Asked how she views the current social unrest in the United States, wine writer and educator Julia Coney says she sees opportunity. "I come from the belief that we are blessed to be a blessing. My work is through wine; my work is through my voice. My work is to bring new people into this industry," said Coney. "The glass will always be half full." And with Coney, you can bet that glass is half full with something bubbly, her favorite kind of wine. In the latest installment of Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, executive editor Thomas Matthews spoke with Coney about her journey into wine and what led her to create Black Wine Professionals, an online resource for the wine and food industries.
Born and raised in Houston, Coney did not grow up with wine at the dinner table. But when she studied abroad in France, wine was her beverage of choice. "In France, drinking wine was cheaper than drinking soda," said Coney. Her real wine "aha" moment came later, when she was working for someone in Texas in the late 1990s who had a collection of California wines. He introduced her to Caymus and Clos du Val when he paired the wines with Texas barbecue. That experience motivated her to not only continue trying new wines but to also travel to wine regions for vacations.
In 2005, she moved to Washington, D.C., and launched a beauty blog. But it wasn't until 2015 that a family member encouraged her to shift gears. "I wanted to move into food and wine, but I realized I didn't want to be a food writer," said Coney. "And my mother, who was living at the time, said, 'You should be writing about wine because there's a lot of wine in this house.' And I said, 'OK!'"
Coney gained national attention in 2018 when she published an open letter advocating for greater inclusion and diversity in the wine industry. Since then she has taken on two roles: journalist and advocate. Recently, she took her efforts to the next level, launching the online resource Black Wine Professionals two months ago.
"I was noticing that I was one of the few Black wine professionals on media trips," said Coney. "And what I noticed is a lot of the people I followed and looked at as a part of my community didn't have access to those trips. They never got invited. But I didn't think I would start Black Wine Professionals. It took what I call the 'New Civil Rights Movement' with the George Floyd murder and Breonna Taylor to make me think that I need to create a place where people can find these professionals. Because if I didn't create it, no one would."
Currently, the Black professionals listed on the website include buyers, educators, bloggers, journalists and sommeliers. Coney noted that there are now over 370 applications waiting for her and her team at Black Wine Professionals to sift through and add to the website. "I want to bring access to these people so that when the world opens up and there's another trip, people can't say 'Well, I don't know any Black wine professionals.' Here's a list."
Highlighting more Black wine speakers is especially important to Coney. "There are a lot of wine panels that happen. We need more Black people on these panels that work in wine."
While Coney considers herself a journalist "at her core," she feels motivated to continue building Black Wine Professionals and being part of the greater change. "With this unrest, we also have to remember the people that came before us. I think the death of John Lewis ignited something else in me to know that what I am going through and what he went through. He did it for me, so I'm doing it for someone else."
Watch the full episode with Coney on Wine Spectator's IGTV channel, and tune in to catch Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. ET. Tonight, Matthews will chat with sommelier, vintner and author André Mack, part of a month of highlighting Black voices in the wine industry.