Monday, June 15, 2020

Four Black Gallo Employees Talk About Racism and Progress in the Wine Industry

Last week I had a conversation with four black Gallo employees. It's remarkable that it happened.

First, as I say during the conversation, Gallo is extremely media-shy. I have been not working with them on stories for years. It usually goes like this: I send them questions, and their PR staff very politely declines to answer. They have lightened up some in the last decade, but I have asked for certain interviews for years (Hi, Gina Gallo, my phone line is always open) and always been rebuffed.

Second, the way that it happened. Gallo put out a statement about Black Lives Matter. I thought it was just another feel-good statement like other big companies were making, so I wrote this on Twitter:

I  followed up with an email to an unnamed Gallo PR rep so that he knew I was serious. It was a public call-out, but I was serious, and the rep -- I have to refer to him in the transcript, and he wouldn't let me give him a nickname even though I offered Mr. Big, Tiger Shark and SeƱor Sensational, so let's just use the acronym UGPR -- also took it seriously. He asked for volunteers within the company, and he came up with four. He sent me their CVs so I knew who I would be talking to.

UGPR sat in on and recorded the 5-way conversation, which I am grateful for because I learned I don't type fast enough. I promised not to publish the video, and I don't regret this because people speak differently when they know they might be seen later. I wanted something more casual, where everyone could express whatever they wanted to.

We spoke for 54 minutes. I debated on how to edit the transcript and then just decided to run the whole thing. There's a fair amount of pro-Gallo PR, but maybe Gallo deserves it. I talk to a lot of people in the wine industry and I hear a lot of things I never dream of publishing. What I don't hear is people who worked for Gallo, complaining about Gallo. People at wineries that Gallo has bought generally seem happy with how they have been treated. And specifically in the case of creating the Gallo African American Network (GAAN), which you will read a lot about in the transcript, Gallo does deserve praise.

One thing that occurred to me when we talked about Gallo's marketing outreach is this: Maybe Gallo is taking these marketing initiatives simply because it's a good way to sell more wine. Because reaching out to black consumers is simply good practice to make money.

And then I thought, well, if it's simply good marketing practice, why don't all companies do more of it? Businesses can learn a lot from Gallo.

That, in fact, has probably been a factor behind Gallo's decades-long avoidance of the press. They don't want to share their secrets for success. And Gallo has always been successful: it's the world's largest wine company, and has successfully moved from the bottom shelf to the top, with purchases such as Stagecoach Vineyard in Napa and Talbott Vineyards on the Central Coast. Gallo dominates the U.S. Prosecco market with La Marca. They turned Barefoot into the biggest brand in the world. It's a big company and they're doing a lot of things right that they don't want to tell you about.

But they decided they do want to tell you about GAAN and their other diversity programs, and moreover they decided to let four of their employees (not Modesto-based executives) and myself -- wild cards all, really -- tell the story rather than telling it themselves. I tip my hat to Gallo for this.

Rather than write a story about our conversation, thus putting my voice foremost, I'm just going to run the transcript, very lightly edited. Let me introduce the speakers with a select portion of their CVs.

DJ Alston (DA), Field Sales Trainer, Northern Area:
DJ is from Baltimore and joined Gallo shortly after graduating from University of Maryland with a degree in business management and entrepreneurship. He has been promoted from sales rep to district sales manager to his current position. DJ has WSET Level 2 and now conducts virtual training of Gallo reps in 13 states.

LaCenia Cheek
LaCenia Cheek (LC), Director, Barefoot Sales Innovation:
LaCenia started with Gallo as a brand specialist in 2009 and became a Barefoot area manager a year later. In 2018 she became the director of Barefoot Sales Innovation; her job is to envision new opportunities for Barefoot. She has a degree in international business from University of North Carolina.

Roxanne Lee (RL), Luxury Retail Sales Manager:
Roxanne rose from fine wine specialist to portfolio manager at Republic National Distributing Company in Maryland before joining Gallo in 2018, where she is responsible for luxury sales to independent retailers in Washington, DC. She has a degree in business management from University of Phoenix. She is a certified scuba diver.

Charis Nunez (CN), Sales Recruiting Manager:
Charis graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in public relations. She started as a merchandiser for Empire Distributors in Atlanta and was eventually promoted to district manager. In 2015, she joined Gallo as a field marketing manager, before being promoted to her current position, which she will describe in detail in the transcript.

