By Madisen Keavy

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Three-time NBA Champion and 13-time NBA All-Star, Dwyane Wade, is the newest member of the Executive Leadership Board of the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology. He joins Julia Coney and Miguel Luna as members of the board comprised of industry voices in all parts of the winemaking process.

The board provides external advisory to the department and was created more than 20 years ago.

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Wade is co-founder of Wade Cellars in Napa Valley and he has been vocal about increasing diversity within the industry starting with his own business. His co-founder, Jamie Watson, spoke to CBS13 about their shared interests.

“Certainly that vision has evolved since we started it. But I think it really started with wanting to be in partnership with the right type of person and Dwayne checks that box for us,” said Watson.

Watson said it is a “watershed” moment for Wade, but also, Wade Cellars to have involvement with UC Davis’ Viticulture and Enology Department. In a statement shared through UC Davis, Wade himself spoke to their company’s mission and his greater goal as, what he calls, a diversity recruiter.

“Wine is for everyone, and I look forward to working with my fellow board members to create meaningful and impactful change. Together we hope to reach and inspire our community to pursue a career in the wine industry by creating a more equitable and viable pathway to achieve those dreams.”

Coney received Wine Enthusiast’s 2020 Social Visionary Award for writing and speaking about diversity, equity, and inclusion industry-wide. She was already familiar to UC Davis leaders, as she led workshops for industry professionals and the university about inclusion practices businesses can implement.

She also founded Black Wine Professionals as a resource for wine industry employers – and beyond, to diversify at all levels.

Luna is an alum of the viticulture department and is the first member of the leadership board as an alumnus. He was named Viticulturalist of the Year in 2020 by Wine Enthusiast and is a partner with Silverado Farming Company in Napa Valley.

Department chair David Block said all three new members will help take the program in the right direction – and improve on work, he said, has already started. That work: diversifying the program and in turn, diversifying the industry. On Wade, Block said he is in a unique position because of his ability to communicate and his social media following. Wade is a known name, that now, will be associated with the wine industry and UC Davis. That matters, said Block, when it comes to recruitment and representation.

“He has such a clear idea of branding an institution or organization and how to build that brand. And for us, that’s huge in terms of our really strategic communication to all parts of our stakeholder group,” said Block.

Wade’s first introduction to the board in-person was last week. Block said it was clear in that meeting, as in others he’s had with Wade, the NBA-MVP-turned-winemaker has his sights set on diversifying the roles of winemaker, vineyard manager, and consumers – everyone involved.

“I think that as Dwayne said the other day, no matter what the business is, if you want to be successful, whether it’s in the wine business or any other endeavor with your product and have authenticity, you have to meet people where they’re at, right?” said Watson.

Wade, Watson, and Watson’s father-in-law, Jayson Pahlmeyer are founding members of the business. Pahlmeyer is an established name in the industry and invited Wade on a harvest trip nearly 10 years ago. As for the name, Watson said on his family’s side of the partnership, there was no debate: it needed to say Wade.  The reasoning was that if Wade believed in the product, and was authentic, people would notice. Authenticity, as Watson said, that he believes was noticed as seen by Wade’s new role on the leadership board.

Diversity in the Wine Industry

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Less than 1% of American winemakers are black, according to the Association of African American Vintners. One of those, Phil Long, owner of Longevity Wines in Livermore, said Wade’s involvement in the industry at this level is progress.

“I think it’s extremely important…even for me when I was growing up and I went to Cal Poly Pomona, which is now between Pomona and San Luis Obispo a great viticulture and enology campus. I had no idea that agriculture had anything to do with grapes,” said Long.

He is President of AAAV and says he’s asked often about the challenges he’s faced as a black winemaker: “I got news for you. I don’t care what color you are. If you’re going to try to be a winemaker in this business, you’re going to face the same challenges. Selling the wine is a different story.”

Long hopes someone like Wade will inspired a new generation of fans to consider a career in winemaking, or at the very least, be aware that they are able to pursue if they want to – the option is there.

Membership in AAAV has grown by more than 500% since June 2020, according to AAAV spokesperson Tami Kelly.

A flood of donations and support enabled the organization to fund several scholarship programs and start an educational webinar series with Wine Enthusiast. Leaders also have created a AAAV store that is now one of the largest collections of Black-owned wine brands online.

Diversity throughout the department

The UC Davis Viticulture and Enology Department has changed in the last decade to include a larger population of underrepresented minorities in the student body and leadership positions according to David Block, professor and chair of the department.

Block said the additions of Wade, Coney, and Luna are indicative of the work leaders within the department have been focused on for the last 10 years – because they all have activism backgrounds.

“That’s the thing. In some ways, it was a little bit by chance that these three people joined us right now because we’ve been working on diversifying, not only our student population but our board for ten years,” said Block.

The department is split down the middle, with 50% male and 50% female students – but 10 years ago, Block said the same percentages didn’t apply to all student groups.

“What we saw was that we had a much lower population of Latino [and] Latina students in our programs than what we were seeing in the industry. And so about ten years ago, we started the Broadening Horizons program in our Department,” said Block.

The program encompasses projects, outreach programs, and initiatives that are inclusive. The things Associate Professor of Viticulture at UC Davis, Elisabeth Forrestel, said are her focus.

“We want people to have access to whatever career they want to pursue. In the wine world, it has historically been, an exclusive endeavor,” said Forrestel.

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Above all, Block said these new faces on the leadership team will allow UC Davis to recruit students that may otherwise not believe there is room in the industry for them. That part, he said, is hard, because it sometimes requires tapping into young people who aren’t of legal drinking age to educate them on the possibilities in all steps of the winemaking process.