Last week, the Australia-based global wine conglomerate Treasury Wine Estates announced a multi-year partnership with rapper Snoop Dogg to bring a California red blend to market under its 19 Crimes label. For those unfamiliar with 19 Crimes, the brand is a supermarket staple that’s known for bringing Australia’s early convicts-turned-colonists to life on its augmented reality labels.
From my perspective, the partnership between a black man and a wine brand associated with “criminal” activity is troubling — and tone deaf — given the dangerous, tired stereotypes associating people of color with crime. As just one example, black men have a higher risk of being killed by police than white men, according to the National Academies of Sciences, so the perception can all too easily have real-life consequences.
In his past, Snoop Dogg has been associated with gang violence. He was acquitted in a murder charge, and pleaded guilty in a weapons charge. But in recent decades, criminal activities took a backseat to his smooth West Coast rap flow, and he is still one of the biggest rappers making music today. So why would a successful black star — who has a television show with Martha Stewart, a family-friendly cookbook, and a gospel album — want to revisit his criminal past, partnering with a wine brand whose labels are animated portraits of convicts?
As Snoop says in the launch press release: “I’ve been a fan of this wine and I’m excited to unveil my ‘Snoop Cali Red’ this summer and share the experience with all my fans. It’s one of the most successful brands in the market, so I’m more than eager to bring this collaboration to the world!”
Let’s look at the bigger picture. The wine world doesn’t need another celebrity-endorsed wine. It already has so many, although very few are helmed by black men. In that category, there’s Intercept Wines by the former NFL player Charles Woodson, and Wade Cellars by Dwyane Wade, the former NBA player. Meanwhile, Earl Stevens Selections, by rapper and actor E-40, has been making wines for almost a decade. The difference here is that 19 Crimes wines are sold globally, so Snoop Dogg’s face will be on bottles all over the world. From a branding perspective, there’s certainly an appeal to that global visibility.
Given that context, what do black wine drinkers and wine professionals have to say about the partnership? I decided to find out.
Jermaine Stone, president and CEO of Cru Luv Selections, says he believes that Snoop Dogg’s 19 Crimes partnership will “expose wine to a larger audience and encourage them to drink wine, and it will be huge for black culture to give wine a try,” he says. “We should give Snoop Dogg the space to be an artist and be bold which black artists aren’t allowed to do. I think this is a good start for Snoop Dogg in the wine world.”
That’s in contrast to other perspectives. Marketing professional Sabrina Jackson, of Social Sab, and a longtime wine drinker, says she believes this partnership is a “complete contradiction of the brand Snoop is trying to project. It will not last…he’s not serious about the world of wine. A simple Google search of ‘insert celebrity name’ and the word ‘wine’ — and one can deduce the celebrity’s hobby of wine, or not. Snoop is no wine enthusiast.”
Jean-Wesley Michel, a design consultant with interiors firm Calligaris and a wine enthusiast, says he doesn’t like seeing a black man associated with crimes — even on a wine bottle. “Snoop is too old for this type of partnership,” Michel says. “His brand is bigger than this.”
One black sales representative for a major distributor, who spoke anonymously as he was not authorized to comment on the company’s behalf, says he “[H]ates the idea and feels [Snoop] is doing it for the money. If it is a hip-hop thing, André Mack would be a person to collaborate with,” he says, referring to the award-winning sommelier and winemaker of Maison Noir Wines. Mack would indeed make a smart partner for Snoop if connecting hip-hop and wine was the goal of the initiative, as Mack has always used hip-hop and rap as metaphors for his wine names. And such a partnership would lack the negative association that’s hard to escape in a name like 19 Crimes.
But others see the collaboration as a way to introduce more black people to wine. Steffni Bethea, the owner of the Purple Corkscrew Wine Shop & Tasting Room, in Avondale Estates, GA, says she has pondered the question, “Is this good marketing or exploitation?” But in the end, “I decided that I don’t have to decide,” she says. “Snoop will usher in a new wave of wine drinkers just as rappers before him did with Moscato.”
Bethea continues: “Having been an on-premise and retail wine provider for eight years, I’ve personally seen those very same ‘Moscato’ palates expand, over time… I welcome the opportunity to receive more wine drinkers into the fold, and to expand their palates when ready.”
Only time will tell whether Snoop Dogg’s partnership with 19 Crimes is a sales hit, and if it successfully brings new audiences into the wine fold. But I agree with Bethea, who concludes: “Will I be drinking, Snoop Cali Red? Probably not. But, everything ain’t for everybody!”