So without further ado, here's the conversation.

WBG: DJ, maybe I'll start with you because I'm also from Baltimore. I hope you're a Ravens fan because the team is totally loaded this year so I hope that the season's gonna happen. Tell me, what made you decide you wanted to get into wine in the first place?

DJ Alston
DA: Good question. Like you know, I'm from Baltimore. Growing up in Baltimore, high school, pretty much all school until I got to college I was pretty much around 99% black people. And then I went to University of Maryland College Park, which is a predominantly white institution. And I got a culture shock. I actually loved my time there. I was a business major and undergrad. I was looking to do something in consulting. I didn't know what I wanted to do. So I went to a career fair. Didn't find anything directly. And then before I left, I saw a sign that had a glass of wine on it. And it said, Management Development Program. I said, hey, I'm a management major. I want to be developed. Let me go talk to this lady. I did that and her energy immediately captured me. She had been with Gallo for 19 years. I gave her my resume. She said, what do you know about wine? I said, nothing really. I went through the interview process and everyone I met had the same passion and drive. That's what got me to the industry. Then once I got to the sales rep role and started learning more about wine I caught the wine bug. And now here we are.

WBG: That's interesting because a lot of people in wine have this origin story where their parents had wine at the dinner table or they spent a summer in France, but you didn't have any wine around you growing up.

DA: No, I had Cognac. That was the closest thing. Wine I didn't know anything about, really.

Charis Nunez
CN: I was even further removed. I actually grew up in a dry home where there was no liquor cabinet to raid whatsoever. I had a similar experience where I first met wine and Gallo on my college campus by happenstance. I had a similar experience with meeting amazing people. There's such an excellence culture at Gallo. When you're around excellence you want more of that. They say misery loves company but so does excellence. It's definitely one of the things that attracted me to Gallo and the wine industry in general and it's kept me here. Ten years now.

LC: I can also echo what both Charis and DJ have said. I didn't grow up in a house with wine either. However, the difference in my story is I wasn't recruited out of college. I actually had a friend who was in the Gallo winery already and he had gone through the traditional process, being a sales rep and then a (district manager) and then going over to the Barefoot side. He was willing to put his name out there and put in a recommendation letter for me for a role. It took about 7 or 8 months with the interviewing process.  That's when I came over to the Barefoot team. I wasn't a traditional college hire like Charis and DJ. I had to learn wine from the very beginning when I started the position.

RL : I started in a desktop publishing role, and I went to a job fair. It was, if you can type or you're organized, that kind of basic information, and I thought, I'm organized, I can type. I started off in the direction of liquor distribution. I didn't even know what that was at the time. I'm just here to do graphic work. And I was like, this is a building where you have a warehouse full of alcohol, and that's how it gets to my table? I was like, yes please. And this was way back in the 1900s. When I started it was about 25 years ago. And I don't know how to do anything else. So I'm going to stay in the wine business for life. I'm a lifer.

WBG: Seeing your CV I was particularly interested in talking to you Roxanne, because you're in the luxury portfolio. Do you see people look at you and you feel like they think, 'What is she doing doing this job?'

Roxanne Lee
RL: Oh my gosh, that's a mouthful. Well, I've only been with Gallo for about 18 months. I didn't come up through the Gallo network like DJ and Charis. I was an outside hire, not from the Gallo world. So in my career, yeah, for sure. I faced that probably day in and day out. The last role that I worked for, for a distributor, I was in a management position where I was the only one in the room, most of the time. I'm the only woman and the only black person. That's an issue. I tried to make changes in another company. We set up something, a dispute type of group setting. It was a place where we go, they called it a safe space where we could bring things up that we weren't comfortable with. But then the meeting was over and it was back to business as usual. So nothing ever came of those types of meetings. I've been in that situation but not in Gallo, at all. A little pat on the back here, I was actually the team lead in my division in sales and distribution and winery money and individual money and I was first place in 2019. With a company that supports me in every aspect and I have a really great team, I'm able to perform.

WBG: When I first talked with UGPR about this, this is one of the things I said. If there is racism in Gallo and you want to talk about it, let's talk about it. But I'm kind of more interested in ... um ... I've been to tastings and I've seen black tasters it doesn't seem getting the same kind of attention that other tasters get. And I just wondered if in your dealings with the outside wine world, if any of you have experienced that.

