Obstacles Aside, Three California BIPOC Owners Are Thriving

Photo Courtesy Tom Arena

 Establishing a new winery is a difficult and expensive undertaking for anyone. But hindered by bias and underrepresentation, BIPOC individuals just getting started in America’s wine industry have historically dealt with even greater challenges finding funding and support.

Up against counterparts with multigenerational connections, those trying to break ground in coveted California have faced even more rigorous demands. Here’s how a few navigate these obstacles. 

Personal Investment 

Without consistent industry representation, would-be winemakers with marginalized identities often struggle to be taken seriously when seeking initial investors and funding. 

Some, like Ray and Nalini Patel, have succeeded through self-financing. Indian immigrants, they subsidized winery aspirations after a career in motel operation. They purchased land in Temecula and built Akash Winery & Vineyard with their son, Akash, for whom the estate is named.  

“We started from scratch and had zero knowledge of the industry,” says Akash, now the winery’s director.   

Chumash Native American winemaker Tara Gomez is another who depended largely on her own means. She became an accomplished vintner before convincing her tribe to start and fund Kitá Wines on land they purchased in the Santa Ynez Valley. Later, she self-funded Camins 2 Dreams, her label with wife Mireia Taribo Tena.  

Community Aid  

When Monterey winemaker Miguel Lepe lacked the capital to start his Lepe Cellars, a Kickstarter campaign was what helped him meet financial goals. He raised $8,000 for licenses, grapes and barrels. 

“It allowed me to raise money without selling off any stakes in my business and gave me an opportunity to share my story,” he says. 

Additional Social Engagement   

Lepe contends that community is important in other ways, too. “I’ve had people provide resources. Not necessarily financial backing,” he says.  

He credits a stint as assistant winemaker at Figge Cellars, where he was encouraged to use equipment, as pivotal. He now hopes to be a similar mentor.   

Social support also benefited Gomez, who says Kitá gained momentum as the Black Lives Matter movement received increased attention in 2020. Though it took a decade for distribution to reach its current level, she says the cultural shift helped Kitá access more national distribution. 

“It wasn’t until the world started…highlighting indigenous and minorities that I was able to get this opportunity,” she says.  

Published on February 16, 2021
Topics: The New Now