How The Hue Society’s Wine & Culture Fest Became the Premiere Black Wine Destination

The Wine & Culture Festival is making its highly anticipated return to Atlanta this July, evoking a profound sense of awe and humility in the festival’s founder, Tahiirah Habibi, and the esteemed team at The Hue Society. As they eagerly approach the festival’s fifth year, they reflect upon the arduous beginnings and the formidable obstacles overcome, drawing inspiration for this year’s theme: “Kingdom Come: Celebrating the Tables We’ve Built.” 

In the three years before the trailblazing sommelier and founder brought her celebrated Wine & Culture Festival to the BIPOC community in 2018, she tried her hand at making wine and wine culture more accessible to the non-white community with a wine and reggae festival in Miami. 

 Habibi launched it and Black and brown wine lovers came in droves. And that wasn’t the end of it: When she launched the Black Wine Experience, also in Miami, through her wine events company Sipping Socials, the gathering was once again met with success. When Habibi first got the idea to create space within the largely white wine and spirits industry for Black wine lovers, it was because she had seen for herself that people of color both wanted and needed that. 

“I knew that if I brought wine to the culture instead of trying to shove the culture into wine, it would be different,” Habibi says today. “I knew if I just centered us and let everything else revolve around that, then it would be different. And I knew that back in 2015. It was just very hard. Although others were also creating amazing platforms with similar visions, it was still catching on.  It was still a new concept and a new way to influence an industry.” 

The Wine and Reggae Festival became the Black Wine Experience, which then became Wine & Culture Fest. What began as a one-day festival featuring $6 wines and a live reggae band has, by its five-year anniversary, grown to a week-long kickback meant to teach, commemorate, and shine a spotlight on BIPOC wine lovers.  

It has evolved beyond a mere festival; it has become a reunion of like-minds and common visions, a breath of fresh air for those who have been suffocating in industries and rooms where they cannot be themselves, a networking event to dream about their next ventures, a time for meaningful connections, and a reaffirmation of purpose. 

The Early Days of the Festival, Formerly Known as the Black Wine Experience 

Before Wine & Culture Fest drew BIPOC wine and spirits lovers specifically for now-beloved festival staples like The Cookout and R.I.C.E., Habibi set up the first iteration of the festival at another Black cultural mecca, a prominent get-together that has celebrated cultural excellence for decades.   

“I started doing this festival because there weren’t any wine events going on there,” she says. “[Wine & Culture Fest] was called the Black Wine Experience back then. The planning started months before because every state has different liquor laws.” 

To get certain wine brands into New Orleans, where the aforementioned festival took place in 2018, Habibi went to the Louisiana State Board and asked if the brands working with her could obtain state distribution. It was that drive —the kind only a person on a mission can have —that set the tone for her approach to making the festival everything she and wine lovers of color wanted. So Habibi persuaded vendors to attend and, with the help of her sisters and cousin, dedicated herself to making the Black Wine Experience just right. While the experience was fun and new, it was admittedly hard. 

 “A big part of it was trying to convince people to trust me and that this would work. Brands who didn’t know me at all said, ‘I’m going to do this.’ Other brands were sending me wine from across the country. And then some brands said, ‘What do you want? Black people aren’t my demographic.’” 

Financially, she adds, a lot of the funding came from close friends and supporters, as well as out of her own pocket. The Black Wine Experience was new, and despite being at a major festival, they weren’t a known name just yet. Habibi returned to the festival in 2019 for the last time, deciding that she needed a more accessible way to share her vision with Black wine lovers. 

She, like the rest of the world, would have to put those dreams on hold the following year when the global Covid-19 pandemic halted any chance of live events and gatherings happening. 

 The Wine & Culture Festival as We Know It  

When the Black Wine Experience returned in 2021, Habibi retooled the direction and image of the festival. The festival moved from New Orleans to Atlanta for three days and gave the affair the name it is still known by today: the Wine & Culture Festival. 

For me, it was a realization that, yes, we can celebrate and center Black wines, Black brands, [and] Black ecosystems, which I was a very big part of helping build,” Habibi says. “And as Black consumers, we deserve other wines, right? Because there has to be a balance in education. Being able to drink high-end Burgundies and being able to drink Champagne, we deserve that, too.” 

The first proper Wine & Culture Fest featured a plethora of inclusive events created to resonate with its BIPOC audience. The first day of the three-day fête began with a cookout, a classic staple in the Black community that encourages bonding, hanging out, and releasing one’s stresses. The next day was R.I.C.E., or Rising In Community Everyday, where the grain used for dishes the world over is brought center stage to draw attention to international cuisines, specifically within the African diaspora, with additional highlights on Latinx and Asian communities. The final day of the festival, Habibi’s favorite, was the Roses and Rosé Brunch, which centered Black leaders within the wine and spirits industry and gave them the recognition they deserved with awards like Chef of the Year, Industry Pioneer, Rosé of the Year, and Impact Award. 

The latter, Habibi’s way of lifting up the BIPOC vanguards in a way they haven’t been before, hasn’t left a dry eye in the house since its inception, she says. 

One of the festival’s greatest surprises and privileges is witnessing the rapid growth of Black, brown, and Indigenous brands within the wine industry and beyond as they connect with others. Ultimately, the Wine & Culture Festival helps people expand their influence. “Everyone I speak to after each festival shares that a company or person had a significant impact on them, be it personally or professionally,” Habibi says.  

The Wine & Culture Fest at Five 

At only five years old, the Wine & Culture Fest already has a laser focus and a fully realized purpose. With a loyal fan base ready to show up, learn, and have fun, Habibi is ready to bring the fifth iteration, dubbed “Kingdom Come,” to Atlanta for an entire week this year.  

For the fifth year, I was thinking about the culmination of all the things that I’ve been through and that the community has been through and the way that we’ve grown,” Habibi says. “I see the shift in us. Us fully arriving in our confidence and developing ourselves and our brands. That, for me, is the kingdom. Because everything for me is about community.” 

While the Cookout, R.I.C.E, and the Roses and Rosé Brunch are returning for the 2023 festival, this year from July 23 to July 30, festival-goers can expect new events. From adult playdates to rooftop yoga and skating, these activities incorporate elements of joy from Black culture, embracing traditions and nostalgia. 

We’re building [models of different] countries since the space has a bunch of storefronts,” Habibi shares. “We have a [photo] room with graffiti all over it, for the picture-perfect moments. We’re doing an entire event on Black women’s hair, which is our crown. We have these different chefs coming in and cooking different culturally specific rice dishes from the diaspora. We’re pairing chefs with sommeliers and letting people vote on the best pairing. And we always do a blind tasting competition, which I think is important for us culturally.” 

The festival will also include a special recognition of Emily Meggett,  a Southern-style cook from South Carolina who recently passed away.  She was known for being one of America’s best Gullah Geechee cooks and for her bestselling cookbook “Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes From the Matriarch of Edisto Island.” The Wine and Culture Festival will welcome her family to the Roses and Rosé Awards Brunch and honor her memory by renaming the Legends Award.  

Even though the fifth Wine & Culture Fest has yet to grace the city of Atlanta, Habibi knows where she wants it to be in the future. 

The evolution of this festival is for it to grow organically in light,” she says. “I want it to be on the same level as [other noteworthy festivals that people know of],” she continues. “I would love for people to brag about having won a Roses and Rosé award. I would love for the award show to be just as important and not thought of as ‘dumbed down’ because it’s Black. I would love to see all of that and more.” 

Get your tickets at Wine & & Culture Fest’s website and be sure to follow them on Instagram @wineandculturefest 

This article is sponsored by The Hue Society.