CN: I certainly have experienced racism in the industry, externally, not within Gallo, but ... I can remember a specific instance when I was a sales rep. I started out in metro Atlanta, which is perceived to be kind of a black Mecca in some circles, so you would think people would be a little more progressive. I was in the middle of giving what I thought was a very impactful sales presentation to this really tough buyer I'd been spending all this time building a rapport with. And he stopped me mid-sentence. He said, "Charis" -- we're just gonna call him Joe -- He said, "Charis, I gotta stop you right there. I've got to get to the fried chickens before the blacks and the chinks get there first." And I looked at him and I said, "Joe, you realize I'm black, right?" He completely dismissed it. He said, "Oh, whatever, you don't count," were the words that came out of his mouth next. And what I was stunned by was not only his natural inclination to go straight towards really specific racial slurs, but then it kind of was compounded by the fact that he dismissed my humanity altogether. I grew up in a multi-racial home. My dad's white, my mom's black. And so I've dealt with that kind of in-betweenness some. It was interesting to think back and realize after that moment I wasn't black enough to be a threat for him but I also wasn't white enough to be respected enough to really take on the opportunity in business for him. I think it was one of the most explicit examples of racism that I've experienced first-hand. And I still sit back to this day and am shocked that it happened. I just wanted to share that with you as an example of some of the things that people of color are dealing with at the sales rep level. I know Roxanne mentioned her experience at levels above there, but it starts on the streets.

WBG: I have thought about that because I've talked to some shop owners and they say stuff when I'm around that they think I won't find offensive, but I do.

DA: I've faced it externally for accounts that I'm calling on: retail shops and wine shops. I had an instance a few years back where I was given a new territory and one of the accounts in the territory just didn't seem to be buying from me. At first I thought, I've got a lot of work to do. But it became clear that it wasn't really about my skill as a sales rep. He would say comments about his political affiliations. He used derogatory words about his family members down in Maryland. And then he also just talked about the black on black violence in Newark, New Jersey, as if I wanted to hear about that. So it became very clear. He became very outspoken on where he stood. In addition to that, he was not buying anything. So it got to the point where, I was hindering my numbers and my success as a rep, based on him not supporting what I look like, with race being a big factor in that. So I felt that externally.

LC: I can also share an experience from an external perspective. It was simply going to support an account. I was asked to do a demo, because there is an account that was a great account for us and we would like to do something above and beyond. I was very new to the job at the time on Barefoot. I went to this restaurant and the owner was very appreciative of me being there. But her customers weren't so happy and they were very vocal about it. And said a lot of comments that were highly inappropriate to express the fact that they didn't appreciate me being there. That was one of the first times I've dealt with something like that, but it was external. From an internal perspective, it could be inside myself being a black female, I feel like I am always trying to overcompensate. You always want to be better, faster, stronger, all these different things you want to do, and you want to overperform. That's pressure I put on myself. Because I do want to compete, but I feel like I always have to do more to compete on a level, which I probably don't, but I think that's inside myself. But that's always been there.

WBG: I'm curious about where this restaurant was that you had this problem.

LC: Are you familiar with Charlotte, North Carolina?

WBG: No, I don't know Charlotte well.

LC: It was just a little north of Charlotte. Charlotte is the home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It was more of a racing type of a restaurant.

WBG: Got it. I didn't know that, the NASCAR Hall of Fame thing.

LC: Little fun fact for you.

WBG: There you go, and appropriate today. (We had this conversation the day NASCAR banned the Confederate flag.) I guess this is particularly interesting for you, LaCenia, because you're working with Barefoot. Is it important for the industry to do more to reach out to everyone? A brand like Barefoot, you really should be selling to everyone, right?

LC: And Barefoot, I feel that we are, everyone that's over 21 that is. Because we want to make wine that's fun, that's approachable, that people can see others drinking and also see themselves within Barefoot. I think we've done a pretty incredible job within the overall brand of Barefoot to be very inclusive with everyone.

WBG: I don't go out of my way to see wine advertising but when it comes on I watch it. In past years, please correct me if this has changed, I've only seen white faces in wine ads. Has that changed? And if so, does that sort of representation make a difference?

