- Kindra Dionne is the first Black woman to launch a wine label in DC’s Wine Country.
- Her label, Fifty Leven, is a collection of five wines that pair with multicultural food.
- Only an estimated 0.1% of US wine makers and brand owners are Black.
Kindra Dionne was assisting a business client as he harnessed grapes for his winery when he suggested that she enter the wine industry herself.
“I thought he was crazy,” Dionne told Insider. “I don’t have a degree in viticulture. I didn’t study in Sonoma. I couldn’t even pronounce half the wine labels.”
Though the idea first seemed outrageous to Dionne, it wasn’t all that far-fetched on second thought. While Dionne didn’t possess the traditional education in viticulture, she developed entrepreneurial acumen from her years as a business consultant, which put her in contact with people like Doug Fabbioli — the owner of the winery Fabbio Cellars and the person who suggested she should pursue a career in the wine industry.
Dionne’s work also enabled her to better understand the wine industry from various perspectives. She not only grew knowledgeable about its production, but she came to understand what people were looking for in their wine selections.
“I’d attend all these events for work and I’d see that people weren’t finishing their wine, because the wine didn’t pair well with what was being served,” Dionne said.
Yet starting a wine company isn’t as simple as intending to do so, especially if that company was borne out of a pandemic, during which many small business owners — particularly small business owners of color — struggled to stay afloat.
So how did Dionne pivot from consulting to becoming the founder of the first Black woman-owned wine label in Loudoun County, Virginia, otherwise known as DC’s Wine Country?
Cultural roots and vision brought Fifty Leven from “notebook to vine”
Dionne credits Fabbiolo’s mentorship and assistance in helping her produce Fifty Leven, a collection of five wines.
Since her wine label does not have a brick-and-mortar store, she operates Fifty Leven out of Fabbio Cellars and sells it there and online.
But the vision for the wine’s favors were all Dionne.
“For a while, I couldn’t understand why it would bother me that at these events, they would serve table wine, but most people would just leave it there because it didn’t go well with the food,” Dionne said. “Dry wine and spicy food do not pair well together.”
As a lover of multicultural food, Dionne wanted to make sure people had access to wine they could enjoy with their favorite fishes.
“I eat jerk chicken, Thai spring rolls, and fajitas, so I started thinking about different cultural experiences. Which types of food and flavor profiles do multicultural families eat? In the South, we eat barbeque, fat, sweet, heat, and what do we pair with that? Lemonade and sweet tea.” Dionne said. “So the same logic should apply with wines.”
“Whether you’re Asian, Caribbean, or African American, many of our palates have a similar profile,” Dionne added. “I wanted to create wine that tastes good with whatever I’m eating.”
Her Fifty Leven collection speaks to this goal as each wine is designated for specific meals.
The Petit Mansang, a white wine with hints of tropical fruits, goes great with seafood, she says, while the Stride Pear Wine pairs well with brunch.
“Wine isn’t just for sipping with cheese and crackers,” Dionne said. “It can make an already flavorful meal even more enjoyable.”
As the first Black woman to launch her own wine label in the area, Dionne is creating space for others to come after her
Loudoun County has more than 40 wineries, but until Dionne emerged on the scene and launched Fifty Leven in October, a Black woman had not owned her own wine label in the area.
Even beyond DC’s Wine County, diversity in the industry is sorely lacking.
Although there are more than 8,000 wineries in the US, only an estimated 0.1% of wine makers and brand owners are Black, according to the Association of African American Vinters. Many of these labels are owned by celebrities who were well-established before entering the industry.
“Leaders profess over and over that they want more diversity in their ranks. It’s an empty promise. Which is both maddening as well as foolish for an industry that needs to grow its consumer base,” wrote Dorothy J. Gaiter, who co-wrote the Wall Street Journal’s wine column from 1998-2010, in a 2020 essay titled “Being Black in the White World of Wine.”
Dionne recognizes that as the first Black woman to own a wine label in Loudoun County, she’s creating space for others to come after her.
“As Black women, we have a commitment to community that’s kind of a village mentality,” Dionne said. “It takes a village to build a business … For me in this space it was scary as hell getting out there, not knowing what I was walking into. The wine industry can be very elite.”
She recalled an occasion where someone was discussing “legs,” so she looked down at her own feet, not realizing that in the wine industry, legs refers to the droplets of wine that form on the inside of a wine glass.
“There was definitely a learning curve,” Dionne said. “I didn’t know if people would be receptive of me or laugh me out.”
Like many women of color breaking barriers, Dionne also feels a sense of obligation and responsibility to be a leading example, but she says the support she’s received from the community pushes her to keep going. She plans to release three more kinds of wine later this year and hopes to continue to show how love of wine is universal.
“It sucks that diversity in the industry is just starting to happen now, but I’m happy that it’s happening at all,” Dionne said. “We’re part of history as it’s unfolding across the country and globe.”