From being named one of Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s “40 Under 40″ to a write-up in The New York Times, Jermaine Stone, who is known as the “Wolf of Wine,” has made quite a name for himself in the wine world through his podcast “Wine & Hip Hop.”

And in an industry that suffers from a lack of racial equity and representation, the Bronx native knows that the two industries pair perfectly. In fact, last year, Stone’s creative brand agency, Cru Luv Selections, held its first two-day wine event, the Wine & Hip Hop Festival in New York City. The event celebrated the intersection between the wine and Hip-Hop industries.

“I know I could utilize the power of social media to stay in front of the wine crowd, but I also wanted to promote the wine world to the hip-hop world, so this seemed like the best way to stay in front of both of those audiences,” he said. “It then developed out of the discussions we were having in the Cru Luv office about wine and hip-hop. The more we kicked around these conversations, the more connections I made between the two cultures, and I knew I had to get on mic and share it with the world.”

According to Wine Industry Advisor, Black-owned wineries represent less than 1% of all U.S. wineries. And despite making up 14% of the nation’s population, Black people make up just 12% of American wine consumers. White non-Hispanics account for 70% of American wine consumers.

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Jermaine Stone, who is known as the “Wolf of Wine,” has made quite a name for himself in the wine world through his podcast “Wine & Hip Hop.” (Courtesy of Jermaine Stone)

Stone’s wine journey started in college when he was packing boxes in the shipping department for Zachys Wine Auction, where he “fell into wine by accident.”

He said he worked the job to make money for school. There, he created their global logistics presence while also working as an auctioneer.

“When I was there, I began to see similarities between things I loved in the wine world and things I loved in the hip-hop world, and as I got further down the line I fell out of love with the world of music and decided to stay in the wine world,” he said.

The Baltimore Banner asked Stone a series of questions in advance of its June event “Wine on the Waterfront,” which he is scheduled to attend.

Why did you decide to combine wine and hip hop?

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It just felt like such a natural combination, because it was both sections of my life, the early part and my current life. It’s a major form of self expression for me. It wasn’t so much a decision as my life! When I started out at Zachy’s in the warehouse, I quickly discovered that hip-hop was something we all had in common. I could trade my thoughts on verses with everyone from the dudes on the warehouse floor to those on the auction floor. It was just so natural. Then you see people like Jay-Z dropping names like Petrus in their rhymes, and I’m seeing those boxes everyday, and you realize it’s just all connected, it’s all one global culture. I was and am living it.

What was your first memory of wine?

Manischewitz Concord Wine in my Mom’s sorrel at Christmas. This is a drink that combines hibiscus flowers, allspice, and whatever spirit is connected to the island you’re from. In this case, we used to put white rum in it. And my mom had her own little special thing, so she used to turn it up with a splash of Manischewitz.

Red or white? And why?

White —and especially white Burgundy. I think that the French have perfected the oak treatment of wine, the terroir is just perfect, and frankly chardonnay is such a versatile varietal and I’m drawn to that because it’s a great ambassador for any country it’s coming out of.

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What is your favorite and least favorite wine trend?

Favorite: The trend to make wine approachable. I feel like the industry has made a concerted effort in doing that, and there’s been a strong commitment to change, which doesn’t seem to have had the same staying power as in other cultures, such as fashion or tech.

Least favorite: Orange wine. Not because I don’t like the wine, but because I don’t like the energy behind the movement. It feels a little bit, “I’m better than you because you don’t understand it.” There is more marketing around it being orange than why it’s orange, and this is not really helping it be taken seriously outside of the professional wine circuit. However, there are brands doing an amazing job at marketing orange wines, fighting through the narrative while maintaining both the cool factor and the integrity. For example, Marquis Williams dropping “Hues” recently, he’s acknowledging that it is something different, but it leads with what it is people are drinking rather than anything pretentious that has had a tendency to bleed into that culture.

What is your perfect bottle of wine?

Anything from Meursault in the 1990s. Great vintages, great wines. Pure class in a glass.

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What is the most memorable wine you have had?

I’d have to say the most memorable bottle is the 2001 Château Lafite Rothschild that we paired with a freshly made lamb burger prepped by the chef for a “Tasting Notes from the Streets” episode we shot last summer. It was so delicate and elegant and the whole combination just blew me away. It wasn’t just the food, not just the wine, but the whole combination in that moment that made it special

What is the biggest misconception about wine?

Wine connoisseurs and wine makers don’t want you drinking their wine. That’s absolutely not true, there is this huge misconception that these people look down on you and don’t want you drinking their wines and that they aren’t approachable people, and that’s absolutely not the case.

What is the biggest obstacle to wine for Black people?

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In all honestly, there are so many obstacles that I would not do this question justice by summarizing it

Many of them are caused by systemic racism, and the blocking of access to education. It’s not easy traveling to visit wineries around the world if you’re Black and not traveling with white people. The assumptions about intelligence, the cultural difference — so many of this stuff was developed by the white populations of Europe, the language used around wine.

We could talk about this all day. None of these things are more important than the other, it’s just a huge cumulative list.

How are you as a Black man treated in the wine industry?

An experience that summarizes this to me is the question, “How did you get into this?”

I don’t know if I’m pleased that people are pleasantly surprised that I’m there, or I’m offended by their shock that I’m there. It’s not always expected that I don’t know anything, but there is always an underlying surprise that I’m in the room. Should I be proud or offended by that? I’m both at the same time.

What are your thoughts about celebrity wine labels? Are any of them any good?

I love celebrity wine labels. It’s a new way to get the category of wine in front of people. Having someone that you already admire express some creativity in a product that you already love. It’s all upside.

Do you have any favorite Black-owned wine labels?

Obviously, there’s Maison Noir by my man Andre Mack. He’s been doing fire things in the wine industry for a while now. And I can’t not mention the McBride sisters. They’re knocking it out the park with the work they do. I have huge respect and admiration for them and their wines are fantastic. Then there’s La Fête Rosé by [Randallstown native] Donae Burston. But to be honest, there are so many out there right now that I just wanna keep exploring. It’s a great time for Black-owned wine right now.

Is there a Black celebrity you were most surprised that turned out to be a wine enthusiast?

Dave East. I didn’t expect him to be into wine. I though that it was really cool to find out that he enjoyed the wines we shared, but he talked about his own experience with enjoying wine while he travels.

What are you most looking forward to about coming to Baltimore?

I’ve been a Ray Lewis fan, so hanging out with the Baltimore Ravens fans will be sorta like a homecoming. Plus I know the seafood is awesome, so you’d better believe I’m packing some pairings for that.

Have you been to Baltimore before? If so, any favorite places to eat? Get wine?

Last time I was in Baltimore, I was probably in my early teens. I’m probably looking for something a bit different these days, so I’ll be on the lookout for recommends.

John-John Williams IV is a diversity, equity and inclusion reporter at The Baltimore Banner. A native of Syracuse, N.Y. and a graduate of Howard University, he has lived in Baltimore for the past 17 years.

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