Black people in Canada's wine industry are pushing for more representation
Black people in Canada's wine industry say they are underrepresented and it's time to examine the culture and break down barriers that hold others back.
Steve Byfield wasn't considering a career in the wine business while studying music at York University, but came to it while working part time at a u-brew.
Today he owns Ontario's Nyarai Cellars, the only Canadian winery listed in a new international directory of BIPOC-owned wine businesses.
Learning the basic principles of making wine and beer fuelled his desire to explore further. From product consultant to apprentice then assistant winemaker, Byfield quickly rose through the ranks. In 2008, he started his own winery — its name, Nyarai, is derived from the word for "humility" in Shona, which is spoken in southern Africa.
Byfield says his positive experiences in the industry far outweigh any negatives. But early in his career, he faced subtle forms of racism when some individuals at tasting events didn't give him the "consideration" others would get.
"There were instances where I would engage in conversations and be dismissed, like 'How would you know this?'" he said.
"I'd never make a big thing out of it. I'd say, 'I'm the assistant winemaker' and then their demeanour and body language would totally change."
Byfield says he has heard from Black wine consumers who have told him they were uncertain if they'd be welcomed at wine tours, tasting rooms and wine stores.
"They were intimidated by the process," he said. "And that just kept them away."
Trina Plamondon, a BIPOC wine consultant and founder of Carpa Vino in Vancouver, says British Columbia's wine industry has room for improvement.
The biggest barrier for Black people trying to get into the wine business, she says, is not seeing themselves represented, which leads to a belief that a future career isn't possible.
"We have these unconscious biases. It happens in hiring and it's not necessarily overt. We tend to hire people who are like us," she said.
Plamondon has been an educator and policy advocate for children and people with disabilities for over 30 years. She graduated from the Vinica Wine Education Society program, and says the fit felt right.
Vinica is a not-for-profit society that focuses on diversifying the wine industry through education and professional mentorship. The society supports adults who have a passion for wine but who are experiencing systemic barriers in the industry.
"I didn't realize there were other people who felt like me in the wine industry," Plamondon said. "And being able to come together with the BIPOC community around wine and learn about that was really important for me."
Byfield encourages Black youth who might be curious about a future in the wine industry to keep their eye on the prize.
"If someone is driven to delve into it and explore it as a possible career option — they will get their mentorship, they will get the support, they will get the guidance."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.