LC: 100%. I definitely feel that you see more black influencers. You do see more people who are holding a glass that do look like me. Which is very encouraging. Is it everywhere? Is it widespread? No. But I feel that people are definitely, we're making progress. To continue with the momentum that we currently have, to continue to have more diversity, and have more representation of the overall United States population, which is very different. It's not just one person. I think that people and brands have done a better job of trying to showcase diversity within their social media platforms and getting those images to really showcase that representation.

CN: One encouraging thing too is, what Gallo's done as we've revamped our marketing portion of the organization. They added recently a multicultural marketing portion to that. As our brands move forward and they start looking at, how can we really connect with our consumer base, that they really have a good understanding of what's valuable to them, which is super important if you're going to bring value to anyone. You've got to know what's valuable. It's kind of basic, right? But that's huge. Especially as you look to the next 20 years, our country's going to be, for the first time ever, a minority-majority. So I think it's a huge callout to all brands, whether it's wine and spirits or otherwise, that if the consumer base is changing, drastically and very quickly: Are you going to be able to meet the need of your consumer? Do you have people in your organization who can help you with that perspective and bring light to it?

WBG: I'm curious about that representation thing because a couple of you grew up in homes without wine. Do you think that things might have been different in your childhood if the wine industry had had more outreach?

CN: For me specifically, we didn't have wine in my house not because my parents were like, we're not ever drinking wine. They both grew up in abusive alcoholic relationships and families, and they didn't want that for us. There were 7 kids in our family. It just was a non-issue. So when I got introduced to wine, I didn't see anyone who looked like me. So I think since day one, whether I recognized it then or not, it's really important to me to be the face for the next person coming in, to show that there are some of us over here, right? We do have a seat at a table. And with Gallo it's the largest table out there. And there are lots of opportunities and in my role as recruiting manager, I have a unique perspective and opportunity to go out and make sure that our efforts are focused in the right spaces to allow diverse candidates to have an opportunity to sit at the table. And that's been a real honor.

WBG: Tell me a little bit more about that. How do you recruit?

CN: It's changing. When I started 10 years ago, the landscape looked very different. I can speak to the last 2 1/2 years since I've been in this role. We started calling on historically black colleges and universities, HBCUs, about 2 1/2 years ago. We started out with Howard University, one of the most prestigious HBCUs out there. Flash forward just 2 short years later, we now have a footprint at over 100 HBCUs as our strategic partnership with the Thurgood Marshall college fund. They help elevate public HBCU students and give them opportunities for careers that they might not have otherwise. Those are two really cool things we've done to make sure we're in the right spaces, and not just checking boxes.

DA: I think representation is a great point. My earliest mention of wine, I can go back to 2008. You think about, how has wine been intertwined into the black culture. Whether that be media, whether that be music. The first thing I can think of is Moscato. You have artists like Drake and Nikki Minaj. I was coming up, and other than stuff like Ace of Spades, that was the first time that we heard, oh, this is wine, this is what you should be drinking. You saw: you were around for that boom when that culture embraced wine, and embraced Moscato. I think there's opportunity when you intentionally want to get representation, you make sure you have people who look like the consumers. I think we're doing that more now with Barefoot and some of our other power brands, and I think that's super important.

WBG: Yeah, I've said on many occasions that I think LeBron James is the best spokesperson for the wine industry today.

DA: For fine wine, yeah. You see Sassicaia. Opus One. These different wines you would see.

WBG: And I'm a Warriors fan, so I hate him. But still. Good for wine.

CN: Just to pick it up, one of the other things in terms of recruiting the right people and having representation, Gallo has seven really amazing employee resource groups. LaCenia and I both have the pleasure of being on the leadership board of GAAN, the Gallo African American Network that really supports our African American community at Gallo. One of the amazing things that they did, over the past year specifically, we've had GAAN members sign up to help our recruiting team, show up on college campuses, connect with some of their organizations that they used to be a part of. There's a different level of credibility when someone who looks like you comes and says, not only is there space, but let me talk to you about what I've done in that space, and what it looks like. And then let others take it from there. It makes an insane difference, a huge difference for the better to have that. I'm really grateful to have GAAN as a resource for us in recruiting.

RL: I signed up for recruiting. Last summer was the first time I got to go to Howard and talk to people that look like me about the wine industry. Being in that space is so different. It's usually, I'm hustling, I'm selling, I'm trying to get new placements or doing staff trainings or whatever. Talking to somebody about this as a career, it was mind-blowing, it was so exciting. I'm really grateful to be part of the GAAN network. Being an employee of this company, and then being invited to be a member of the GAAN network, I was like, wait, you have black people that work for you, and you want us to all get together at the same time? So, I'm so proud to work for this company. It's awesome.

