The New York Times has a terrific story about Carlton McCoy, CEO of Napa's Heitz Cellar, described as the first African-American to run a major winery as well as one of just three African-Americans certified as a master sommelier in the US. (That designation is being changed by the Court of Master Sommeliers, it was reported last week, because of concerns that the use of the word "master" is racially offensive.)
One excerpt from the story:
"The pandemic struck at a particularly inopportune time for Heitz, which was three months from reopening its tasting salon. Mr. McCoy did not lay off any of the winery’s 52 employees, but he did have several conditions for the new state of work: no Zoom meetings ('I cannot express how much I hate Zoom culture,' he said. 'I need to make eye contact and see body language'), no internal emails longer than five sentences, and mandatory suggestions for improving Heitz — two per day.
"The worst idea he received, he said, was to re-bottle existing wine with a new label and higher price, 'something that happens in the wine industry all the time.' The best was so good, he said, he couldn’t share it publicly."
One interesting thing about McCoy is that he is aware of his unique position in the industry as well as being committed to changing the equation.
McCoy says that he frequently texts "with one of my mentors, Maverick Carter, the chief executive of SpringHill Entertainment, who is also LeBron James’s business manager. Maverick started out as a wine client at the Little Nell, then became a friend. For African-Americans who make it out of poverty, you’re a bit of an island, and as I’ve progressed in my career, I have found fewer people of color in the room. Maverick and I connect about music, food, business and things happening in the country."
At the same time, McCoy works with the Hue Society, which he describes as "an organization devoted to diversifying wine culture. We all want to give back to the community, but how we do it is a matter of disagreement. Personally, I would like to focus on job placement and education. The result of this call is that we are going to create a new arm of the society called the Roots Fund, which will fund wine scholarships for the black community, followed by guaranteed job placement. We already have verbal commitments from 20 wineries."
- KC's View:
One of my favorite wine-related quotes from McCoy is this one:
"Wine is at the table, but it should never be the guest of honor."
It is called having perspective about what is important. Impressive guy.