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Building a Wine Movement for Underrepresented People and Grape Varieties Alike

Feb 16, 2024

With a mission-driven distribution portfolio and a nonprofit events organization, Jahdé Marley is uplifting the people—and grape varieties—that the wine industry has traditionally discounted

written by Jim Clarke

published August 28, 2023

In 2020, Jahdé Marley found herself in a unique position. She was working as a sales consultant for importer Indie Wineries, and she was hosting events through her own company, By the Hand, which focused on introducing natural wine to Black women in the Caribbean diaspora. When she began to connect with like-minded peers through Industry Sessions, Jirka Jireh and James Sligh’s online educational platform for BIPOC individuals, she realized she had an opportunity to use her position to cultivate and support a community of underrepresented people—and grapes—throughout the wine industry.

Marley found a strong connection between hybrid and native grape varieties and underrepresented communities. “If you think about native grapes and the fact that they’re able to grow in areas that Vitis vinifera can’t, you’ve already increased the scope of access,” says Marley. “And the land prices aren’t elevated by the presence of the vinifera, so you’ve removed another barrier to entry.” She also found that the community of people growing and working with hybrid grapes is centered on sharing information and promotion.

“When you have people who are willing to share their knowledge, offer mentorship, and provide resources, you’re going to get folks who are historically deprived of these things,” says Marley. “In my network, I was the only person at the time that was working in distribution [rather than service or retail].” From that midpoint between producer and seller, “I saw a great opportunity to represent these folks in a way that was care-forward, centered on the work that was being done, and wasn’t going to tokenize these folks.”

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That year, By The Hand evolved into Marley’s own distribution portfolio under the Zev Rovine umbrella, featuring producers like Ashanta Wines, Iapetus Wine, and Tamosi Rum. During a trip she took in 2021 with Etinosa Emokpae, a sales representative for Skurnik Wines & Spirits, visiting wineries up and down the East Coast, Marley solidified the portfolio’s identity. “It became abundantly clear that the people working with hybrids were making better wine,” she says, “and just had a broader and more accessible view of what the wine industry could be than those who were dogmatic about vinifera.” Today, the portfolio includes 13 wine producers and two rum brands, all from underrepresented communities and/or regions.

In July 2022, Marley founded [ABV] Ferments (ABV stands for “anything but vinifera”), a nonprofit events and educational platform inspired by Emokpae’s observations that the producers they were talking to could benefit from being able to share information and ideas. She tapped Justine Belle, the cofounder of Kalché Wine Cooperative in Vermont, to be its director.

[ABV] Ferments volume one, held in July 2022, was a tasting accompanied by educational seminars at Bin Bin Sake in Brooklyn, followed by an after-party called Perreo y Pet-Nat. Marley says the first [ABV] Ferments event was immersive, so it was important to include something additional that would be more about fun. “Joy is an important part of the conversation, too,” she says.

This year, [ABV] Ferments volume two took place in January in Miami, drawing even bigger connections across the community. Marley organized the tasting and seminars, including a panel by Industry Sessions; Paradis Books and Bread provided an event space; Julianny Gómez and Dante Clark’s pop-up Preshift! hosted an opening party; and Roxy Eve and Jirka Jireh hosted the Perreo y Pet-Nat after-party. Volume three took place in Brooklyn in July, with an after-party hosted by Kai-Michelle and Vino Papi Matt Frazier. The event spilled over into consumer activations as well, with Vanderbilt Wine Merchants and Paradis focusing their monthly wine club offerings on producers participating in [ABV] Ferments. More events are on the horizon for next year, and Gómez, Alfie Alcantara from Dear Native Grapes, and Todd Cavallo from Wild Arc Farm have set up [ABV] Ferments TV to extend the organization’s reach in the virtual sphere.

“It’s really important for me to highlight all of the community members,“ says Marley. In fact, the support she receives and sees those members providing for each other is one of her aims. “The point of this really is social activity and increasing access to a point where Black and Brown communities, farmers, land stewards can come and network, participate, and help each other out. This is more than just sales, but establishing a solidarity network.”

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Jim Clarke writes about wine, beer, and spirits for trade and consumer publications, including Beverage Media, Fortune, and World of Fine Wine. He is a sommelier and the U.S. marketing manager for Wines of South Africa.