Creators of Latinx Wine Summit make space for inclusion within the wine community
At Migration Winery in Napa Valley’s famed Carneros wine region, Gabriela Fernández exuded confidence, matching a gold “Latina” pendant she wore proudly around her neck.
And why not? At 30, Fernández is ascending the ladder of an industry that fails at times to advance opportunities for its Hispanic and Latino labor force — much less recognize their historical contributions. There are about 45 Latino-owned wineries in California, including roughly 20 in Napa Valley.
Born and raised in Napa Valley, Fernández embodies these contradictions. She is the trade and marketing events manager for the publicly-traded Duckhorn Portfolio, which includes Migration Winery. Prior to that, she helped launch the U.S. market for Spain’s Felix Solis Avantis, among the world’s largest wine producers.
And yet, when Fernández pops into one of Duckhorn’s tasting rooms wearing her trademark thrift-store jacket she’s often greeted with quizzical looks from guests.
“It's almost like you are met with a, 'Oh, but where's the actual wine educator? Oh, I'm sorry, am I not skilled enough to be that person who carries the knowledge for you?' I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened,” she said. “You would think it would stop being shocking, but the crazy part is just how shocking it is every time. You wonder, ‘What exactly is it that makes you think I’m not that?’”
Fernández riffed on the subject during a Dec. 10, 2020, broadcast of the “Big Sip,” a podcast series she hosts on Napa’s 99.3 FM The Vine radio station. The series highlights, in her words, the “black and brown trailblazers, pioneers, risk takers, leaders and visionaries” in the wine, food and art worlds.
Her guests on the episode titled “It’s Never Too Late” were Maria Calvert and Lydia Richards, both 34 and co-founders of Hispanics in Wine, a national nonprofit that promotes Hispanic and Latino contributions in the wine and hospitality industries.
“Right now,” Fernández said on the 2020 podcast, “la conversaćion — the conversation — is so profoundly being highlighted (that) we need to amplify Black voices. We need to amplify brown voices. We need to amplify all people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community …”
She continued, “People who normally haven’t had an opportunity to operate in these spaces and say, ‘Hey, I love being a part of this industry and I deserve to exist and be shown in this industry, too.’”
Creating a space to share experiences
The conversation continued in subsequent days over Zoom, during the height of the pandemic, and included Angela McCrae, the founder of Uncorked and Cultured, a Harlem-based media publication that connects Black people to wine, wellness, culture and adventure.
The four women eventually landed on a big idea: bringing together Latino members of the wine industry from across the country to share personal and professional experiences, bond with one another and ultimately, feel seen and heard.
The Latinx Wine Summit debuted in 2021 and was held virtually due to the pandemic. The December 2022 event drew more than 200 people to Napa’s RD Winery. The women are now setting their sights on spring 2024 for an even larger gathering.
“There were so many people of Hispanic and Latin descent it almost felt weird,” Richards, with Hispanics in Wine, said of the 2022 summit. “I couldn’t believe there hasn’t been another organization or community that’s done this.”
Originally from Panama, Richards is a certified sommelier whose passion for wine was sparked while living in Paris. After moving to New York, she worked in public relations and marketing in a number of industries before pivoting to a career in wine.
Dismayed by the lack of diversity at trade events, Richards and Calvert launched Hispanics in Wine on Instagram to spotlight the contributions of this underappreciated demographic. The women now advocate on a larger scale with the nonprofit under the same name.
Becoming part of the local wine scene
Calvert, originally from Ecuador, is a public relations consultant who advises start-ups and established brands across the country. She divides her time between New York City and Washington, D.C.
Richards recently relocated to Santa Barbara after accepting a job as a public relations manager with Jackson Family Wines.
Richards knows from experience how hard it is to break into the wine industry. She noted the expense of learning the trade — whether as a winemaker, marketer or manager — and the relative low pay to start. But she’s proof that with hard work and a humble attitude, success can blossom like buds on a vine. It just may not happen overnight.
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