Lindsay Williams, a registered nurse (Ph.D.) based in Los Angeles, is at the forefront of two national crises: Covid-19, and an industry-wide reckoning of BIPOC issues in wine. As the founder of South L.A. Wine Club (SLAWC), she organizes wine tasting events that bring together and commemorate BIPOC and other marginalized people in wine. What began as a personal passion pursuit to learn more about viticulture has morphed into a robust platform. SLAWC’s overarching philosophy is to cultivate a community culture around wine tasting that includes enjoyment, education, and engaging dialogue, as well as facilitating connections with winemakers in South L.A., Inglewood, and other neighborhoods.
Williams’ welcoming demeanor and thoughtfully curated events (happening virtually, for now) provide inclusive, accessible spaces for those who are “wine-curious” and haven’t had access to wine education and culture. She recently launched the South L.A. Speaks series pairing local leaders and winemakers, and donated half the proceeds from wine sales to Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. This year, she also co-founded Our Glasses Full, an ongoing non-profit collaborative series that celebrates Black Joy, a collective jubilation, compassion, and call to action for bettering the lives of BIPOC individuals. She believes that Black Joy is at once pleasure and a powerful tool, and an act of resistance to social unrest; and that the act of savoring and sipping (wine) can not only be celebratory, but radically transformative.
“The business and culture of wine cannot be separated from the people that make it on one end, and consume it on the other,” Williams says. “Our Glasses Full and South L.A. Speaks are meant to reconcile this spectrum, and acknowledge the fullness that comes from celebrating all these aspects.”
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1. What are you doing right now to shake up the industry to propel it forward?
Working in collaboration with my colleagues and friends in wine, and also focusing on my audience as a significant source of content and guidance in planning wine content. This year, I co-founded Our Glasses Full with some of my closest sisters in wine: Chevonne Ball of Dirty Radish, Alisha Sommer of Somersalt, and Roxy Narvaez. We hosted Juneteenth Saber Celebration this year, our inaugural event celebrating Black Joy through wine and user-submitted sabering videos as a way for wine professionals to contribute to the success of the event. Following this event, we want to commemorate other historic events and commemorations for BIPOC and other marginalized persons in American history through wine — which include Indigenous Peoples’ Day for October, Kwanzaa for December, and Women’s History Month for March.
In addition to this, South L.A. Wine Club celebrates and educates members of the South Los Angeles and Inglewood communities, so I started the South L.A. Speaks series to highlight the contributions of the South L.A. Community and pair our discussions with wine! So far, I have featured community therapists, social justice advocates, and natural healers, and paired our conversations with wines from local winemakers. Moreover, the wines were available for pickup and drop-off in South Los Angeles, and we donated half the proceeds of sales to Black Lives Matter Los Angeles.
Lastly, to celebrate and highlight voices within my community, I recently started the South L.A. Speaks series to connect with South L.A. and Inglewood residents about their work, how we are staying safe and sane, and celebrating each other with wine. I recently featured community therapists and social justice advocates with wine available for purchase from Serenity Farm and Vineyard and Final Girl Wines, both who are local winemakers in Los Alamos. We then donated 50 percent of the profits from the event to Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. It is truly exciting to see how wine can be a venue to connect with people, share our struggles and triumphs, and then support causes that benefit us all.
2. Is there any personal or professional introspection you’d like to share in light of what’s been going on with Black Lives Matter and the coronavirus crisis?
Personally and professionally, I think this is a time of great change and upheaval — and with that, what emerges is the importance of the relationships we’ve cultivated and the interconnectedness of systems. The toxicity of capitalism and the disparities it creates were already an issue (within the U.S. in general), but Covid-19 and the ongoing civil unrest has made it so these issues cannot be ignored. It will be interesting to see, this time next year, if the reckoning that is happening right now in wine continues for lasting and systemic change. As a Black woman, I encounter these issues every day, and as both a nurse and wine professional, I face these issues professionally. The fear that I once had to speak up on these issues has dissipated, so our industry will need to get used to being uncomfortable, empathetic, and recognizing and highlighting marginalized voices that typically have not been heard.
3. Tell me about your journey and involvement with the wine industry.
I developed a curiosity for wine in 2013 as a function of professional networking and social mobility. At the time, I was in graduate school and on the path to receive my Ph.D. in Nursing at UCLA (which I received in 2015). This represented a new social sphere of ivory tower academics, where I did not fit because of my ethnicity and age (I was in my mid-20s; and I observed that the average age of nursing Ph.D. students here were in their mid-50s). I found myself at conferences, mixers, and in classes where people were talking about wine, and I had no idea what they were talking about. Wine was not on my dining room table growing up, so I had no base of knowledge to build on. After a handful of occasions of sheepishly ordering whatever “red” was available, I started googling different wine labels and developed a small lexicon of wine terms that would help me break the ice and have substantive conversations with peers and colleagues.
In 2015, I went on a wine trip to Temecula and tried Leoness Cellars wines. It finally clicked why people loved wine so much. After that “Eureka!” moment, I started asking more and more questions, visiting wine shops and going to wine festivals to try more and more types of wine, which ultimately turned into a hobby, then a passion. I am a person driven by curiosity, harmony, and continuous improvement through acquiring new knowledge, so wine represented all these facets.