WBG: Let me ask on that topic because UGPR will tell you, I've been working kind of not with Gallo for years. Gallo's always been very media-shy. Is this something Gallo should be doing more to be an industry leader to say, this is what we're doing and the rest of you should do this?

RL: I don't think we should brag about it, but other companies in this industry need to know what we're doing. I'm not quiet about it. This is just one of those things where Gallo is the leader in the industry, for training, for diversity and inclusion. Everybody that I've ever worked for tries to do what Gallo does. But it falls short every single time.

WBG: Let's make UGPR happy for a minute and say, in what ways is Gallo ahead of the rest of the industry on this? What are they doing that other companies should be doing?

DA: When I started, they had GAAN. Gallo African American Network. It wasn't a huge presence. But from my experience, the intentional priority they put on that resource group. We had our summit where we all flew out to Modesto. We met Ernest, right after he was announced to be the next CEO. We were able to sit in rooms with Stephanie Gallo and talk about the direction of Barefoot and some other plans that they had in terms of marketing to multiracial communities. That's something that I don't see in other corporate or other places, and I don't hear my friends talk about that. So I think in the last couple years, that GAAN network has given us opportunities to have our voices heard. You have an internal network right here within your employees. That's awesome that we've been able to do. I've seen that just in the 6 years I've been here. We have so much more opportunities that we can do. But I think where we are right now is ahead of the pack in a lot of ways.

LC: Charis mentioned earlier that we're both on the leadership team within GAAN. I've spent time out in Modesto for a rotational stint. I was familiar with GAAN whenever I was out in Modesto. One of the things that's so impactful about Gallo, and just watching them listen to us as employees, and really bring GAAN to not just Modesto, but also figure out how to integrate the sales and the people who are in the field, so people like Roxanne and DJ can all be a part of this network even though we are not Modesto-based. We basically started that from the ground up. At the end of 2018 we started putting all the legwork in and really connecting with all of our leaders to let them know what we wanted to do. From the end of 2018, a group of us collectively getting together and strategizing and figuring out how to do this, to 2019 June, we actually were able to have a successful summit, like DJ is talking about, having Stephanie Gallo there and Ernest. They were really supportive of us and our ideas to really drive them forward, to really giving us a platform and the ability to bring a community of black people together that work for Gallo. They were able to see our vision, which is huge.
I also want to toot Charis' horn on this one because she's also done a phenomenal job with our social media, with our diversity in wine platform, to have an ongoing conversation from social media that speaks from the voice of GAAN about things that are going on. I really feel that Gallo listened to us, they heard us, and they allowed us the ability and the flexibility to get out there and put it together, to really drive this to a larger audience, which is huge.

CN: I think it's because of GAAN that Gallo is an industry leader in, first, having the conversation. Listening. It's one thing to have a conversation, it's another thing to listen and not just hear, and then take action. I think what y'all saw last week with Gallo's stance on what's going on in our current environment with Black Lives Matter. Our largest wine brand in the world, Barefoot, coming out and making a statement in solidarity. It came from our CEO having himself been in the room with this community and really connecting in a way that before was not available. I think it's transforming us from the inside out. We came out saying a lot of things in solidarity last week before some other industry people. At the end of the day, it starts inside. We're family first. Days before our corporate statement was posted to the world, Ernest Gallo sent all of us, not just the GAAN community, the entire company, a message mirroring what was posted externally. I think that just speaks volumes to you take care of your own first, and then you worry about what the rest of the world is doing second. I think that's really powerful.

DA: On a personal note, that story I told you about, the external example of racism I experienced when I was working in New Jersey, talking about what Gallo is doing, when I went and told my area manager, I wasn't second-guessed. I wasn't told, hey, maybe it wasn't about race. Maybe it wasn't something. Maybe you should stay on that account. Are you sure you saw that the right way? I was immediately supported. Hey, you don't feel comfortable, we believe you, we're going to support you, we're not going to put you in any situation where you cannot succeed. The fact that I wasn't met with any controversy or any conflict in that situation made me feel supported.

