Lush. Effervescent. Full-bodied. Attractive and assertive. Supple, spicy, sweet. Words describing the tastes and aromas in a glass of vino are also apropos for characterizing the women in the traveling wine club, Black Girls Do Wine.
Once a year, an accountant, an educator, a lawyer, and a pharmaceutical sales representative descend on a region to swirl and sip their way through a wine, culinary, and epicurean experience. Professionally and personally, the women walk different paths: one loves techno; one wakes up daily to the musical stylings of trap music; one prefers intimate gatherings; one diva delights in being admired. One loves Louboutins; one fancies Birkenstocks. What binds them is the wine. This is not a travel club for Yellow Tail or white zinfandel (if served either of these, pearls would be clutched and fainting may commence); this is a travel club for serious( ish) bourgie (ish) black girls who prefer boutique wineries with limited market production.
This is a club for, well, black girls who do wine–big girl wine, not your auntie’s Lambrusco. BGDW grew from 1990s college-educated black girls–girls raised on A Different World, New Edition and School Daze. In 2009, after becoming too old, too worldly, too grown to order apple martinis, and too advanced to sip moscato outside of dessert, three friends decided to take wine seriously and invest in studying the drink of biblical times. So, they took their first trip to the Disneyland of wine: Sonoma and Napa. They visited the elegant Nickel & Nickel, known for robust Cabernet Sauvignons; the intimate Elyse winery with a diverse collection of reds; and Gloria Ferrer, perched on top of a hill with sweeping views of vineyards, a premiere producer of sparkling–while avoiding the heavily- trafficked Kendall Jackson and Domain Chandon. The next year, they added the fourth member and named themselves BGDW. After Napa came Willamette Valley, Oregon; Mendoza, Argentina; and Santa Barbara, California.
Decide you’re too
stuffed for dessert,
then order it anyway
because it’s some
sugar, local berries,
and unicorn tears.
The primary goal is to learn about and taste the region’s star attraction–in Oregon, the heavy hitter is pinotnoir; in Argentina, malbec. Accordingly, appointments are set with wineries for
tastings– some public, some private–with the house sommelier. At each tasting, the club learns about all aspects of production, from ground to grape to glass. This involves an explanation of soil, weather, growing conditions, grape varieties, bottling procedures, storing temperatures and the notes in each bottle. BGDW starts planning domestic trips three months in advance; international trips require about a year of planning. Planning an excursion where the travelers fly in from around the country requires collaboration. Club members plan flight times within two hours of each other for domestic trips. For international trips, club members meet in the port of exit, like New York City, the day before the trip begins and fly together, reducing confusion and lost time.
Club members play to their strengths. After all agree on a location, each performs the task most suited to her. The organized, logistical members research costs, flights, and hotels and produce a hard budget, including expected tips, exchange rates, and side excursions. The foodie researches restaurants and makes reservations. The extroverts work during the journey, connecting with new people also interested in wine and finding additional places to visit.
The club travels to places affordable for all members and looks to reduce costs. Groupon and Travelzoo highlight travel deals. Instead of staying in hotels and resorts, which often have high taxes and fees, BGDW prefers home-sharing like Air B&B. By grocery shopping and cooking breakfast and lunch, members reduce restaurant costs, maximizing the money spent on restaurants, wine tastings, and bottles. Shared tastings reduce tasting fees. Hiring a driver or Uber is a must: $100 a day per person is worth not being ticketed for drinking and driving.
Trips are planned, but flexible. The itinerary for any given day may look like this:
Arise. Drink sparkling on the veranda. Eat a light breakfast of cheese, croissants, and fruit. Drink more sparkling. Discuss current events and conclude that the struggle is still real.
Pack a lunch with sandwiches and fruit from the local farmers’ market.
Get in the car with the hired driver to go wine tasting.
Visit the first winery for a pre-planned private tasting. Learn about production, soil, climate, and the region’s variety. Take notes. Ask questions. Buy and open bottles. Drink while admiring the sweeping views of the vineyard. Think about life, say “Won’t He do it?” at least once.
Visit the second winery. Stand at the counter and taste. Say, “This has hints of anise and dark cherries” or “This smells like feet.” Buy one bottle to pair with dinner. Laugh. A lot.
Visit the third winery. Realize your tongue feels slightly fuzzy, but that’s ok. Sit at the bar and taste. Ship bottles home.
Have the driver take you to dinner. Order a bottle from a winery you heard of, but won’t have time to visit. Eat decadent foods like foie gras, grilled oysters, or goat cheese wrapped in puffed pastry. Debate between the pork belly and the lamb chops. Get both to share.
Start with a white, finish with a red. Decide you’re too stuffed for dessert, then order it anyway because it’s some tongue-pampering combination of sugar, local berries, chocolate, cream and unicorn tears.
Uber to your lodgings. Sigh contentedly. Go to bed. Your liver needs to rest before tomorrow.
Though from Michigan, BGDW members currently reside across the country. During BGDW, they sharpen noses and palates and tune their senses to understand the complexities both flavor and feel. One wine may feel heavy and supple on the tongue; another may feel thin and watery. A wine may taste tannic and bitter, or rich and lush like ripe raspberries, or alive with notes of grapefruit. During BGDW, members seek to find wines with character, wines that are unique, wines that are balanced. At its core, BGDW connects black girls who do wine–and friendship, and food, and travel. Each year, BGDW discusses membership intake. If interested in BGDW, email Blackgirlsdowine@gmail.com.