said two other vital new board members are wine writer and Black Wine Professionals founder Julia Coney and viticulturist and UC Davis alumnus Miguel Luna, a partner with Silverado Farming Company.

The founder of Pelle Wines, Luna was named Viticulturist of the Year in 2020 by Wine Enthusiast. He is recognized for his work as a mentor in the wine industry and for his commitment to transitioning vineyards to herbicide-free environments.

Coney is a Washington, D.C., and Houston, Texas-based wine writer and educator. She was a recipient of the Wine Enthusiast’s 2020 Social Visionary Award for her work writing and speaking on diversity, equity and inclusion in the wine industry.

“There are many blocks to diversifying the wine industry: access, education, money, mentorship and more,” Coney said. “I've helped the wine industry have conversations on racism, diversity, and inclusion since 2018. As a board member, I am helping with recruitment. The saying is, ‘We become what we see.’ People of color who want to join the industry will see someone like me and others and know they can be a part of this industry as well.”

Coney said her work with the university is “a continuation of making a difference, and this is not a fad. It's my life's work.

“I work in the (wine) industry and have experienced a lot of racism and continue to experience racism in this industry,” she said. “I want the wine industry to look as diverse as the world we live in.”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines; it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.

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