Ikimi Dubose-Woodson doesn’t drink Chardonnay. “I only drink white Burgundy,” she says, adding that she occasionally makes exceptions for very special bottles from, say, Oregon. “I drink what my palate deserves.”
Dynamic, direct and incredibly funny, Dubose-Woodson is the cofounder and executive director of The Roots Fund, a nonprofit devoted to diversifying the wine industry. Leadership also includes Tahiirah Habibi and Carlton McCoy, Jr.
Education, access and mentorship are pillars of The Roots Fund’s work. Since its 2020 launch, the organization has created more than 100 scholarships for future generations of wine professionals.
“This new generation has super buying power,” says Dubose-Woodson. “Get them on your teams.”
This past April, the organization held its first charity auction gala with Zachys. Between ticket sales and an online auction, the one-night event raised some $400,000 to create new pathways to wine.
“I expect more from people,” says Dubose-Woodson. And, of course, from Chardonnay.
What do you wish you knew when you started working in the industry?
You’ll have to work three times as hard as any man to be considered for basic roles. Even though you’re qualified, and good enough, you’ll have to prove yourself repeatedly.
As I excelled in my career I’m thankful that I never gave up, even when opportunities were taken from me.
How does your culinary background influence the ways you approach wine?
Being a chef has taught me discipline and perseverance. The ability to work really hard, keep studying and keep believing in yourself comes from my culinary background. As a chef, I had to be practically perfect in all my tasks. I showed up early and stayed late, and it might not have always been healthy, but it instilled great leadership qualities. Wine is about knowledge and practice, which are the pillars of being a chef.
One of the things I admire about The Roots Fund is how it creates communities for so many people in so many corners of the wine industry. Can you speak to the importance of community and mentorship?
Oftentimes, inclusivity includes a million conversations about access. Access should be given naturally, it’s support that we need. Community breeds support at the utmost level. When you can sit in a room of your peers and study freely without ego or judgment, more people will learn. To make the learning easier, we can correlate many things to our culture so you’re able to make it relatable. This builds community, when you have a network to rely on you can build upon yourself.
Mentorship is the key, it helps to network, but create a safe space to have conversations about industry. This one-on-one mentorship will really grow someone in their career. I find our mentors walk away with as much as our mentees.
“This new generation has super buying power. Get them on your teams.”
Who is the most underrated person in drinks?
This is a hard question and I have a few. In wine, Brittany Sherwood, Matt Taylor [and] Nico Cuevas are what a new Napa looks like. Cocktails at Roots Southern Table in Dallas, and Legacy Records in NYC, are hands-down phenomenal. That’s a few people who deserve some recognition.
You’re at a dive bar. What do you order?
A margarita and a beer, this lets me know the skill level of the bartender. If you can’t put that together you should focus on opening beer.