After over a year of locking down, masking up, and endless quarantining, it’s been refreshing to — responsibly — begin going back to face-to-face, non-Zoom-audio-issues events.
That’s precisely why Tahiirah Habibi, a sommelier and luminary in the wine community, decided to hold Hue Society’s annual Wine & Culture Fest in person this year with safety precautions in place throughout the weekend. “The event,” she says, which runs from Aug. 27-29 in Atlanta, is “one big love fest.”
The North Philly native launched Hue Society in 2017 to celebrate, appreciate, and create a community, mentorship, and a network of resources for Black and Brown winemakers and members of the wine industry who have been historically excluded. Though progress has been made, representation and wider acceptance in the industry is still a challenge. It makes Hue Society and the festival’s mission even more important: a joyful way to bring everyone together.
“It’s more about the celebration of community than it is about awards or actually sipping wine. Those things are great. But the real thing is how we are showing up for each other, what kind of support we’re giving each other, and being present. If this year taught us anything, it’s to be present,” she says.
Habibi, who in 2020 became the first Black woman to grace the cover of Wine Enthusiast magazine, began her journey into the wine world in college. She worked for years in the restaurant industry and eventually took wine classes at night after graduating. After working for several years as a sommelier, she noticed something was missing from the industry: people who looked like her, and she believed her skills could bridge the intersection of wine and culture. In 2012, she opened St. Regis Bal Harbour and later moved on to leadership positions at other prestigious restaurants including Michael’s Genuine. She’s been making waves ever since.
Typically held in New Orleans, Habibi moved the festival this year to Atlanta, the “Black Mecca,” as she puts it, which has long been a hub for innovation in the culinary and hospitality industry. Having it in a place that’s easily accessible and affordable for a wide range of industry professionals makes it the perfect location and doubles down on Habibi’s intention of facilitating access to those who need it.
The eclectic events over the jam-packed three-day weekend are curated for celebration and inclusivity for all people who enjoy wine and community. The festival kicks off with a good old-fashioned cookout where attendees can mix and mingle safely, drink delicious wine, try different food pairings, and smoke cigars, all until the wee hours of morning.
The celebration continues on day two, bringing wine and food together with R.I.C.E. (Rising In Community Everyday) —a celebration of one food source that ties so many different people together, specifically from the African diaspora, Latinx, and Asian cultures.
The panel will feature James Beard-nominated and celebrated soul food chefs Deborah VanTrece and Todd Richards in conversation with Chef Alex Hill. WSET and Wine Folly are sponsoring the Blind Wine Tasting and there will also be a Bubbles Room for sparkling wine.
One event Habibi is particularly excited about takes place on the final day — the Roses & Rosé Awards Brunch. “It’s super significant because attendees will be able to be in the same room with such legendary pioneers from the Black wine space,” she says.
Happening on Sunday in the ballroom of the Kimpton Overland, one of the festival’s major sponsors, the third annual awards are recognition for a variety of Black and Brown wine professionals who have made major strides in the industry, as well as allies and publications that have helped support the community by publishing vital stories and giving others a voice.
Hosted by Jermaine Stone, owner of Cru Luv Wine, a wine branding and marketing agency — as well as a fellow Wine Enthusiast 40 Under 40 Tastemaker with Habibi — some of the award categories this year are Best Podcast/Media, Sommelier of the Year, Winemaker of the Year, Publication of the Year, Best Chef, Nonprofit, and more. Past Roses & Rosé Award recipients included Andre Mack, Julia Coney, Mac McDonald, and McBride Sisters.
As with seemingly everything she does, Habibi’s personal responsibility to educate, include, and foster community is infused with joy. And helping provide these kinds of resources for both young and seasoned industry members is part of her viewpoint on paying it forward and showing respect for those who came before. She’s well aware of the sacrifices and uncomfortable situations others have faced in paving the way for BIPOC in the wine world. Thanks to platforms like YouTube and other social media outlets, there’s less of a feeling of isolation for new people of color who want to work in wine.
Her hope for the newcomers at the festival is to celebrate and expand the network, but also to understand the struggles of those who came before. “Not only will you be able to have a good time, and to learn, you’ll also be able to get some really good history and understand it is still difficult for a lot of people,” she says. “But imagine how difficult it was when we didn’t have each other?”
The festival will close with a Rosé Lounge day party sponsored by Michael Lavelle featuring a variety of unlimited pink wines. Throughout the weekend, along with great food from a bunch of local chefs and beats from DJ Whit-It, DJ Chubb E. Swagg, and JMeel and the Neighborhood Kids, the festival will feature some outstanding wines, including rosé from Triennes, bubbles from Mermosa and Lovelee, vegan red and white blends from Sip & Share Wines, and so many others.
As for the future of the wine industry for people of color, Habibi is proud of the ecosystem she and others have been cultivating. All too often, BIPOC are the ones who have to code-switch and assimilate because of implicit, systemic bias. What she hopes is “that more of us can just be who we are and still get the same resources and access without having to strip ourselves down to what you think we should be.”
This article is sponsored by Hue Society.