Mother Vines examines the rich history of Black women’s diverse global wine tastes. Over 250 Black women’s memoirs mention wine and reveal a deeply rooted tradition of enjoyment absent from discussions in the mainstream wine world. In this project, based on a series of our lectures, Professor Stephanie Evans explores Black women’s international winemaking, drinking, and sharing and unpacks themes in her forthcoming book, Mother Vines: A History of Black Women and Wine (working title).
To introduce themes of pleasure, pain, and power in Black women’s wine writing, Evans examines twelve narratives that reshape the popular telling of the 1976 “Judgement of Paris” and the Bicentennial-era wine boom. She imagines how Black women’s memoirs complicate the meaning of Thomas Jefferson’s assertion, in the 1776 Declaration of Independence, that every person has a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Evans shows, for better—and for worse—Black women have historically pursued happiness through drinking wine.
Black women’s wine stories expand worldwide appreciation for this ancient beverage and unearth deeper roots of the relationship between race, class, gender, and drinking. Memoirs show that palm, plum, banana, blackberry, orange, muscadine, and honey wine are as present in Black women’s lives as champagne, cognac, or cabernet, and tastes also include sangria, sake, and slivovitz. This research challenges the erasure of Black wine professionals and disputes popular stereotypes that “Black women have no palate.” In fact, memoirs demonstrate how Black women’s palates include both the “old world and new world” but also reach beyond binaries. Memoirs are narrative “mother vines” that guide readers through Black women’s complex tasting experiences, spanning four centuries, forty wine types, thirty countries, and fifteen states in the U.S.
Evans shares her fruitful quest to discover the vibrant and complicated wine history of Black women oenophiles (wine lovers). Featured authors include seventeenth-century Afro-Peruvian mystic Ursula de Jesús, social activist Mary Church Terrell, jazz age club owner Ada “Bricktop” Smith, chef Edna Lewis, writer Maya Angelou, environmental activist Wangari Maathai, actress Diahann Carroll, singer Natalie Cole, entertainer The Lady Chablis, centenarian athlete Ida Keeling, and artist Grace Jones. Wine memoirs reveal truths that are beautiful, ugly, and healing.
Evans, as the twelfth storyteller, creates a triptych, a three-part portrait of Africana drinkers as “Wine in the Wilderness” women, reminiscent of the Alice Childress play. Mother Vines offers a robust taste of fascinating journeys that re-root Black women’s voices into the global vineyard.
These stories also reflect wine as an element of Black women’s timeless quest for mental health, wellness, and joy.
Lecture 1 January 21, 2022
VINTAGE 1976 To Imagine That She Has Enjoyed
Introduction Mother Vines: Black Women’s Wine Memoirs
Spirit Ursula de Jesús, The Souls of Purgatory
Temperance Mary Church Terrell, Colored Woman in a White World
Lecture 2 February 18, 2022
BEAUTIFUL WINE Wine in the Wilderness
Verve Bricktop, Bricktop…the Exuberant Story of a Fabulous Life
Food Edna Lewis, The Taste of Country Cooking
Terroir Maya Angelou, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas
Lecture 3 March 25, 2022
UGLY WINE Drunk With the Wine of the World We Forget Thee
Justice Wangari Maathai, Unbowed
Price Point Diahann Carroll, The Legs are the Last to Go
Addiction Natalie Cole, Angel on My Shoulder
Lecture 4 April 22, 2022
HEALING WINE I Heard It Through the Grapevine
Party The Lady Chablis, Hiding My Candy
Health Ida Keeling, Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down
Art Grace Jones, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs
Conclusion #LaughingWhileBlack: The Politics of Black Women’s Joy
This article outlines two main ideas of Mother Vines, a research project about Black women’s wine history. First, this research examines how memoirs unearth deep historical roots of Black women in the wine world. Second, this work explores diverse wine tastes of Black women in the African diaspora, debunking myths of provincial palates. Life writing exposes complexities of Black women’s beautiful, ugly, and healing drinking experiences.
Over 250 Black women’s memoirs mention wine. In Mother Vines, I sample twelve narratives, including the communion diary of Ursula de Jesús, a seventeenth-century Afro-Peruvian holy woman; chef Edna Lewis’s recipes for blackberry and plum wine; singer Natalie Cole’s warnings about addiction; centenarian athlete Ida Keeling’s daily shot of Hennessey or port wine as a secret to longevity; and Grace Jones’s devotion to French red, white, and champagne.
This library, of life stories, offers a broad diversity of Black women’s wine choices. Accounts of palm, plum, banana, blackberry, orange, honey, and muscadine wine are as present as notes about champagne, cognac, and cabernet or sangria, sake, and slivovitz.
These deep roots of history and broad branches of taste create a detailed map to retell the popular story of the 1976 wine boom and “The Judgement of Paris” from a new standpoint. This history expands the cultural conception of drinking and renders Black women oenophiles (wine lovers) visible—in the past and today. This study also lays groundwork for future social science and humanities research.
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