Unless Real Life™ butts in – as it undoubtedly will – 2016 promises to be a certification bonanza year for me.

February will see me finally tackling the Certified Specialist of Wine award and WSET3 Advanced in September.  I’m currently with a study group made up of folks who plan to go to the next level – a couple to Introductory, Intro to Certified, and several Certified to Advanced. The bar is set high in this group because they’re working in the industry, and I’m reveling in the knowledge that they have to share. This means that this will be the year that I successfully complete my Certified Sommelier exam.

Esquire Network new original series, UNCORKED
Study scene from the TV series, Uncorked.

These were my plans (more or less) in 2014, but those old nemeses, The Schedule™ and Real Life™ both took me out. In 2015 I traveled and did a lot more family things and began to prepare a schedule for 2016.

Some of my friends think I’m a lunatic.  I’m good with that. It’s probably true. But trust me, there’s a method to my madness.

In 2014 I wrote an article about the issues I’d run into regarding race. I had sent the article to the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference panel discussion/critique, and somehow they hadn’t received it. During the panel session I pointed that out and one of the panel members took a copy of it (which I, fortunately, had with me) and I never saw or heard from anyone again.

Okay.

Here’s a couple of paragraphs that I wrote in that particular post:

I have been reading several articles on the necessity (or not) of wine certifications and credentials. After all, many of them argue, the likes of people like Robert Parker, for instance, don’t have certifications. They do quite well. Plus there are many people working as sommeliers in fine restaurants and who have never taken a class. (As a matter of fact, I know a young man who works as a sommelier and has no certifications at all. But he’s outstanding.) Most wine writers don’t have any certifications, and many of them are very well respected. So therefore, they reason, certifications are not necessary for anyone. Just do it.

I am an African-American woman “of a certain age” who decided to make wine a post-retirement career. While having a certification may not be altogether necessary for the average person, in order for me to have credibility, I feel that certifications are more than a necessity. Otherwise, why should anyone take me seriously? And won’t that give them a reason to dismiss me and my knowledge? While I am expecting a certain professional respect for the work and the knowledge that I’ve worked so hard to earn, the fact of the matter is that there are people in places of power (i.e., hiring) who won’t care how many certifications I have. Their answer will always be no. Ask me how I know.

It’s easy to start feeling sorry for yourself when you think you’re alone and being picked on. However, a few months ago I learned about a project that’s being carried out in Oregon and it instantly got my attention.

Betony Faustin, Abbey Creek
Betony Faustin, Abbey Creek

Bertony Faustin, the proprietor/winemaker at Abbey Creek Vineyard and Winery, is a black man who originally hails from Haiti. He loves wine and decided to become the winemaker on his in-laws property in Oregon. Oregon is generally considered to be a bastion of political liberality, but Bertony found himself running up against quite a few barriers, not the least of which was the blank looks he received when he told people that yes, indeed, he is a winemaker. In fact, even though he may be pouring the wine behind the bar, he is *the* winemaker.

“But you’re black.”

{{sigh}}

As a result of the pockets of discrimination and disbelief (and probably a few other “disses” in there as well) Bertony decided to begin a Kickstarter in order to tell the world some of the obstacles faced by minorities in the wine world.

Bertony is magnanimous – he realized that the issue didn’t stop with black winemakers, but also with winemakers who are Hispanic, female, and other marginalized groups. The name of the project is Red, White & Black – an Oregon Wine Story. He will be showcasing several “different” winemakers in Oregon, and it will be a surprise to many to find out who they are.

I contacted Bertony directly because this project really spoke to me. Our email correspondence was encouraging but initially a little disappointing. That’s because at this time he is primarily focused on Oregon but realizes that there are issues in each wine region. Depending upon the response to the movie when it’s finally finished, he may take a look outside of Oregon and in other wine areas other than winemaking/wineries.

So we get back to the topic of my post, The Color of Wine.

So many of my friends – who are color-blind, bless them – ask me why I’m pushing so hard to get these certifications. Women – especially women of color – will understand the saying, “You have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good.”  Since I have seen no women of color who are my age striving for certifications, I feel that especially keenly. Are they absent because they’re just not interested or because they got tired of the fight? Maybe they think that just because they are older women of color, they may not be taken seriously so why try?

Two words: Earned Credibility.

WSET Logo
WSET Logo

Having those post-nominals after your name is huge, and ends any argument as to whether you know your shit.  At the end of 2016 I fully plan to have CSW, CWE, CS, WSET3 (depending, of course, upon the ever-complaining Budget™ and The Day Job™) at the end of my name. Then no one, save a Master of Wine or Master Sommelier or two, can challenge my ability or my knowledge.

That said, that doesn’t mean that when they look at me, they won’t form their own opinions about my age and skin color and I could be left out in the wine world equivalent of Siberia. Credentials be damned.

Don’t get me wrong; my day-to-day interactions with folks in the wine trade have been terrific and I *feel* the respect once we get started talking about/tasting/studying wine. They know I know my shit and that I’m open to learning when I don’t.

I’m a scrapper so I’m ready for battle.

 

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