By Sonal Singh; feature photo by Rob Moses
The BC wine industry has grown significantly in the last 20 years – from the number of vineyards planted to the styles and creativity in wine produced. However, there is one area that remains unaddressed. In Canada, we pride ourselves on the diversity of our nation, but the wine industry is noticeably behind in its accessibility and outreach with respect to black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC). As the BC wine industry achieves global recognition, its impact will be far greater if it embraces the diverse demographic of the country.
That is where Vinica Education Society and its AgriDiversity program step in. Co-founder Arnica Rowan noticed a stark lack of representation in the BC wine industry when she entered three years ago and knew she had the ability to make a difference. Rowan is co-owner of Terroir Consulting, a Kelowna based wine and beverage consulting firm, and has a history of creating passion projects. Drawing on her network, she gathered a BIPOC board of directors to establish a program that would tackle the barriers they faced in the wine industry.
The first hurdle to overcome was the limited accessibility to education. It was crucial to include an accredited course to give new-to-industry professionals credibility. The globally recognized Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is a substantial asset to any resume and can land job opportunities around the world. However, WSET comes with two considerable roadblocks: limited classroom and instructor availability in remote parts of BC and the hefty price of such programs. Vinica recognized these barriers and secured learning materials and funding to structure the program with home-study and classroom sessions to make WSET Levels 2 and 3 accessible and feasible. The intensive material encompasses the fundamentals of wine, making it a great course for those that want to take their wine education to the next level.
Vinica also wanted to ensure students had relatable BIPOC mentors. Each participant was paired with an experienced mentor providing a point of contact as they learned about the industry. This gave students the opportunity to see how current BIPOC wine professionals grew their careers. A field trip was organized to meet Karnail Sidhu, Vinica board member and owner of Kalala Organic Estate Winery. “You have to get out and make opportunities for yourself sometimes,” he said, detailing his own struggles as an immigrant to Canada to an award-winning winemaker. Hearing about the hardships BIPOC immigrants face is never easy but seeing them fight to create their path in an industry lacking representation is inspiring. Furthermore, incorporating successful BIPOC figures in the local and global wine industry created a space to have open conversations about the struggles BIPOC individuals may face and how to overcome them.
In addition, Vinica curated internships carefully selected for each student to give them the opportunity to initiate their own networks in the BC wine industry. Hands-on internships included practicums in restaurants, vineyards, wineries, and retail across the province. “It’s given me the confidence to embrace my diverse background and I have noticed that the industry is much more welcoming than perceived,” says classmate Safana Gangji, who did her internship at Quails’ Gate Winery. The support shown by the BC wine industry was overwhelming. More hosts were available than students and that is the kind of energy that will help sustain a program like this.
As the inaugural 9-week program comes to an end, it is not beyond Vinica to anticipate another session in the future. By recognizing and targeting the obstacles BIPOC face, the program has made a considerable impact on participants. Conversations of race and representation that began in class are being continued in industry. It is therefore in the best interest of all to continue this program. The amount of support shown by the BC wine industry was demonstrated by their eagerness to create space for Vinica proving there is room for all individuals, including BIPOC.