WBG: I'm glad you said that because I was curious about the follow up, if you'd report something like that. A lot of businesses would say, you're a sales rep. Suck it up.

DA: They took me out of the account. They said we don't want to support it. We don't want to be affiliated with what's going on there. We don't want that to affect your success as a sales rep.

CN: In terms of growth, when I had my situation with that account, where I had those nasty things said to me, I internalized it. I did something different than DJ did. A decade ago, I didn't feel comfortable going to my white boss who might look at me as not only the first female in that territory, let alone the first black female, and the only black person around for miles. How would I be perceived? Like I couldn't handle the job? Maybe I wasn't the right person to be in that high-profile of a territory. One of the things I'm really grateful to have seen in terms of progress within the winery is that within GAAN we have a mentor program. When we have new reps who start in that sales rep role on the streets, they have the opportunity to be paired with someone who looks like them, who has gone through things that maybe they've gone through that are different than maybe their white counterparts and have a sounding board in a different space. Hopefully they would feel comfortable if not going to their direct manager, then coming to their GAAN counterpart and saying, hey have you ever come across this issue? How did you overcome it? And then have some really good feedback and advice moving forward. That's progress for sure.

WBG: Are any of you mentors in the GAAN network? (Three raise their hands)

CN: Are you familiar with Tik Tok?

WBG: Yes.

CN: My GAAN mentee and I recently were trying to figure out how do we stay connected in this Covid world, where we can do something that's fun just to stay connected. She challenged me to learn Tik Tok. We actually posted our Tik Tok collaboration on our diversity in wine Instagram page. It was pretty fun. Mentorship doesn't always have to be super serious. It has a heavy connotation to it. Yes, we're there for each other professionally, but we're also there for each other personally. And that's a fun example of one way our mentor program has kept us connected through these hard times.

WBG: Gallo's enormous and they can afford to hire a lot of people. If you were going to write a script for a smaller wine company to increase its diversity, what would you suggest?

CN: That's a good question. It's really important to start with, what is the vision of the organization. Our vision is teamwork and respect and innovation and humility. You have to look at what you're going to be delivering to your consumer base. I think one of the beautiful things about how we approach life is we really want our people at Gallo to mirror our consumer base. So having a good understanding of who those people actually are and not who you think they may be, and then making sure you're creating an environment for them to be heard. Hire them. Give them the space they need to grow. And then let them ball out. Let them go thrive. I think that's really important and is something the winery is working really hard to do and would be a great model for any other organization.

LC: For a smaller winery, some of the things that we're starting to see in this whole Covid situation are so many different virtual conversations that are happening, that are extremely powerful. That are creating these forums for people to understand, to educate, and to understand different perspectives. Which I think is huge. If there's a way to engage in that in any way, I would say that would probably be a great way for a smaller winery just to get started. Because it's so easy just to do a virtual meeting at this point, or to throw it out there on social media to say hey, let's have a conversation about whatever the topic is. I think that's very powerful because I know a lot of people just want to be heard, and I know a lot of people also want to learn.

WBG: The downside of that is though, to me this was an obvious interview to ask for and UGPR mentioned nobody else asked for it. A lot of white people are afraid of having this conversation.

RL: Absolutely. My history, before these last few weeks, I had never gone to anybody, a manager, human resources, or anything, to talk about a racial situation that occurred. Just like Charis said, I internalized it, and overcompensated, did better than I could possibly ... better than the best. And only the last two weeks in my life, in this entire career, have I spoken out against racial inequality. It's uncomfortable at first. We talk about our white friends asking, "What can we do?" I have a lot of white friends and I was like, what are we doing? How is this affecting you? I reached out to them, because I know it's probably uncomfortable for them. They don't know how to approach me. They were probably not sure what to say. So I'm like, all right, screw it, I'm taking out the curlers, and I'm gonna just be real. We actually came up with a really positive way to help move along, in this moment, in this movement.

CH: It definitely starts with the majority, though, Blake. I just want to commend you, for raising your hand and asking for the interview, because it takes people like you, with your type of platform, to amplify the voices of people who traditionally aren't being asked to be talked to. I think that you'll find, and our other white counterparts in the industry will find, that when you're open to having a conversation, we'll meet you where you're at. We'll meet you there. And then we will give you our perspective. We want to grow. We want to learn. We're in this industry because we love it. We're all passionate about people. We're passionate about sales. We're passionate about wine. We're passionate about growth. Just like you. And so many others. When you start opening up the space for people to really just share and talk, you open up an opportunity to not just grow your business and be better, but to really make change. But it starts one day at a time, it starts with you right now, and then you have to make the commitment to do that every day. Every step forward from now on. I just want to say thank you for starting the conversation in a way that has not been started. And I'm really hopeful of where that goes and how it affects change truly.

