Wine lovers like to talk about how wine brings people together. But in her years of experience working at restaurants in Philadelphia and Miami, Tahiirah Habibi saw something missing in the wine world. “I was working as a sommelier, and I was building a great career, but I didn’t see people who looked like me,” she says. “I always felt it was a stretch to see another person of color, and I decided to put my talents back into my community.”
In 2017, Habibi launched The Hue Society, planning events such as the annual Black Wine Experience in New Orleans, that helps connect the wine world with an African-American audience. “There’s a lack of opportunities to increase wine knowledge in the community, and there’s a desire for that knowledge,” she says. “I felt like it was time to focus on building up the confidence of people of color, and making sure they’re included in the conversations, and in the marketing.”
At events such as Charleston Food + Wine, Essence, and Aspen Food & Wine, Habibi breaks down some of the barriers that she sees as obstacles keeping wine from finding this more diverse audience. “It’s about creating experiences that people of color are able to relate to,” she says. “They can come and have fun and see people who look like them, and taste all these different wines—that’s how you learn.
It doesn’t have to be this in-your-face thing—it has to be about inclusion. I’ve always worked with all kinds of people, and this gives me the opportunity to uplift my community.”
And the Hue Society’s mission isn’t just about opening the doors of the wine world to a wider, more diverse audience. Habibi highlights the work of other African American wine professionals, not only introducing them to a wider audience, but providing the kind of visibility and support that’s needed to make the larger wine world more inclusive. “The community is still very small, and building that up is necessary—you can’t be what you can’t see,” she says.
“When I was putting together the Hue Society, I found it important to have visuals—to show there are other people who look like you doing this, and that makes you realize that you can do it, too. This can be a career path for you, when you may not have realized there was even an open door before. The playing field is being leveled, and the only way to do that is to continue to create exposure, and make people feel comfortable with the topic of diversity in wine.”