In the first half of her career, Elaine Chukan Brown worked as a philosopher, giving lectures and educating people, at various universities, on matters of race and racism, as well as social justice issues on gender, women, and sexuality. As an academic, she developed courses and teaching methods that made philosophy and ethics more approachable, understandable, and applicable.
Brown’s work in academia helped shape students’ perspectives across the U.S., and her thoughtful words on controversial but relevant topics surrounding equality and equity, women’s health, global politics, and more have pushed the needle further to better humanity.
She’s doing the same now for wine.
Brown entered the wine industry several years ago and has since become a columnist for Club Oenologique and a contributing writer for Wine & Spirits magazine. Her work is featured in dozens of publications from Decanter and the World of Fine Wine, to the Robb Report and beyond. Brown has also contributed to many books, including the award-winning 8th edition of the “World Atlas of Wine,” and the 4th edition of the “Oxford Companion to Wine.” She even served as the American Specialist for JancisRobinson.com from 2015 to 2020.
Much of her work and writing in wine has shed light on the lack of diversity and inclusion that’s long plagued the industry. Her bravery in using her platform and expertise to inform the wine industry on changes needed has won her high acclaim. This year, Brown was invited to give the keynote address at Femmes du Vin held at the U.S. Embassy in Paris. The year before, Brown was named the Wine Communicator of the Year by IWSC and VinItaly. Before that, Wine Industry Network named her one of the nine Most Inspiring People in Wine.
However, Brown’s agenda to expose the racism BIPOC people are experiencing around the world wasn’t such a welcome topic early on in her wine career.
“When I started in wine, it was like you weren’t allowed to mention any social category at all,” Brown says. “I just thought that was awful.”
“I had this whole career where I literally created some of the classes on racism at the school I was at. But then, when I got into wine more than 10 years ago, if I even mentioned racism in any fashion or did something as simple as just referencing the fact that I was a woman in wine, everybody would go quiet, and the conversation would stop. When I started in wine, it was like you weren’t allowed to mention any social category at all,” Brown says. “I just thought that was awful.”
So how did she get wine professionals more comfortable with discussing the ugly truths impacting their industry and the world? “I realized that anywhere I went, people were fascinated by the fact that I’m from Alaska. So I started leveraging that to make them listen to stories that were indirectly about race. I started talking about Alaska, and then I’d start talking about being an Alaska native. That would force people to hear stories about race indirectly,” she says.
While Brown has dedicated her life’s work to exposing the harsh realities of racism and prejudices many people experience, she’s just as passionate about uplifting other BIPOC people working in the wine industry. She often recommended others in her field of work for speaking engagements and events. And she regularly drinks wine made by BIPOC folks too. According to Brown, it’s just as important to show support to BIPOC initiatives by buying and trying their products.
She recommends three bottles made by BIPOC producers worth considering.
The grapes used in Camins 2 Dreams’ Grüner Veltliner are sourced from vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA in Santa Barbara County. The wine is produced by Tara Gomez, who the California state legislature has recognized as the first Native American winemaker, and her Catalonian wife, Mireia Taribó. Brown says the wine is a totally atypical expression of Grüner. “Rivers of flavor and mouth-watering freshness — the combo is just mouth-watering like summer in your mouth.”
Trial lawyer turned winemaker, Theodora R. Lee, is the woman behind the award-winning winery, Theopolis Vineyards, located in the Yorkville Highlands of the Anderson Valley in California. Although Lee’s winery produces various varieties of wine — many of which have received critical acclaim — perhaps her most recognized is her Petite Sirah, which has won several awards, including top honors at competitions like Sunset International Wine Competition and the San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition. “It’s totally unusual for Petite Sirah, but it’s really fresh. Petite Sirah is a really boney, generous variety, and out of her vineyard, it’s bright and fresh and racy and even a little green,” Brown says. “I love getting to see this really genuine and new expression of that variety.”
Kitá, Gomez’s solo project, was founded in 2010. The winery’s name translates to Our Valley Oak, in the native language of Samala, spoken by Gomez’s tribe, Santa Ynez Chumash. The name of this rare sparkling Roussanne means, it’s bright, in Gomez’s native tongue, and it’s a perfect description of what awaits in the bottle. “It’s just a super fantastic wine. There’s a really amazing acid, but then it’s perfectly Roussanne,” Brown says.