A Black-owned winery in New Orleans-Meet the Brain behind it.

“The Pessimist Sees Difficulty In Every Opportunity. The Optimist Sees Opportunity In Every Difficulty.”

I believed this Schoolteacher, a divorced mother of three who had to 'stay up all night, every night to learn wines' must have seen a great opportunity in the wine industry and was determined to make it through the thick and thin.

Kim Lewis is the owner of the first black winery in New Orleans and one of the few in the United States.

Despite wearing a boot protecting her broken right foot, Kim Lewis nimbly served flights of her Ole Orleans wines while balancing charcuterie boards for customers one recent night at her Central City tasting room.

36-year-old Lewis took photos for visitors and smiled warmly as she described the flavors, process, and passion behind each of her bottles of wine.

Kim Lewis Bitter-Sweet Journey so far

Lewis produced her factory's first bottles of dry and semi-sweet white wines from Louisiana-grown Blanc du Bois grapes in March 2019. This year she produced 700 cases and now has a total of 17 wines in her portfolio, including a Syrah, a Rosé, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Riesling.

The wines are named and inspired by the culture of New Orleans and Lewis' education in and around Crescent City: Five-o-Faux, a blend of red Rhône grapes; Tchoupitoulas, one of the first wines to be bottled; her Merlot, Gumbeaux; and BKK, a Cabernet named after his children Brandon (16), Kaylynn (13) and Khari (12).

As a self-taught winemaker, Lewis had a difficult start in the wine industry. According to the Association of African American Vintners, this is a common comment from black wine professionals, accounting for only 1% of the estate.

“I’ve had a lot of people not take me seriously,” she said.

But Lewis pulled from her entrepreneurial past and powered ahead. For Black Friday, was preparing to expand the reservation-only wine tastings at Ole’ Orleans into open hours.

“We’ve got really big things working,” she said.

Lewis New challenge and how she started


Lewis was born and raised in Algiers, she graduated from L.B. in 2002. Landry High School and attended Jackson State University (Miss.) Before earning a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Phoenix. She ran her own businesses: a trucking and Transportation Company and a healthcare company that provides babysitting services for the elderly and disabled.

"I'm a person who believes in risking everything for myself," said Lewis.

But the breakup of their marriage in 2016 made her want a fresh start and a new challenge. Wine had always been a comforting part of her life; Lewis said she had something to drink on every occasion. What started as a funny suggestion over a drink with friends quickly turned into a new career.

Lewis started researching winemaking and the wine industry and read everything she could find.

"I stayed up all night, studying wines every night," said Lewis, who also works during the day as a special education teacher at Walter L. Cohen College in New Orleans.

She eventually began a relationship with Landry Vineyards in West Monroe and bought their wines for the Ole 'Orleans label, which she sold herself.

“We can't grow grapes here in town. As a micro-vineyard, you have relationships with the vineyards, ”she said.

Lewis expanded into buying wine and grape juice, which she began filtering, bottling, and labeling on-site in her cellar, 1232 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans, which opened in April.

She forged a relationship with a Texas winery and began working mixing and creating flavors for new wines. Their last baby, Vieux Carré Rose, was due to debut on Friday.

"I've been working on it for a year," she smiles and pours a sample of dark pink new wine.

Storage tanks are on the way to the downtown basement. But Lewis and her co-workers - her kids and friends - have already crushed the grapes and put them in barrels to make a wine that she says will be ready in two to three years.

Diversity In winemaking you need to know

Many people have a narrow idea of ​​what it means to be in the wine industry and imagine a winery owner with fields of wine and dusty cellars full of barrels. But Lewis' entry is actually pretty common and exemplifies the sheer number of roles in the wine industry, said Louis Garcia, vice president of the Association of African American Vintners and owner of Stover Oaks Winery in the Sierra. Foothills in California.

"There are so many ways to be in the industry and have a wine brand," said Garcia.

The Association of African American Vinters, founded in 2002, was an opportunity for black winemakers to network and learn from each other. While thousands of black wines were made at home, there were only eight in ten who also grew the grapes and sold their wines commercially, Garcia said.

There are about 100 people of color in the wine industry in the United States today. But that's still only part of the 10,000 wineries that operate in the country, Garcia said.

In a recent webinar hosted by the Association and Wine Enthusiast, Wineries of Color discussed the challenges and lack of diversity in the industry.

"Part of the history of the American wine industry is that it was based on many family-owned wine businesses and dynasties after Prohibition," said Robin McBride, co-owner of the wine collection. McBride Sister manufactures in New Zealand and California.

She said land ownership and access to money are historical barriers for people of color seeking access to the industry. Wine can also be intimidating, which makes a place in the industry seem elusive.

The African American Winegrowers Association wants to change that. The group recently partnered with the United Negro College Fund to create the Black Winemakers Scholarship Fund and is in early discussions with Florida A&M University to expand their agricultural programs on viticulture, the study of viticulture, and so on expand enology, the study of wine, says Garcia.

"We're trying to get black kids to understand that [the wine industry] is a possibility," he said. “There are so many ways to get involved. Grapes cannot grow; It may not be about crushing grapes. It could be selling wine; it could be as a sommelier.

Expanding the Ole’ Orleans Wines brand

When she started, Lewis had to overcome misunderstandings and doubts about her abilities and her wine. Many doors were closed, she said before she finally got one of her first big breaks, her retail debut in New Orleans.

"We were the first store to pick up her wines,” said Troy Grant, co-owner of Second Vine Wine, New Orleans' first black wine shop.

Customers at the Faubourg Marigny store, which is slated to move to Magazine Street in December, love Ole 'Orleans wines, Grant said. He identified with the challenges Lewis faced as he too faced the same challenge when he opened Second Vine.

“I had resistance. They said, “You are black. You don't know anything about wine. How are you going to educate people about wine? Said Grant.

"As a black woman and as a person who makes wine, rather than just retailing it - she mixes the wines herself - I'm sure her barriers were two feet higher than mine," he said.

In addition to the bottles sold straight from the cellar, Ole 'Orleans is now available in Acquistapace, Breaux Mart, Zuppardos Familienmarkt, Avenue Wine & Spirits, Grande Krewe Fine Wine & Spirits, and Everything Shoppe.

There are plans to expand to more grocery chains in the New Orleans area, but Lewis said she doesn't want to get much bigger and prefer to focus on wine in small quantities.

"I want to produce quality," she says.

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