A colleague and I were having brunch in a Florence piazza with winemaker friends we met during a market research trip. They were excited to host a few Americans who were in town for a short visit. The setting reminded me of a George Clooney movie, and the generous meal matched.
Halfway through our gathering, I got the call I had been waiting for. It was one of my closest friends. He had just been released from jail, but what he was most excited about was the new mixtape he just dropped. Home for only 12 hours, he already had a mixtape streaming on all platforms with thousands of views.
That moment of stark contrast between my swanky movie scene and the excitement of my man’s freedom and rising hip hop career prompted me to reflect on my evolution, where I had been, and where I was going. As I advanced my wine career, I was also keeping my connection with the hip hop scene. As I advanced my wine career, I remained deeply rooted in hip hop culture.
I can’t consider a person stuffy who knows the hook for “Big Poppa” by heart, and a man who is truly moved by the subtle similarities and differences in dessert wine and tawny Port can’t be lowbrow.
While wine and hip hop culture may appear worlds apart, multiple representatives of hip hop culture own wine brands and have referenced wine and the luxury it connotes in their lyrics. The reverence for wine in the rap world has always been there and only continues to grow.
Even though hip hop is the most consumed music genre in America, it was born in the streets and comes sometimes with a negative connotation of being “ghetto,” or lowbrow.
Wine has also suffered from a false reputation that the culture is only boring and snobby. This misguided notion has unfortunately alienated people from multiple demographic groups who might otherwise become wine lovers.
The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the platform it has given wine colleagues of color to voice their negative experiences from stereotyping, make it very clear that there’s some truth behind this perception. So, as leaders in the wine industry, how do we prevent alienating multiple demographic groups who might otherwise become wine lovers?
Millennials, the largest consumers of hip hop, are most affected. Unfortunately, research has shown that wine consumption has dropped for the first time in 25 years in favor of other spirits and ready-to-drink cocktails. To grow our culture, it is imperative that we capture this audience. Especially in such divisive times, there is a great opportunity to demonstrate that wine culture can be fresh and exciting for everyone.
I have never been perceived as the average wine connoisseur. My swag is different. The look of shock and then curiosity from others when I discuss my profession never gets old. I was raised in the Bronx, the birthplace of hip hop. Growing up in the early ’90s, hip hop was a true reflection of my world.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see deep knowledge of wine and hip hop level social playing fields so often I’ve lost count. From riding through vineyards in the Hamptons with a millionaire collector screaming Biggie lyrics at the top of his lungs, to drinking 1996 Yquem with Mr. Cheeks from the Lost Boyz, I have seen negative perceptions fall away from both hip hop and wine in organic ways. I can’t consider a person stuffy who knows the hook for “Big Poppa” by heart, and a man who is truly moved by the subtle similarities and differences in dessert wine and tawny Port can’t be lowbrow.
After working in wine for over a decade, I’ve seen both my life’s passions create a harmonious balance in divisive times, as well as a need in the marketplace. My company, Cru Luv Wine, aims to do just that. We create rich and diverse experiences by pairing wine and hip hop culture through forums, wine brand development, tastings, and podcasts that bring together the industry giants we love. We also consult on content creation and event curation for industry colleagues who see the importance of engaging diverse audiences.
As Fritz Hatton, the greatest wine auctioneer to ever grace the podium, once said, “wine is the social equalizer.” Now, with hip hop as a conduit, we have the opportunity to bridge cultures in a way neither has in the past.