Updated: Jul 14
Black owned wine businesses by Lauren Bailey Roach
Image courtesy of Daniel Black of Stratton Studios: Shaunna Cooper and Shayla Smith
Shaunna Cooper and Shayla Smith are the two co-founding sisters behind the contemporary wine brand Wine Spencer. Their shared love of wine inspired them to launch a business that has redefined the experience of wine tasting and wine education. Wine Spencer offers informational classes, hosted events, pairing consultations, restaurant partnerships, and custom tastings.
The significance of wine in their lives stemmed from the prospect of something new—a joint passion the sisters formed together that sparked the interest to create a business around. Shaunna said, “My parents weren’t wine connoisseurs at all. My dad is very much a chardonnay drinker and my mom is more of a sweeter-wine drinker. Our love of wine didn’t come from anything that we saw growing up—I think this was something that we wanted to do on our own—something different, something new.”
For the sisters, wine provides a moment to connect with friends, to reflect after a long day, and to create a memory. “Some of my best memories have been over a glass of wine. On my first dinner date with my husband, we went to a Phoenix wine bar called Postino and ordered a bottle of wine and a board of bruschetta; we had a nice meal and a great time. It’s something I’ll never forget,” Shaunna said.
Both women have a strong desire to redefine what wine means and give it a modern significance, especially among minority communities, diverse ethnicities, and cultures that have not been traditionally catered to by the wine industry. Wine Spencer seeks to break down certain stereotypes and create new experiences. “Some of the stereotypes that I’ve recognized are that black people only drink sweet wines and that they are less likely to purchase a more expensive bottle. I worked as a server for about seven years and we were taught to go over the wine menu extensively. I would notice that some of the other servers would provide a more detailed review of the wine list to the white customers, compared to the people of color. On one specific occasion, I attended an event at a wine tasting room, and I felt like I wasn’t receiving the level of service that was being provided to the other people. As a business, we are trying to make connections with large wine brands so that they understand there is a market for black wine consumers that are underserved. We don’t just like sweet wines—we have a very diverse palate. Education is key. We want to educate people so they understand the different types of wine that are available to their palate.”
Similar to brands such as Black Girl Magic Wine, as a black-owned business, Wine Spencer hopes to make a positive change by supporting and giving back to the community. “A black-owned business is the opportunity to make something of our own—something to create generational wealth for future generations. Typically when you look at some of the larger vineyards, they are family businesses that have been passed down from generation to generation. Many of the black-owned vineyards are first-generation businesses because our ancestors didn’t have that land to pass on. As a black-owned business, we feel the responsibility to give back to our community. That’s why we’re doing a donation of a portion of our proceeds to the COVID-19 relief fund through BET and United Way.”
Shayla works in health care and has a Master’s degree in public health. “I am very aware of health disparities and health equity. Seeing the disproportionate effect on black communities and how black people were dying at much higher rates from COVID-19, I knew that it was something that we wanted to address. The reason we chose to partner with BET and United Way is because of United Way’s national platform. They’re able to mobilize dollars very quickly into programs like food and security, emergency financial support, and job training. I think these are really important programs to support in our communities, and it’s amazing to be able to work with an organization that provides such important work.”
From their startup plans in September of 2019 to their public launch date in March of 2020, Wine Spencer has been getting down to business. However, the widespread global pandemic changed the sisters’ plans. They decided to pivot to virtual tastings so that they could keep increasing their market while working from home. “I think this has been a great opportunity to not only feel engaged with people in New York and Phoenix but to expand our platform to a larger audience to work with and educate. It’s been a great change for our business model, to be working so broadly.” With tons of information to offer, the Wine Spencer website allows customers to choose from a wide variety of wine tasting classes.
Image courtesy of Daniel Black of Stratton Studios
Black owned wine companies:
Wine 101: An introduction to the basics of wine tasting, from identifying palatable flavors to recognizing preferred wines to request on a night out.
Let’s Get Bubbly: Covers the top sparkling wine producers around the world, the two primary methods used to make sparkling wine, and which regions offer the best value for sparkling wines.
Black Winemakers: Offers wines from around the world and presents each region, climate, terroir, and how it all contributes to the distinctive winemaking style of the producer. “We talk about the wines that aren’t household names, but have a story that is worth telling.”
Rosé All Day: Discusses the popular rosé wine regions, the unique style of winemaking, and why rosé is known as Summer Water. The class is concluded with a rosé cocktail sure to keep you in the mood to rosé all day.
South African Wine Tour: Shayla’s four-month venture in South Africa gave her an inside look into the diverse wines of this New World wine region. You will gain an in-depth understanding of the different South African wine regions, learn about the Pinotage grape and other popular grapes used for winemaking, and why South African wines are of great value. “South African wine doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves. I love to share a little bit about my experience.”
These classes are currently being conducted via Zoom. The sisters work with clients to find wine shops in their local areas that carry the same brands. “We want people to have the same wine, so they can enjoy a shared experience. It’s so great to be able to be a part of people’s special occasions,” Shaunna said. “What’s unique about this experience is that we don’t promote specific wines, or represent a specific brand. We provide an unbiased opinion. It’s really about the education of winemaking, the regions, and the many varieties of wine.”
Image courtesy of Daniel Black of Stratton Studios
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