Why African Americans Don't Flock to Wine Tastings

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I don’t know how many wine tastings and wine events that I have been to, nor how many times that I have sampled a wine that wasn’t something that I have tried before, but I do know one thing, and that is in many times I am there alone.

It’s not like I am physically alone, because there are a ton of other people there, but most, if not all, of them are different from me because they are not African American.Now, while this is a little unsettling, it sets the purvey for many African Americans not to attend these types of events, especially if there is no one there for them to connect with… and the first thing that we look for is someone that looks like us.

America has been a bastion of racism, elitism and separation on so many levels, that it has imbued many of its inhabitants with generations old beliefs and ideals, which keep the separation going, but if there is one arena that should allow people to connect, it should be in the world of drinking.

When people drink, they usually loosen up somewhat, and in that widening gap between the scale of emotional [and other] armor that they have, is the chance to meet someone and talk to them, and perhaps connect over a joke, an observation, or a story that unites people in small or in part.

I still remember my first wine tasting, which was a benefit for the Big Brothers [and perhaps Big Sisters] organization(s) of Philadelphia/Delaware Valley.It was atop the Mellon Bank Center at the Pyramid Club.I can’t remember how I heard about it, but I did have someone to search out while I was there [who in the future turned me on to some other venues and experiences].While there, I was again (no surprise), the only African American there outside of the people that worked there.But while experiencing wines not familiar to me, I was able to connect with a couple of the presenters.One of them turned me on to Chenin Blanc wines, and also a very good Madeira.He also schooled me to the fact that when returning for another taste, to also take another sample for “my friend.”I spent much of the night joshing with the brother who ran one of the carving stations, because I needed some camaraderie of someone that I could connect with.By the end of the night, I was able to bring home a bottle of Chenin because the presenter appreciated both my humor and admiration of the vintage.It was at a later event, the Red Ball of 2002 where I was only one of four African Americans present, where I would run into that presenter again; we couldn’t figure out how we knew each other, but then he said, “chenin blanc,” and it all fell into place.

This past Friday, I was at a wine tasting, and again, was the only African American there, and it all became self-evident why we [African Americans] don’t attend wine events.The answer is not only the combination of the lack of other African Americans there, the way that many wine tastings are run, the people there, but also the perception of wine in this country.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t add the fact that because of the legacy of slavery and the constants of racism, the typical African American is reticent to embrace anything associated with “white” culture.Things that could be associated with this would be rock music, ballet, opera and classical music.And I must admit, ballet doesn’t get any respect from me, nor does classical music.However, I do have a background in music and in dance, so I can easily refute those styles and back it up.And while I might not be a [current] fan of opera, there is Leontyne Price, Paul Robeson and a number of other African Americans who are classically trained.And was I not moved by my good friend Barbara Purnell signing classically at her wedding that I shed a tear or two?And what about Jimmy Hendricks, and Living Colour?When I first heard them, I was like, “damn them white boys can play?”I was also chagrined and shocked to find out that they were African American like me.

In this society, we African Americans have lost the tendency to become explorers.Matthew Henson reached the north pole, but there are few of us that will just cross the street and go into that other restaurant or club and see what it has to offer, just because we see it as “white” or too white.And I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t go to certain spots, because of it’s clientele, or more aptly, the mood of it’s clientele.

Now let me explain this a little better.I have been that Black person who walks into a bar of nothing but white people, and it gets silent.But as soon as I sit down and order my drink, everything goes back to normal.And in many cases, I have been the only African American at charity and non-profit events, and outside of connecting with a few people, have been bored out of my mind senseless.I even wound up getting nominated to the executive board of the Young Friends of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of the University of Pennsylvania simply because while I attended their events, I complained about how boring it was (note to all, they finally had some notably fun events when I either brought in a DJ friend, or a jazz band).I have “survived” a ton of these events, despite the fact that the entertainment was geared towards 40-50 something white people and it was the epitome of a band typical of their weddings.How many times must I hear songs such as “Play that Funky Music White Boy” and “I Will Survive?”And I do not want to go to nightclub, in which the clientele is predominantly white, and they are playing nothing but techno and/or pop and everyone is just sitting around, talking bull and calling that a good time.

Now, let me rope it all in.Understanding this, we African Americans would go out to events if there was at least someone else there that we could connect with, to band together and survive the ordeal together.In the training of combat swimmers, you are roped to a buddy, and in summation, some of these events really war on your spirit.

Expanding that, and not focused on the entertainment, there comes the attitude of wine in this country and the people adhering to it.Only in America is the consumption of wine so glamorized and polarized to the point of separating people.If you go to any other country/continent, all types of people drink wine, and all types of people make wine.In fact, one of the factors that got me back into drinking red wines was something made by a “connected” paisan.However, wine has been something that has been made into something it’s not, where the best wines must be referred to by name and year [and some other information] and must cost as much as some people make in a week, or at least half a week.

And while a salesman is a marketer, and has to present some spiel that makes what they are presenting sound like a summer in the Caribbean, what turns us off more than anything else is the people that gobble it up.

In all things, there are levels to everything, and there are people at different levels.However, in America, it seems that people try to put on airs, and prance around a certain way to make their wine knowledge and experience place them in a position of splendor, grandeur and sophistication that is not.

So, while I was at this event, I saw some of the most fake, punk-ass, rootie-poot, pie-back, soft-shoe people that I could find outside of a country club.At least the people who inhabit a lot of country clubs were raised with certain attitudes, but these were the people who didn’t grow up [for the most part] any better than me.

Again, I am not a foodie, an epicurean, or a gourmand, but I have had several chefs in my life baby.I am an African American, and I am lactose intolerant, so outside of cheddar cheese which I might eat in cubes, or in macaroni and cheese, and pizza or stromboli made from standard cheese mixes, I don’t want your mini quiche, fancy cheeses or baked brie.

So, in between speaking with the importer/distributor/salesperson of the wines from Portugal that he brought, I sat back and while I tasted, and snacked, I watched the people around me.Outside of the Asian girl that said “hi” to me, at no point did anyone else make any attempt to start up a conversation with me.And in this case, it was fine.As I surveyed the peoplescape, I came up with a bunch of people that I would never want to share a life raft with.There was the guy who definitely needed to join a fight club that chewed his food probably twenty chews too long; he reminded me of the gay brother in Wedding Crashers.There were the fifty something guys there who probably came to meet women.And then there were the vacuous women who smiled too damned much and probably didn’t have much substance.Oh, and on of these babes needed to actually wear a belt and stop pulling up her pants where her love handles started to show.

This thing lacked soul.And you can’t have us there if there is no soul.So, it’s a wash.It was evident with that.It was kind of like being trapped in an episode of Full House.

Now the reality is that African Americans spend almost 800 billion a year on consumer goods, and in that, there is at least 6% spent on alcoholic beverages.If you want us to buy, you’ve gotta attract us.The major problem in this is that many wineries are also owner by larger companies such as Brown-Forman and Diageo, which also push liquors and spirits.If they don’t get us one way, they will another.

So, my goal is to do some wine tastings with soul and flavor.Not only presenting you with a good ambience vis-à-vis an aural experience that you like, but also pairing it with foods that you like and will consume on a regular basis.I mean, when is the next time that you’ll cook baked Brie?

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