Full-bodied, Powerfully Sophisticated, and Distinctly African: Jennifer White, the Founder of Roots & Vines Wine
Americans love wine. Globally, not only are we the top buyers, but we're also the top drinkers. In 2018 we spent $14.4 billion and consumed 33 million hectoliters of wine—nearly 15% of the global total. One hectoliter is 26 gallons alone! With costs ranging from $2 to up to the thousands for a single bottle, and flavor profiles just as extensive, you can bet there is something for everyone.
While the vast majority of the American wine industry has broadly excluded Black people, there's no denying that the Black demographic has made a strong impact on the wine and spirits market. Ciroc, Hennessey, Hypnotiq, Cristal, and Moscato are just a handful of wine and spirits brands that have all benefitted greatly. When Jennifer White, the San Diego-based founder of Roots & Vines Wine Trading Co., visited South Africa's world-renowned vineyards in 2018, she noticed this glaring disparity and decided to do something about it.
Originally, White admits she didn't know much about wine. "I was a Two-Buck Chuck wine drinker," she shares, referencing the grocery retailer Trader Joes' bargain-priced wine. "That's not a real wine drinker, right?" It was while visiting South Africa's majestic Winelands; however, where she learned about the hidden horrors of producing one of the country's hottest commodities. The working conditions were abhorrent, the pay was less than the minimum wage, and the labor was backbreaking and exhaustive. In short, these were slavery conditions. "I came across the story of the women, and that just compelled me to act," White shared.
"Our particular mission is to really open up the $70 billion US wine market for Black South African women. The whole world knows that the US is the largest consumer market in the world, so everyone wants their products in America, because we 'buy buy buy buy buy!" White explains. Because American-based, minority-owned wine companies already have access to these vital resources and markets, White believes Roots & Vines Wine's efforts are best served abroad. That said, there is no love lost to those Black winemakers in her own backyard. "We know Black [American] women in wine and we love and support all of them."
Roots & Vines Wine dually benefits women winemakers in South Africa, being careful to ensure a generous business model, as well as the Roots & Vines investment pool, which is comprised exclusively of American Black women. A proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., White found it essential to provide economic empowerment tools for those in her community searching for ways to make a difference. "We want to really demonstrate a model for collective investment, not just in America but also with Africa," White shared. "Our money goes so much farther in Africa; it just multiplies. We wanted to tap into that market."
“When you think of wine, we (Roots & Vines Wine) want you to think of #blackgirlmagic. We want to have such a presence that you don't think of a French man when you think about wine; you think of a Black woman.”
Over the last ten years, White has made countless trips to the Motherland and witnessed firsthand the strong lineage, healing arts, and extensive community ties that bound herself to the people she met. The name "Roots & Vines" was inspired by this. "We went through a process of creating a name that was really meaningful to us, that connected us to this project, and really reaffirmed why we believed in this project to begin with," she reflected. "Making a connection between Africa and African-Americans when most of our investors have not been to Africa yet was important." She further elaborated. "The vines represent us as African-Americans. We grew out of the root that came from Africa. Right! Our root is not in America; our root is African. We wanted to be clear about that," she firmly stated.
In addition to connecting South African wineries to American customers, it is White's hope that the exchange doesn't stop there. "Our LLC is named Roots & Vines Trading Company," she says, adding extra emphasis to the tail end. "We did that because we didn't want to be pigeonholed into wine. We want to be available to connect products that come from Africa with the market in America." Through her partnership with SISTERcircle, another organization she founded that organizes trips for Black women to visit Ghana, White has formed a strong network of African-based artisans and entrepreneurs to make this possible. "SISTERcircle really connects Black women around the world through healing arts and entrepreneurship, so it's through that journey and connecting that the idea has evolved," she gushed. "I'll say, it gives us the space to travel, to heal, to grow, to do business, and to support each other as we do this."
While 2020 has presented its share of COVID-related challenges, White is optimistic about the future and new opportunities to connect Americans with the wine she loves so much. A subscription-based wine club, wine classes, and more procurement trips to the Motherland are all at the top of her agenda. For now, she focuses her efforts on her website (rootsandvineswine.com), where her wine is sold directly to consumers. "When you think of wine, we want you to think of #blackgirlmagic. We want to have such a presence that you don't think of a French man when you think about wine; you think of a Black woman."