Rumblings of a Black, woman-owned winery were already on tongues when I first started Black Women Who Wine. There were no signs of it in the works online, but there were some Black women in the Charlottesville area who said they’d had a sneak peak. That the owner was a former educator who owned acres and acres of land, ready to make her mark on the Virginia wine industry. That was 2019. Fast forward to August 2022. Fourteen Black Women Who Wine gathered to experience Sweet Vines Farm Winery for the first time. We’ve got the place to ourselves, the dj is playing, and at the heart of it all is Seidah Armstrong.
Armstrong is the owner and winemaker at Sweet Vines located in Unionville, VA. Unionville is a fitting location for her establishment. The rural community is part of a larger community rich in Black history-Orange County. To say she is pleasant is an understatement. She welcomed our group with literal open arms, weaving storytelling, music, and wine education throughout our tasting and visit. Ancestors seem to always be on her mind – as they are for all Black women, and she’s honored them with the Ancestor’s Garden on the property. Her affection for her business partner and husband flows throughout the establishment and gives visitors a welcome dose of Black love, even if it’s in passing as he goes about the business of continued improvements to the property.
She has plenty of sweet wines, but is adamant that wine is in the mouth of the beholder, that we should be open to trying new wines, that understanding pairing is essential, that we as Black women know our wine, how to taste, how to go into tasting rooms and taste with the best. However, her tasting room is like no other and she’s providing a tasting experience like no other in the state. She’s also making some damn good wine.
The tasting room
The actual tasting room is not huge at Sweet Vines, but it doesn’t matter. There’s space for inside seating, a huge deck, and plenty of lawn space. The property boasts lawn games, smaller spaces to enjoy and take pictures in, and yes, a pool. Each month Sweet Vines hosts events that exceed normal expectations for wineries. Crab fests, all-white dinners, reggae and go-go. Our kinds of entertainment, food, and joy. Things other wineries are afraid to explore. Things that frighten them becasue they will draw large crowds of Black customers. Things that aren’t refined enough for your typical Virginia winery. But believe me, it’s all refined, orderly, and doable here.
We had a private popcorn tasting with charcuterie at Sweet Vines. We got to taste nine wines, eight of which are for sale. While Sweet Vines does have more sweet wine offerings than other Virignia wineries, most were semi-sweet with little residual sugar.
Favorites among ther group were the Pearlicious, a dry, fruit-forward pear wine with notes of citrus as well; a strawberry lavendar wine; PYT, a red blend; a pretty good Chardonnay; and Big Poppa, a blueberry wine without an overwhelming blueberry or jam taste.
Sweet Vines sources grapes from the former Oak Crest winery and has also planted its own vines.
Why Sweet Vines (and Black Women Who Wine) matter
Do a quick search, and you’ll find a few local news stories and wine blog posts on Sweet Vines, but no references to it from state- or region-wide media. Not only is it the only Black, woman-owned winery in Virginia, it’s one of the few on the entire East Coast. So why isn’t it getting more attention from the Virginia wine world? Like most most “worlds” in Virginia (and other states) Virginia wine has a systemic race problem. It also has a systemic male power problem. As the industry, and maybe a handful of wineries, in the state see solutions to both, it’s easy for both to fix one problem, and not the other, by adopting a handful of Black men to fill the gap. I can name them all. But women, it’s not so easy. Black women fit less neatly in the Virginia wine box.
During our visit, Kindra Dionne, owner of the Fify-Leven wine brand based in Loudoun County, stopped by to visit her friend Seidah. It was a pleasure to meet Kindra, but it wasn’t lost on me that three women in Virginia wine were all gathered at Sweet Vines on this day and not at Family Reunion, the ultimate summer celebration of food, wine, and the upper echelon of Black people. Virginia wine didn’t go un-represented at the event’s second year, it was just represented by Black, male ambassadors. The juxtapositoin of the weekend made our visit to Sweet Vines all the sweeter. Cheers to Black women everywhere who are fine not being on the hamster wheel. To those who live to give experiences to other Black women. To those who refuse to settle to be part of the ordinary, what always was. This one’s for you. And so is Sweet Vines and Black Women Who Wine.