A small wine shop changes the face of who is a taste maker
Jaby Dayle loved the food and wine industry, but they never saw a future for themselves as a wine expert. In fact, they have never seen black wine experts working in the industry.
“When you look at the world of wine, you don’t often hear the stories of the children of immigrants being able to find their way into the industry,” said Dayle, a first generation Canadian whose family emigrated from Jamaica.
The 32-year-old, who now lives in Toronto, said he has worked occasionally in the hospitality industry for half of his life.
“And, yes, you will see a lot of people who look like me in the kitchen. You can even see us a lot in support roles outside the house. But managers, sommeliers, owners go, more often than not, be whites – in particular, white men. “
Dayle is now taking several wine education courses they need to enter the industry, in part thanks to a scholarship started by a downtown Toronto wine shop called Grape Witches, which seeks to support black people, Aboriginal people and people of color who aspire to be wine professionals. . The store team believes that making the industry more inclusive will not only help rid it of discrimination, but also increase its relevance by broadening tastes.
Grape Witches co-owners Nicole Campbell and Krysta Oben have spent years creating a safe space for women in the male-dominated wine industry. They thought they had done a good job until they realized how white this space was.
“It was mostly white women and it didn’t reflect Toronto. And that wasn’t right,” Campbell said.
Rather than just posting a supportive meme on social media, the duo, who turned their nickname, the Grape Witches, into a storefront selling natural, decolonized wine, launched a scholarship worth $ 5,000 to help women of color to access expensive higher education in wine.
Dayle was the first recipient.
“I couldn’t afford it”
The cost of studying to become a sommelier, like many other Canadian college and university programs, can be prohibitive, especially given the amount and types of wines students are expected to purchase.
“I couldn’t afford it. It’s that simple,” Dayle said. “There’s no way around this unless I’m willing to lie, cheat, and steal my way through wine education, which would be pretty difficult.”
They say that when studying for certain certification levels, students are expected to spend around $ 200 per month on wine alone – a cost not built into coursework.
Another obstacle, Dayle says, is that they often felt unwelcome when tasting with predominantly white men.
“I have been approached by people who will then ask me to bring them water because they are looking at me and not expecting me to be there to taste,” Dayle said. “They are looking at me and expecting me to be there to serve them.”
Grape Witches manager Lorein Codiamat said she too has experienced these micro-attacks and prejudices during her long career in the food and wine industry as a waiter, wine expert in the field and as a as manager.
Codiamat says that as a woman of color, clients question her craftsmanship.
“There is an immediate suspicion as to whether or not you know what you are talking about,” she said.
Even the way most people learn to speak and experience wine through established education programs can be culturally charged and Eurocentric, she said.
My palate is very different from a white palate. – Lorein Codiamat, manager of Grape Witches
“I don’t know what sandalwood looks like and tastes like. I know it now, but I haven’t done it for a very long time. But I know what is the equivalent in my lived experience,” said Codiamat.
“Just because you don’t know what gooseberries taste like… you can still talk about a wine critically. You just have different sensory experiences.”
WATCH | Dayle tells the story of wine differently:
At Grape Witches, Codiamat has made every effort to make it a safe space for customers who do not have classical wine education or who have difficulty pronouncing the names on the bottles.
“It’s not just rich whites who want to drink wine. Everyone loves wine. That’s why wine has been around for thousands of years,” Codiamat said.
The problem, Codiamat said, is that only the tastes and interests of whites are valued in the wine industry.
“My palate is very different from a white man’s palate. And what I want to drink in wine is very different.”
Doris Miculan-Bradley teaches aspiring sommeliers at George Brown College in Toronto. She says that while there are significant financial hurdles, the student body of the program is diversifying and this will force the established wine world to change.
“If changes aren’t happening in our industry, if we think we’re irrelevant right now, get ready because the next generation isn’t going to take it,” Miculan-Bradley said.
At Grape Witches, change starts with what they put on the shelves. The shop tries to bring in wines from countries that were not part of the first colonial trade routes that popularized wines from France, Italy and Spain.
“What we consider to be the best grapes are, of course, influenced by political and social factors in the 17th and 18th and 19th and 20th centuries,” Campbell said.
Patience is not synonymous with complacency – Jaby Dayle, wine student
Decolonizing wine is not about devaluing traditionally expensive wines from countries such as Burgundy, Bordeaux or Barolo, she said.
“It’s… wondering if a wine from western Slovakia or Greece or all those other regions that have these rich and long histories shouldn’t also be able to command the same prices”, a- she declared.
For Dayle, decolonizing wine also means thinking more about who works in the vineyards rather than who is the face of the wines when they are marketed.
“It is white in the chateaux or the tasting rooms. But if you enter the vineyards, it is passing people, blacks and browns who sell the grapes, who know these sites intimately.”
To ask questions
The Grape Witches are preparing to award their second scholarship to a black candidate.
Dayle says that if people want to support change in the industry, they can start by asking where the wine they buy comes from and whether the people who work in the wineries are getting a fair wage. For example, the Seven Sisters of South Africa are black owned and run by women of color who have also started a foundation for abused women.
In Ontario, CAPS launched a survey to capture the numbers of diversity in the province. Another group of wine industry professionals, Vinequite, whose mission is to support diversity, has also started offering scholarships and professional development opportunities.
Dayle is optimistic the industry can change.
“I hope that changes more, that it’s not just, well, the browns pick the fruit and the whites make the money.”
Dayle is already part of this change. In May, they started a new business that distributes small wine tasting packs so people who can’t afford an entire bottle can still taste the expensive wine.
“Wine has taught me a little patience,” Dayle said, “but that patience doesn’t mean complacency, so there’s a lot of work to be done.”