Lydia Richards & Maria Calvert founded Hispanics in Wine in September 2020. This nonprofit helps Hispanics receive the education, financial support, and tools they need to become vintners or sommeliers in the wine industry. They’ve been hosting the LatinX Wine Summit for the past two years. Richards is a sommelier who grew up in Panama. She lived in New York City, California, for 12 years before moving there. Wine Enthusiast published her 40 Under 40 issue in 2021. In this edition, Richards speaks to Garin Pirnia on the growing representation of Latinx in the wine industry. She also discusses the importance of tasting Latinx wines and the need to continue certain conversations.
The wine industry was difficult to break into. It’s hard to become a sommelier. You have to do a lot, study a great deal, and remember a whole lot. The financial aspect of becoming a sommelier is also a challenge. You need a small amount of money for wine certifications. You need to have the money to purchase all of these bottles so you can taste them and learn about wine. This is a field that’s dominated by white people, at least in the U.S.
As a result, things are improving. Many organizations offer scholarships to people of color, such as The Roots Fund. Batonnage Forum focuses on women working in the wine industry. These women are creating communities and ensuring that the wine industry is more inclusive.
Don’t just stop with Hispanic Heritage Month. Continue to support beyond that. Buy a bottle of wine from a Latinx-owned winery, and let us know what you think.
Many people have told me that they didn’t realize there were Latinos who make wine. Or, “I didn’t know there were so few women winemakers in Santa Barbara.” And these Latinx winemakers and vintners have been working for a short time. It was more about having the platform and being visible. Marketing and PR budgets are not common in the wine business. The overheads are high. It’s difficult to allocate budgets. The field is so competitive that it’s hard to stand out and gain the visibility you need to attract more customers and educate people about your brand.
We don’t have many people to help us. This will also inspire the next generation to want to work in wine. Was this something I wanted to do? It’s not for me. It seems more for those who have grown up with the Eurocentric mentality that “Oh, this is where wine comes.” Being from Panama, we do not make wine. Many people say, “Oh, wine isn’t for me,” but I truly believe that wine is for everyone. Everyone interested can enjoy it.
Everyone has their style and spin on it. Many Latinx winemakers have told me that they want to make something that their friends or communities can enjoy. They really hone in on their heritage, pairing it with things like pozole or empanadas. We love this product, no matter how we got here. And we want to share that love and passion with our community.
We drink so many wines from Chile and Argentina. South America has a huge wine-producing region. Even in terms of quantity, we are just as involved as other countries. There’s a weird cultural disconnect with our food and customs that we are trying to overcome. We can certainly incorporate wine into our lifestyle in a healthy, balanced manner.
“It’s really difficult to be Hispanic in the wine industry or Black in these communities. How can we stop this discussion? How can we improve the lives of others by allowing them to access this industry?
It’s important to visit these places and speak to the winemakers. You shouldn’t just search for Latin wines to look at or just because Latin people produce them. You could go to their place and listen. Talk to them. You can ask them why they created that label. We’re all different. It’s not going to be a blanket, like a pinata-in-a-tasting-room-type of thing. Everyone is passionate about wine, and we come from all different backgrounds. Wine is a great conversation starter.
The conversations about injustices have been going on for a long time, but they were always smaller. The pandemic triggered us all, the entire world, to start talking. We are already here, and I’m curious to see what happens next. It’s hard to be Hispanic in the wine industry or Black in these communities. We have good visibility now. What’s next, then? How can we keep this conversation going? How can we improve the lives of other people and give them access to the industry?
We are still trying to answer those questions. But [the solutions] lie in continuing the conversation in order to get more people involved with the industry. Also, we need to look out for scholarships and financial assistance programs and build networks as a collective community. We make sure to let them know that they are seen and heard.
Hispanic Heritage Month may be wonderful, but it’s not the end of your support. Keep supporting Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond. Buy a bottle of a Latinx-made wine, and let us know what you think. Why not visit California if you are planning a wine vacation? Do your research. Check out the wines of a Latinx or a smaller winemaker. As a consumer, I find these things important. You can leave an impression on many people if you do this throughout the year.