(TORONTO, CANADA) – A group of seven wine professionals have come together to form Vinequity, Canada’s first and only online directory of BIPOC (*Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) people to identify, acknowledge and elevate the presence and importance of diversity in our country’s wine industry. This coalition is a response to the June 2020 death of George Floyd and is in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The seven founders, all of whom are female and BIPOC, wanted to establish an organization that would highlight the current BIPOC members of the industry, with the purpose of giving hope and creating opportunities for other people of colour who may have, like them, faced more challenges and barriers to entering the industry than their white counterparts. “Often, we have no other choice but to create our own professional opportunities and businesses,” says Black entrepreneur Chanile Vines, co-founder of Vinequity and owner of Ontario import agency Vines Play. “In theory that might be brave and accomplishing but it is also incredibly difficult and feeds into the isolation Black people face in the wine industry.”
Vinequity is set up as a federally incorporated not-for-profit that will seek to raise scholarship funds to award to marginalized individuals across the country who wish to increase their professional wine education. Their goal for Year One is to raise $50,000 to benefit approximately 25 individuals, with the assistance and official endorsement of all five Master Sommeliers (MS) in Canada, as well as Independent Wine Education Guild (IWEG), a national provider of the internationally recognized Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and Wine Scholar Guild (WSG) designations.
Élyse Lambert, a Master Sommelier based in Montreal, Quebec, and World’s 5th Best Sommelier 2016, states, “The period we live in has truly made us question our relations with others and with our community. In the desire for more inclusion and in wanting to support the BIPOC community in the most fair and equitable way, we five Canadian master sommeliers have chosen to partner with Vinequity, hoping to make our industry more open, diverse and inclusive. We appreciate the time and effort invested by Vinequity to try to give everybody an equal chance of achieving their dreams.”
“This partnership with Vinequity is an important action towards increasing access to education for communities currently underserved in wines, spirits and sake education programs,” adds Paul Miles, Executive Director at IWEG. “Our globally-recognized qualifications add credibility and recognition within the industry and build the knowledge and confidence required for a career in beverage alcohol. We look forward to working with Vinequity to ensuring that people who identify as BIPOC have the opportunity to start or advance their education journey and achieve their professional and personal goals.”
Carrie Rau, co-founder of Vinequity, corporate chef and WSET Diploma graduate based in Toronto, Ontario, attests to the high costs of pursuing official certification in wine. “I needed to work multiple jobs over the past five years to gather the financial resources to pursue my wine education,” Rau states. “Time and money were definitely the biggest barriers to overcome to further develop my career. The WSET Diploma program is very academically rigorous. The balancing act required to maintain financial health while juggling my schedule between work, school and family life was a huge challenge,” she adds, underlining the importance of these scholarships.
In addition to the online directory and scholarship fund, Vinequity’s third major priority is to provide advocacy and support for marginalized individuals (including BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and persons with disabilities) facing barriers to entry or advancement in their sector of the wine industry. One example is the rights and compensation of Caribbean and Mexican vineyard and cellar workers, hired through Canada’s federal Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.
“As the COVID-19 crisis has clearly demonstrated, migrant workers working on Ontario farms (including many vineyard workers) have been disproportionately affected through crowded living arrangements and lack of distancing measures in place,” says Vinequity co-founder Dr. Nupur Gogia, who completed her doctoral dissertation on the topic of migrant workers in Canadian agriculture and co-authored a book on immigration in Canada, “This is no surprise given the ongoing exploitation of farm workers inherent in Canada’s temporary worker program.”
Vinequity recently launched their website, www.vinequity.ca, and welcomes all individuals who identify as BIPOC to register their profiles into the public online directory. Interested scholarship participants, potential donors and marketing partners are also encouraged to contact any one of Vinequity’s co-founders through the website to learn more.
ABOUT VINEQUITY: Vinequity is a federally incorporated not-for-profit organization founded by seven female wine professionals of colour. The organization has three main objectives: (1) to host a public online directory of Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) in the Canadian wine industry; (2) to raise scholarship funds and award them to BIPOC applicants wishing to further their wine industry careers in Canada; and (3) to provide advocacy, resources and support to marginalized people who have experienced barriers to advancing within Canada’s wine community.