In 2016, I moved to South L.A., and sought to have the same growth and experiences with wine, but found there was nothing. In September, I started SLAWC on Meetup as a casual way to connect with like-minded people in my neighborhood. I was delighted to find not only similar minds, but an entire community. In the three years since starting South L.A. Wine Club, I have grown from hosting casual Meetups to offering curated events that bring in winemakers and distributors to this rapt audience.
4. What is the mission you envision for South L.A. Wine Club, and how are you achieving it?
The mission of South L,A, Wine Club is to create community among wine enthusiasts in South L.A. and Inglewood through accessible and affordable wine events, wine tastings, and wine education. I achieve this by building meaningful and substantive relationships with winemakers, distributors, wine brands, and curating events specifically in [these] areas. My events are not just for residents of South L.A., but for everyone who wants to celebrate this community.
Additionally, my community historically only had access to varietals and winemakers that were in grocery stores and liquor stores. Considering food insecurity and the pejorative connotation between liquor stores and communities of color, there are very few ways to access and enjoy wine in the neighborhood without driving across town. Our communities deserve to taste and enjoy these wines right in our areas, and that’s what I endeavor to do.
5. What’s the coolest thing you get to do in your job?
The best part of my work is meeting with new audiences and seeing the delight that comes with them trying something new and loving it! Even when they don’t like something, I use that as an opportunity and teachable moment; and at the end of the experience, they now know more about their palate and tastes than they did before.
6. Due to the pandemic, many individuals have had to pivot to survive and thrive. How has your business and role changed in the last six months?
The transition to virtual events was very difficult for me, particularly because I am also a doctorally-prepared registered nurse working on the frontlines of Covid-19 response. I went radio silent the first few months because I was overwhelmed with this seismic change.
With that challenge came the great opportunity to think strategically about what events could be in the future. For one thing, I wanted to keep virtual content short and digestible — that is, what could keep peoples’ attention and still be educational? Moreover, I had to consider, what is a potential format that holds space for the myriad of thoughts and experiences that we are all having right now? We are all struggling in some way, so for me, there was no point in hiding that from my audience. In my Instagram Live series and interviews, we talk about wine, but also social justice, creating harmony in our lives, self-care, and many other things.
7. What’s a significant shift your business has made in the last six months that you had never considered before?
How SLAWC can connect to other wine professionals nationally, through features in Black Wine Professionals, Our Glasses Full, and other collaborations with other wine professionals. I recently co-hosted an event with Amy Atwood Selections, Pinkies Up L.A., Zafa Wines, and Swift Cafe, a local Black-owned restaurant in the Crenshaw District. We collaborated to bring Zafa Wines to South L.A. paired with dinner, and an Instagram Live conversation with Krista Scruggs (the owner and winemaker) and I. It was an incredible event that brought these wines and the spirit of the event close to home and benefitted Black-owned businesses.
8. What about [changes that] you had thought were not possible before, but have become “standard” in this “new normal”?
That a virtual conversation can feel as enriching and fulfilling as an in-person tasting or visit. After months of attending virtual classes and tastings, I find I am now able to connect to more people than before.
9. How are you using your position to push forward on racial equity and respective issues in the industry?
I don’t take the name South L.A. Wine Club lightly — I know that with this name, I not only represent [myself], but also my community and its residents. Wine culture and the systems that maintain it are inextricably linked to systemic racism, injustice, and harm. So I am constantly questioning these practices in the work I do.
In addition, I bring my 10-plus years of health care experience into this work, and I see the startling disparity in health care access in hospitality workers. I am developing projects as an advocate for hospitality workers that no longer have access to health care or are underinsured with costly healthcare plans like COBRA.
10. What do you envision is next for yourself and South L.A. Wine Club?
Continuing to craft a caring and uplifting culture through our virtual content and collaborations with people nationwide. South L.A. Wine Club endeavors to be a pillar of strength within our community and a catalyst for positive change. With this in mind, I hope to have an operational base to host classes and curate more virtual events which speak to important issues that affect marginalized people/communities. Historically, much of our understanding of wine practices stems from elitist European “traditions.” SLAWC challenges these social constructs and offers insightful discussions that welcome all people into the fold, where they can feel a part of the wine-culture tapestry. Since it’s fluid and ever-evolving, we also ask what and how that looks and feels; wine sparks these vital discussions.
Additionally, with all of my initiatives and in being a small business (owner), I’m applying for grant funding as well as constantly seeking out new ways and opportunities to partner with like-minded wine professionals and brands that serve my community’s best interests. Lastly, I’m excited to be working on creating a wine club box; and although operational details haven’t been finalized yet, it will include curated varieties from local winemakers I want to spotlight. For instance, just last week I had an event that showcased 2018 Brut Rosé from Loubud Winery and the 2019 Passetoutgrain from Blue Ox winery that I would want included. The idea is that pickup of these wine boxes would be from my home (for the time being) and/or from South Los Angeles restaurants and businesses, such as with Swift Cafe where I did an event with them a few months ago.