- Kindra Dionne is the first black woman to launch a wine label in DC’s wine country.
- His label, Fifty Leven, is a collection of five wines that pair with multicultural cuisine.
- It is estimated that only 0.1% of American winemakers and brand owners are black.
Kindra Dionne was assisting a business client while working grapes for his vineyard when he suggested that she enter the wine business herself.
“I thought he was crazy,” Dionne told Insider. “I don’t have a degree in viticulture. I didn’t go to Sonoma. I couldn’t even pronounce half the wine labels.”
Although the idea at first seemed outrageous to Dionne, it wasn’t so far-fetched on reflection. Although Dionne lacked the traditional background in viticulture, she developed a keen sense of entrepreneurship from her years as a business consultant, which brought her into contact with the likes of Doug Fabbioli – the owner of the Fabbio Cellars winery and the person who suggested he pursue a career in the wine industry.
Dionne’s work has also given her a better understanding of the wine industry from different angles. Not only did she gain knowledge about its production, but she came to understand what people were looking for in their wine selections.
“I was attending all these events for work and seeing people not finishing their wine because the wine didn’t pair well with what was being served,” Dionne said.
Yet starting a wine business isn’t as easy as intending to, especially if that business was born out of a pandemic, during which many small business owners – especially small business owners of color – struggled to stay afloat.
So how did Dionne go from consulting to becoming the founder of the first black woman-owned wine label in Loudoun County, Virginia, otherwise known as DC’s Wine Country?
Cultural roots and vision brought Fifty Leven from the “notebook to the vine”
Dionne credits Fabbiolo’s mentorship and assistance with helping him produce Fifty Leven, a collection of five wines.
Since her wine label doesn’t have a physical store, she operates Fifty Leven out of Fabbio Cellars and sells it there and online.
But the vision of wine favors was all Dionne.
“For a while I couldn’t understand why it bothered me that at these events they served table wine, but most people just left it there because it didn’t go well with the food” , Dionne said. “Dry wine and spicy food don’t mix.”
A lover of multicultural cuisine, Dionne wanted to make sure people had access to wine they could enjoy with their favorite fish.
“I eat jerk chicken, Thai spring rolls, and fajitas, so I started thinking about different cultural experiences. What kinds of foods and flavor profiles do multicultural families eat? In the South, we eat BBQ, fat, sweet, tangy and what are we going with that? Lemonade and sweet tea,” Dionne said. “So the same logic should apply to wines.”
“Whether you are Asian, Caribbean or African American, many of our palaces have a similar profile,” Dionne added. “I wanted to create a wine that tasted great with everything I eat.”
Its Fifty Leven collection meets this objective because each wine is intended for specific meals.
Petit Mansang, a white wine with tropical fruit notes, goes very well with seafood, she says, while Stride Pear Wine pairs well with brunch.
“Wine isn’t just for sipping with cheese and crackers,” Dionne said. “It can make an already tasty meal even more enjoyable.”
As the first black woman to launch her own wine label in the region, Dionne is creating space for others to come after her
Loudoun County has more than 40 wineries, but until Dionne came on the scene and launched Fifty Leven in October, one black woman didn’t own her own wine label in the region.
Even beyond DC’s Wine County, diversity in the industry is sorely lacking.
Although there are more than 8,000 wineries in the United States, it is estimated that only 0.1% of winemakers and brand owners are black, according to the Association of African-American Winegrowers. Many of these labels are owned by celebrities who were well established before entering the industry.
“Executives continually profess that they want more diversity in their ranks. That’s an empty promise. Which is both infuriating and insane for an industry that needs to expand its consumer base,” wrote Dorothy J. Gaiter, who co-wrote the Wall Street Journal’s wine column from 1998 to 2010, in a 2020 essay titled “Being Black in the White World of Wine.”
Dionne acknowledges that as the first black woman to own a wine label in Loudoun County, she is creating space for others to come after her.
“As black women, we have a commitment to community that’s kind of a village mentality,” Dionne said. “It takes a village to build a business…For me, in that space, it was scary to go out, not knowing what I was getting into. The wine industry can be very elite.”
She remembered an occasion when someone was talking about “legs”, so she looked down at her own feet, not realizing that in the wine industry, legs refer to droplets of wine. that form inside a wine glass.
“There was definitely a learning curve,” Dionne said. “I didn’t know if people would be receptive to me or laugh at me.”
Like many barrier-breaking women of color, Dionne also feels compelled and responsible to be an example, but she says the support she has received from the community keeps her going. She plans to release three more types of wine later this year and hopes to continue showing how universal the love of wine is.
“It sucks that diversity in the industry is just starting to happen now, but I’m glad it’s happening,” Dionne said. “We are part of history as it unfolds across the country and the world.”