Wine Industry Interviews
Julia Coney on Diversity
by L.M. Archer
(Note: This is an update of a previously published interview.)
Governor Ann Richards of Texas once noted about women’s success, “After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”
What about diversity in the wine industry? Do ethnically diverse professionals feel they must ‘pull a Ginger Rogers’ just for a place at the tasting table?
As a white woman, I don’t pretend to understand these challenges. But as a writer, I feel compelled to start the conversation. I can think of no better person with whom to initiate the dialogue than Julia Coney, a Washington, D.C. and Houston, Texas-based wine writer, wine educator, and consultant. Her wine writing includes stories on wine, winemakers, personal essays, and the intersection of race and wine. She holds a WSET Level Two Certification in Wine and Spirits and is currently pursuing her Master Level Champagne Certification with the Wine Scholar Guild. Her work has been featured in Wine Enthusiast, The Tasting Panel, Plate Magazine, Forbes.com, WineEnthusiast.com, Glamour, Essence, The Washington Post, and numerous print and digital publications. She is a 2019 Fellow of the Professional Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood Napa Valley.
LMA: Julia, your works on subjects as varied as beauty, travel, food and wine appear in print, online, radio and TV. Who or what inspired you to pursue wine?
JC: I have been traveling and tasting wine for over 20 years. I started in my early 20s because I was curious after having a really expensive wine at a friend’s home and not understanding anything about wine. I knew it was different than what I was drinking because it transformed me. I started visiting wine stores and just began tasting. I thought about pursuing it as a career, but was really scared. It wasn’t until I my husband told me I should really think about writing about wine since the beauty writing landscape wasn’t holding my attention as much as travel, wine, & food. I started as a beauty blogger in 2006. I haven’t like the way it’s evolved and more of my blog writing featured travel. I started wine studies in 2015 and jumped in full force.
LMA: Walk readers through your journey thus far in the world of wine. What was it like taking that ‘leap of faith’? Did you have an ‘aha’ moment when you knew this was your path?
JC: I had the leap of faith in December 2015. I had just had a major surgery and was recovering. My mother was visiting and she asked me why I wasn’t pursuing a career in wine – I made her watch every wine documentary on Netflix and talked so much about finally being able to drink wine again. I couldn’t give her an answer. I had no excuses. I was a freelancer. I didn’t have kids and any encumbrances. She reminded me life is too short and precious not to pursue your dreams. That night I ordered numerous wine books, re-read of few of my favorite wine bloggers, and registered for my WSET classes. It was a very fast twenty-four hours.
LMA: Any mentors who have helped or inspired you along the way?
JC: Yes. I met Carrie Lyn Strong, the wine director at Aureole in New York at a French travel event. She was the first person I emailed about my leap. She has been helpful and answered every question I asked. Jeremy Parzan, a fellow wine blogger from Houston was another inspiration. The ladies from the Swirl Suite, a group of African-American wine bloggers took me under their wing immediately. Glynis Hill encouraged me to attend the Wine Bloggers Conference. Now I count the bloggers I met at the conference as my community.
LMA: Any obstacles or challenges you’ve encountered?
JC: Yes. Many people don’t take me seriously because I am still working on my certifications. The apprehension dissipates once we start talking wine and they realize I actually know what I’m talking about. The wine world can be very elitist, sexist, and racist. Yes, I said it.
LMA: As an African-American woman, do you find the world of wine embraces diversity? Or do you feel like you have to work twice as hard to earn credibility/acceptance?
JC: The world of wine does not embrace diversity. It thinks it does, but it doesn’t. I don’t prove anything to anyone, but myself. I do notice when I’m in certain master tastings the looks and stares. I ignore them and get to work. I have been at wine festivals, tastings, wineries, tours, and such and had people tell me “I thought Black people only drink sweet wine.” That’s when I have to inform them about stereotypes and judgments. I know I have to work twice as hard to earn credibility and/or acceptance. I work hard because I am a hard worker. If I’m not accepted in certain circles I don’t care. Why? It wasn’t meant for me to be in that circle. I have other circles that want my opinions and want to embrace my work.
LMA: What goals do you hope to achieve in the world of wine?
JC: My ultimate goal is to be a respected wine and travel writer. I’m getting my certifications because it will help in my goals and I want to have it in case I decide to go into wine education.
LMA: Anything else you’d care to share with readers?
JC: I know wine can seem pretentious and stuffy. It’s not. I’ve had more fun with my wine friends in the last year than I have ever dreamed. I tell people to go to a respectable wine store in your area, find a salesperson, and be honest. Admit you don’t know about wine and want to know more. Go back for the free tastings and always buy something different. Challenge yourself and your palette.
LMA: Finally, if your experience in the world of wine has taught you anything, it’s taught you…?
JC: The world of wine is vast. There are so many moving parts involved in getting wine from the grape to consumers hands. I find it fascinating. Gathering together with good people over wine and food never gets old and I don’t take it for granted that I have decided to do this work. It’s not work, it’s a calling.
Any thoughts on diversity in the wine industry? Feel free to share your comments below!
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