Black Vines celebrates diversity in winemaking

Claudine Wong, KTVU February 19 2019

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Diversity may not be something that you think about when you pick up a bottle of wine for dinner, but you might want to.  Every winemaker has a story, and the wine they make is a part of sharing their story with you.  

We met Theodora Lee of Theopolis Vineyards at her custom crush facility in San Francisco.  Lee is also affectionately known as Theopatra, Queen of the Vineyards. She founded Theopolis Vineyards back in 2003 and she will tell you she loves wine.  She will also tell you that when she sits in a room with other winemakers, “I am usually the only black woman for sure I can say that.”

She’s hoping to change that by telling her story. Lee is a lawyer by trade and back in the 90's her work took her to Napa and Sonoma and she says there were so many moments where she would lookout at the vineyards and think about her childhood.

Her father had a farm outside of Dallas, Texas. “I couldn't raise cattle horses like my dad but I could grow grapes and sell them to award winning winemakers,” said Lee. 

She admits didn't know much about wine so she educated herself taking classes at UC Davis and asking a lot of questions from the experts.  She bought some land in 2001 but then her plan to sell her grapes to winemakers hit a hitch. “I had picked in the rain,” she said but the winemaker thought the sugar level was too high so “he rejected those grapes so I had 8 tons of grapes with no home, so I found a place up in Mendocino to custom crush them.”

That led to her bottling her 2012 Petite Sirah in 2014, “and it won gold at Sunset Magazine.”

As a vintner she said she has found herself faced with something else, a lack of diversity, saying” there are other African American vintners but they are few.’

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