WBG: Thank you. I'm really just doing what anyone should do. But it does raise a question because wine sales isn't my forte, but wine media is. So what do you think the wine media should be doing differently?

CN: Talk to some black folks! The media, when we do hear about the black community, it's very narrow in the sense of, what's black-owned? Our vineyard manager for one of the most prestigious vineyards in California is a black woman. When the media expands its perspective past a very narrow, if it's not owned, it's not black, right? There are so many of us who work in so many different legs of the industry. I think you'd be really surprised about the really amazing things that are going on. We need the platform. We need you to amplify and project out, redefining maybe what being black in wine really means. I think there's a whole world outside of just ownership that should be considered.

RL: This is a great first step, and I think if more people from the media would take this step ... we have black and white faces in this company, but there are tons of black wineries. Only recently I found out how many there are just in California, and nobody talks about that. I think media should be talking about that. Talk to the wineries.

WBG: What about issues of representation in the media. Talk about advertising. Do you feel like the mainstream wine media, the wine magazines I guess is what I'm talking about, do you think that they are adequately representative on racial issues?

DA: I don't. That's my answer. My challenge for wine media in general and even someone as big as Gallo and the wine industry, is that key word of representation. The first thing is acknowledgement. In Gallo, we're here to win. Everyone here has been in sales, and we say, "What does a win look like?" I think that's a struggle currently that we have. When you talk about looking at black history, we won the Voting Rights Act. We won to end segregation. That's what a win looked like. Today it may not be as overt. So when we talk about representation, we need the wine media to give the war cry of representation. Call it out. Put the pressure on. Once we have that, we have people like Charis recruiting, doing the ground work, but then we have people in ads and in publications that are reaching these people that are going to help us recruit, retain and promote. And the more of people that you see that look like you in these companies and in leadership positions in these companies, that's when you really start to see organic growth.

LC: I think some of it too, especially within the wine media, it could be simply an unconscious bias that people just aren't even aware of. So having that self-awareness, or just having awareness would be helpful for people to have a better understanding of, you know what, maybe we should have more diversity as it relates to our wine writing and what we put out there, what visuals we put out there as well. I think some of it is people aren't even aware sometimes. You get caught up in your own bubble. We're all guilty. It's not just white people, it's not just black people. We have a certain bubble. My husband, he's white, and we were talking about a lot of race conversation last week. and he said, "You know, we're in our own bubble too." And I was like, 100%. And it's not just related to race. He said, "Did you know 75% of the people in our area qualified for a subsidized lunch?" Well, given the bubble that we're in, we wouldn't realize that. Do I work with a lot of nonprofit organizations? Do I realize there are a lot of places that are in need and a lot of people in need in my area? 100%. But did I realize that right where I live in kind of a small area, that amount of people qualified? The reason I bring that up is to simply say, some people just aren't aware of their overall surroundings, or the need for change. I think that's one of the things that has come out of everything that has gone on in the last two weeks or so. There have been more conversations around the need for change, around the need to have conversations as it relates to race, and it has been put on the forefront. It also allows us to say, what can I do within myself, my profession, and also personally. What can I do? In order to make a difference, in order to make change. For a professional wine media person, I would hope they would see this and say, you know what, we do need to have more representation. We do need to have more diversity. And what does that look like for us?

CN: And not just in the stories that are produced, but in, who's on your staff? Who's in the wine media behind the scenes, calling the shots, making the decisions. And that goes back to understanding what's valuable to your reader. I will tell you that when people of color see representation, that's valuable to them. So I would challenge the wine media to look internally at your own staff. Look internally at your own leadership levels. I guarantee you will be able to produce great content that will be representative of all people of color and non people of color, when it starts from the top. When it starts from your end, the media professionals. Then I think you'll be able to meet the different wineries and institutions within the wine and spirits industry differently.

WBG: We're running out of time here, but this has been great. Tell me one more thing that you think anyone should do, in respect to improving the system of racial disparity that has this country at war with itself.

