Like most of the world, friends and business partners Teron Stevenson and Khalil Kinsey watched in disbelief as Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd. Simonne Mitchelson and Justin Trabue were also heartbroken. The hurt was compounded by the deafening silence from the industry they both worked in and loved. Unwilling to remain silent, Mitchelson and Trabue used their voices as Black women to write an open letter addressing the longstanding microaggressions and racism rooted in the wine industry.
Eric Bach, founder of LA-based Good Boy Wine, felt compelled to step up, too. He reached out to Cameron and Marlen Porter, husband-and-wife winemakers and owners of Santa Maria's Amplify Wines, in hopes of assembling a team to address the issue directly. Cam contacted Kinsey, a general manager and curator of the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection, and Stevenson, a partner in two Los Angeles-area wine bars, the Friend and the Little Friend. Mitchelson, Trabue, and Katie Workinger, a movie costumer and intern at Good Boy Wine, rounded out the group.
"We all got on a Zoom call, became fast friends, and had a brainstorming session," recalls Stevenson. "We agreed that we wanted to do more than just hand over a donation to Black Lives Matter."
They wanted to hold the wine industry accountable for the lack of diversity and equality given to people of color. More conversations ensued, and last June, the group launched the non-profit startup, Natural Action Wine Club (NAWC), that combines their love for natural wines and desire to promote diversity in the industry.
Through partnerships with winemakers, wine professionals, and educational entities, NAWC seeks to provide direct channels of support and resources to BIPOC pursuing careers in wine. They work exclusively with natural winemakers who are committed to fostering diversity and inclusivity within their own companies and the industry as a whole; actively providing job opportunities or internships; ethically treating farm workers; and practicing sustainable farming methods that use organic and/or biodynamic grapes, no harsh pesticides, and minimal intervention.
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NAWC Members receive four exclusive bottles of wine on a quarterly basis from four unique natural winemakers, at an annual cost of $600. The shipments generally arrive in April, June, September, and November, and the proceeds go towards education, internships, and career support for BIPOC interested in the wine industry. The startup is also answering the need for a broader awareness and appreciation of African American history, art, culture, contribution, and achievement through a partnership with the Kinsey Art Collection.
"Khalil and the Kinsey family's involvement not only gives us beautiful art for the bottle's labels, but it's also important because it brings a wealth of knowledge within the art and history world, and historical educational moments to share with our subscribers," says Stevenson. Adds Khalil: "The labels in the inaugural shipment featured the art of Samuel L. Dunson called 'The Cultivators,' a piece that we felt perfectly represents Natural Action and our educational approach."
Their impact is already making a difference. Trabue, an assistant winemaker at Heitz Cellar, will have an eponymous Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre blend debut in NAWC's upcoming shipment. And a BIPOC scholarship that Mitchelson (who is South Coast Estate manager a Jackson Family Wines) created at Trabue's alma mater, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo's College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, has already identified its first recipient. The group is also in talks to partner with international winemakers, and they're eyeing historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to bring them into the wine world.
"Scholarship, internship, and job opportunities are wonderful, but our goal is to take it even further than that. We are on a mission to create wine owners," says Stevenson, who co-founded the Westside Winos collective with Kinsey. "That's where real equity lives."
For more information on Natural Action Wine Club, or to become a winemaker partner, visit www.naturalaction.org