Carlton McCoy’s leadership in the wine industry has opened the doors for dozens to create careers of their own.
“When I first started studying wine, I only knew of two Black sommeliers—Andre [Hueston] Mack and Nadine Brown—it was very rare at the time to see myself in the industry,” says Carlton McCoy of becoming a master sommelier in 2013. “Had I an organization then that could have given me a sense of community and guidance, it would’ve made the road a lot easier.”
This difficulty of starting his wine journey, coupled with participating in the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), is ultimately what inspired McCoy to cofound The Roots Fund with Ikimi Dubose-Woodson and Tahiirah Habibi in 2020.
“From the beginning, we knew we had to address the lack of wine education and career opportunities available to communities of color,” he says. The hard work of the small-yet-mighty board of directors of The Roots Fund has, over the course of just four short years, opened the doors for dozens of students who receive funding for wine education as well as hands-on experience in various sectors of the wine industry. McCoy credits his cofounder and fellow board member Dubose-Woodson for her passionate and focused approach for getting so muchn done so quickly. “We get a lot done for a small organization because everyone’s really committed, and we don’t just talk about things—we get them done.”
As cofounder and CEO of Lawrence Wine Estates, McCoy heads legendary Napa Valley estates such as Heitz Cellar, Burgess Cellars and Stony Hill Vineyards as well as brands like Ink Grade, Brendel and Haynes Vineyard and Château Lascombes in Bordeaux. And as managing partner of Demeine Estates he oversees a portfolio that includes the Lawrence Wine Estates wines as well as other import partners such as Legras et Haas, Domaine de Montille, La Chablisienne and Mazzei. He began in these roles in 2019, a year prior to the one that would completely change the world as we knew it: California wildfires, a global pandemic, racial unrest on a national scale. But instead of overthinking these things, McCoy made a conscious decision to lead with instinct and move with purpose.
“I’m a big believer that if you want something to be normalized, just normalize it,” he says. “If you want something to be better, just change it.”
This is the strategy he employs as a leader in the wine world and hopes to inspire others to take on as well. Among his key hirings is Philana Bouvier, president of Demeine Estates, one of very few women of color in any type of leadership position in the importing sector of the wine business. With its Dream It, Live It initiative, Demeine Estates aims to use its established network to provide unique opportunities for minority-owned businesses and organizations promoting social responsibility committed to changing the wine industry (such as the Roots Fund).
McCoy comments that receiving this honor isn’t really about him, it’s about recognition for the work and results that come with taking action in a genuine way. “I just hope to be an example for people to act on the things they say they care about,” he says. For his dedication to diversity and inclusivity and ability to take action and make change happen within the wine industry, Wine Enthusiast is proud to name Carlton McCoy the Social Visionary of the Year in the 2023 Wine Star Awards.
Published: November 7, 2023