DA: I'll give you a nice cliche sports analogy. You know when you have quarterbacks or NBA players and they're trying to get new contracts signed. The biggest thing that their agents fight for is  that guaranteed money. Not the incentives, not the other things that you can have. You put out a statement and you have the statement and you say, we're all in this together, we support you. But what I challenge all companies in the wine industry, is, how are we going to make that a longer term commitment? How do we make this say, hey, these are the groups we're going to partner with. This is our 5-year-plan on how we're going to recruit, retain and promote people of color. This is our 5-year plan on how we're going to spread social awareness. I would like to see more strategic plans than just a statement put out. Because that shows that you are in this for the long run, and it also puts pressure on everyone else to also create a plan. I think once you sit down and you try to make a strategy, that's when you put the time and effort in, and that's when you see more of those results come to fruition.

CN: Change can't just be something we say we want. You have to have actionable, measurable steps that are put in place that you can hold people accountable to. And until you do that, change won't really happen.

WBG: Well, I am out of questions. Any questions for me, since we're talking?

CN: I just want to reiterate, thank you for giving us your time and your attention to this very important matter. You are the first and I hope not the only one who uses your platform to really think differently and address the wine and spirits industry differently. I am personally grateful not just as a Gallo employee, but as an African American woman in this industry, it means a lot to be seen in this way, so thank you.

WBG: You're welcome.

RL: This is a real important platform for us to have these conversations with you guys and with the media. I think this is great. I just feel empowered to be part of this group. And I appreciate that.

LC: I think that this has been wonderful to have this dialogue, because I feel that these conversations are extremely important, just to have these different forums, just to have a safe space to be able to tell your story or to gain a perspective on understanding, so we can have an idea of what we can do to continue with this momentum. I'm a huge supporter of mentorships and representation, making sure that people do have that visual because it's so important. So I thank you, I appreciate that you came forward to want to do a story like this. And just like the others, I hope that there are so many others that also want to do something similar. I'm sure there will be different ways of writing this, and putting together your perspective when it's all over. People of your caliber that are well known in the industry, I think it's really going to speak volumes whenever people see the story, and hopefully they'll want to do more.

DA: I want to thank you as well for giving us this opportunity. It's important for you as an ally, that allyship goes beyond just print. It goes beyond just what we write in the media. The reality is, you have to grow to becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. You're going to be in those rooms where people are more comfortable saying certain things that they might not be comfortable expressing with us around. I think allyship is when you use your voice in that way as well. I want to thank you for even requesting to have this interview and asking these questions.

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Paul Franson said...

I have found Gallo pretty accessible; I was the first reporter to interview Gina, I believe, for Wine Business Monthly, and have had many interactions over the years including a few informally with Ernie (!). Gallo has really changed. I think you hit it on the head when you said that they're doing a lot of things right and sometimes they probably don't see an advantage about telling people some of their strategies and tactics.

And don't forget that you also have a reputation for sometimes highlighting things companies don't want to talk about :) This excellent interview is a good counterexample.

Unknown said...

Hello, Blake:

I cringed when I first saw the title because while some folks mean well, there have been some huge misses and further damage done to this very very old topic.

Good job. You know that a thumbs up from your fellow Professional Wine Writer's Symposium colleague, means you are on track.

Stay with the topic so the enlightenment can sustain the years of work that should be to come.


Unknown said...

Wow, this is a powerful read. Blake, thank you for inviting the conversation, and DJ, Chris, Roxanne, and LaCenia, thank you for all that you have shared. While my winery is a small company, my staff and I have been in deep conversation amongst ourselves around how we have had blind spots, and how we can do better in forwarding diversity and respect for all. No matter what size company we are, we're still a part of the fabric of culture and we have a responsibility to do right by our fellows in the industry. As our winery is female-run, having Gallo to look to as an example has been a tremendous resource for inspiration, but until I read this interview, I had no idea how much diversity support was at work there too. The insights you've offered around your experience at Gallo has inspired me all over again, and, has reinforced to me that any company can make a true difference. If we can lift up even one person, we will have done much more than nothing.

My respects,
Alie Shaper
Chronicle Wines

Lizthach said...

Great job Blake. Thank you to Gallo, DJ, Chris, Roxanne, LaCenia, and you for sharing such important and inspiring information with us!

Dr. Liz Thach, MW
Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute