To say that this year has been an eventful one for Philip Long would be quite an understatement.
On January 1, 2020, the winemaker and cofounder of Longevity Wines in California’s Livermore Valley became president of the not-for-profit Association of African American Vintners (AAAV), which has 12 winery members. In March, he launched a national sales effort for Longevity Wines through a new partnership with the Franzia family of Bronco Wine Co. Almost immediately, states instituted quarantines for the novel coronavirus pandemic, which meant thousands of California wineries—including Longevity—had to close to the public.
As Black Lives Matter protests occur in cities and towns across the U.S., many members of the global wine community are reexamining the role of the AAAV. Long finds himself in the middle of the action, and is encouraged by the show of support for marginalized communities in the beverage industry.
What’s the role of the Association of African American Vintners?
Our mission really is about awareness and education. It’s not so much to separate African American winemakers from any other winemaker. It’s just a vehicle to let people know that there actually are African American winemakers. And that there is an industry and a path as a career for African Americans.
What is the experience like, making and selling wine as an African American? Have you found an even playing field?
I didn’t set out to get into the industry as an African American winemaker. I just got in the industry because I liked making wine. It was fun. It was a passion. I never even connected the two, to be honest with you. But there’s this dynamic that the public really does get behind you and support African American winemakers.
So for me, personally, I think the bigger challenge was going into the industry without the advantage of generations above me or before me, but starting from scratch in an area where I was a new guy. Breaking into the business, period, was a challenge. Whether or not being African American had something to do with it, I never really even gave that a thought. I just approached it as a challenge that I’m going to overcome.
Others I think have struggled to get their wines out there. In the end, you can’t be an African American winemaker and just sell wine to African Americans. You have to sell wine to everybody. Everybody has to buy your wine. So, either way, it doesn’t matter your color, your skin, you have to make good wine.
What effect has the recent focus on racial justice and Black Lives Matter had on your business?
Fans for Longevity in social media have grown recently due to the current unrest and Black Lives Matter movement. It’s been the Twilight Zone. We’re gaining hundreds of followers a day on Instagram. I don’t know exactly the dynamic, but there obviously is a movement and a push to support Black-owned businesses. I’ve never seen this many new followers in months, let alone hours.
We are seeing an uptake in orders, too, over the last week. It still doesn’t make up for the deficit caused by the coronavirus restrictions, but we are seeing a surge in online sales.
From your position as an African American businessperson and winemaker, what’s your perspective on the unrest around the country?
Well, first and foremost, I observe the fact that people are angry, and people are angry because things haven’t changed. Anybody who says that they’ve changed is just fooling themselves. I could start reciting all the incidents that have happened, especially to African Americans, at the hands of enforcement officers.
As far as getting out and protesting peacefully, I totally support it. The violence and the looting and all that, I obviously don’t condone that. I think it’s just stupid, and I do question who’s really doing that. Are these just opportunistic people that are waiting for the situation where they cut loose but have absolutely no interest or side in this? Who knows who they really are…But I do side with the fact that yes, something needs to change. I’ve had people say, well, there are things that have changed. Yeah, well, I think the bigger fact is that there are things that haven’t changed. The things that need to change are the bigger things.
Hopefully, now there’s a movement that can help convince people to institute these changes. I hope they’re listening. I hope that the protests are going to affect change in a good way. I hate like hell to profit from it. I’m not asking for this, but the surge of support is great. Let’s just hope we can get back to peace, overall, so we can all move on.
You talked about how consumers seem to be rallying behind African American wineries. What else can consumers and the wine trade do to support minorities in the wine business?
They can definitely help by joining our organization. We don’t have any restrictions on membership. Anybody can become a member of AAAV. Or by contributing to organizations that offer scholarships in the realm to help grow the next succession of African American winemakers.
Also our wines, we feel, are just as good as anybody else’s and we hope everyone will at least try them. We’re making great wine, too. Give them a shot and if you like the wine, buy more. If you don’t, buy something else. It’s that awareness aspect that we have to keep pushing. We’re definitely trying to increase the knowledge that we exist.