It’s no secret that the wine industry exudes an air of exclusivity. Sometimes it can feel like a club you don’t know the password to, an invite-only experience, or an inside joke you missed.
Imagine the feeling you get when you walk through the wine aisle, overwhelmed by the hieroglyph labels and wide assortment. Or the nervous feeling you get before attempting to pronounce that fancy bottle on the wine menu. Now imagine adding an additional barrier to this already chilled (borderline cold) welcome.
The sad reality is that for non-white wine drinkers, it can be very difficult to permeate this exclusive wine culture. Getting into wine is a challenge, and Black mentors are rare gems in the industry. Attending tastings, workshops, classes and events and noticing the significant absence of others who look like you can feel intimidating at best, and alienating at worst.
At Bright Cellars, we’re determined to democratize and diversify the wine world, one wine box at a time. This Juneteenth, we’re encouraging our readers to support good intention with real action - shopping Black-owned wineries, sharing the stories of Black professionals within the wine world, and rejecting this culture of exclusivity on behalf of the future generation of wine drinkers.
Mason Washington @leliyg_wine
Teaching Wine Through Song
Mason is where wine and music meet. He’s a wine connoisseur living in North Carolina with a knack for making wine approachable and fun for everyone. Known for his wine and music pairings, Mason teaches wine through song lyrics. Rather than dissecting flavor notes, he’ll pick a specific wine and let an R&B, rap, or hip hop song tell the story of the bottle.
“It’s really a work of art,” he says. “It’s amazing how much lyrics can speak about the wine and bring out the producer, grape, terroir, etc.”
While he’s received formal wine training, Mason would rather talk candidly about wine than talk certifications. We’ll raise a glass to that. Teaching wine through song lyrics has gotten him on the music map, and he’s collaborated with various artists over the years. Mason’s involvement in the wine industry has also led him to a greater appreciation for his German heritage. Never underestimate a glass of German Riesling!
He’s already a hot-shot in the wine and music industry, and we can’t wait to see where his wine journey will take him next. Check out Mason’s wine and music pairings, and toast to a personal mantra we can all get behind LELIYG: Live Everyday Like It’s Your Glass.
Shaunna Cooper & Shayla Smith
Two Sisters. One Vision. Decant the Experience.
What’s as strong as the bond between sisters? A love of wine! Sisters Shaunna Cooper and Shayla Smith are the lovely ladies who made Wine Spencer a reality. The sisters’ newest initiative is a wine club where members receive themed wine shipments and wines from smaller boutique wineries typically not found at your larger retailer.
At the end of the day, the goal is to introduce new wines and grape varietals that inspire wine novices and connoisseurs to appreciate wine in new ways. While there are many wine clubs on the market, the Spencer sisters’ unique focus on under-represented minorities (Black, Hispanic, Female-owned etc.) makes them a clear standout in the market.
Since launching Wine Spencer and hosting virtual wine tastings, the sisters have learned there is a widely held misconception that you have to know everything about wine in order to drink it.
“People often don't know much about Vodka, Cognac, or Whiskey, and they still enjoy it. We always emphasize that you don't have to know everything about wine to enjoy it, just enough to know what suits your palate.”
We can’t wait to support these dynamic sisters on their path to success! Follow along for updates on their new wine club.
Tish Wiggins @tisharoundtown
Where Food, Wine, Spirits & Travel Meet!
Tish Wiggins is a Fintech consultant by day and a wine educator and event curator by night. One conversion with Tish and it’s obvious she’s passionate about taking wine education to the next level. Her sparkling personality and passion for curating unique ‘sip and socialize’ experiences make her an unmistakable leader in the wine industry.
In Tish’s eyes, wine education is essential, but it should also be approachable, welcoming, interactive, and fun! As things start to open back up, we’d like to congratulate Tish on launching her “What's on the Vine: Wine Tasting & Education” series in Dallas, TX. These classes jumpstart attendees’ wine journey with a unique experience full of swirling, sipping, socializing, and learning the ins and outs of wine culture.
You can tune into Tish’s wine experiences by following along with her blog and social media presence, Tish Around Town.
Oscar "SeatPocket" Seaton Jr. @seatpocketwines
One World, One Rhythm, One Wine
Oscar “SeatPocket" Seaton Jr. is the mastermind behind SeatPocket Wines, a wine label that caters to wine novices and aficionados alike.
A musician by trade, SeatPocket began playing the drums for the same reason he enjoys drinking wine - it brings people together and gets them tapping their toes. SeatPocket Wines embodies this essence to a tee.
When assembling a band, you’d be on the lookout for musicians who have the best sound, the best vibe, and fit in the scale of the overall goal for the group. When hiring people for his wine label, SeatPocket looks for similar traits.
Perhaps most notable, he actively creates opportunities for those who may not have ordinarily had a chance to work with wine labels.
“I’ve found that by helping more people find work in the wine industry, we can break down barriers and make the industry more diverse,” says SeatPocket.
When we give back and help others get a start in the wine industry, we begin to change the landscape and experience success. He follows a simple formula that has proved successful over the years, “In order to do well, do good by others.” Cheers to SeatPocket Wines!
Will Hightower @cuveeconcierge
Chicago Wine Concierge, At Your Service
Will Hightower is a wine educator and consultant who’s passionate about bringing value to wine lovers, no matter their level of experience.
Will has been in the wine industry for about five years, and currently holds a level 2 WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) certification with distinction. As Will says, he’s “thirsty.” We assumed he meant for another glass of vino, but turns out he’s on the hunt for much more.
“As I learn more about wine, I discover there’s always more to learn,” he says. “I’m thirsty for more knowledge to share with those around me.”
Will is currently building a wine concierge service that offers a range of valuable wine experiences, educational opportunities, and custom collections. This service offers in-person wine tastings where wine lovers can learn about artisanal wine from small family owned vineyards while having fun in an unpretentious environment. Members also get access to a wine club that provides bespoke wine services, catered specifically to the member.
Wine dinners are also in the works as they partner with restaurants around the city of Chicago to educate about food and wine pairings. As if all of that isn’t enough, the concierge service will also provide sommelier programs to train wait staff and restaurant owners.
Chicago won’t know what hit ‘em! Show Will some love by following along as he brings accessible wine concierge services to the Chicago area.
In Vino Finito
As we honor Juneteenth - a day meant to acknowledge the hardships Black individuals have endured in this country and celebrate the joyful culture and freedom that has persisted in the face of those hardships - we must remember that every day is an opportunity to work closer toward equality.
We encourage you to listen intently to the stories and experiences of your Black peers… perhaps over a glass of wine! Support these influential wine professionals by showing them some love on social media and sharing their stories.