Wine Should Be Accessible to Everyone
At first look, a person might think that Domestique is just a run-of-the-mill wine shop. However, this forward-thinking business, located in Washington, D.C., is reimagining the whole wine retail experience, fueled by a mission to be a more inclusive and fun space for all. Founded by journalist-turned-sommelier Jeff Segal who partnered with natural wine importer Selection Massale, Domestique is a natural-wine-focused store that wants to move the conversation beyond just what is in the bottle. Segal ensures that the producers they carry follow fair labor policies and adhere to sustainability practices such as only using organic or biodynamic grapes as well as using with very little sulfur in the cellar to produce clean and terroir-driven wines.
Segal also made sure that Domestique would be a place where people can browse and have their own space, which makes the wine-shopping experience a little less intimidating. The shop is large, open space with loads of windows, a sitting area and artwork all around. And because it employs a very large staff, you would get the hospitality that you would expect at a restaurant to answer your wine questions. Unfortunately due to the global pandemic, the store is closed for in-store browsing for now, but you can reach the staff either by email or phone to get some wine advice if needed.
"We wanted to make the space feel like it's for them and not this small club that they have to aspire to be part of," said Segal.
The wine shop's other goal is to address inequities in the wine industry by providing opportunities to people who've been excluded by it. Launched in July 2020, The Major Taylor Fellowship awards a person of color a three-week stipend-based apprenticeship at Domestique to learn the ins and outs of wine retail.
This fellowship was the brainchild of Rebekah Pineda, Domestique's store manager, who noticed first hand that stereotypes and misconceptions could slowly be broken down by having people of color in leadership roles like herself and Eric Moorer, Domestique's director of sales and engagement as well as what they could learn from others to make the store better. After George Floyd's murder while in police custody, the entire country was dealing with a reckoning about just how little Black lives really mattered with all the unchecked police brutality in the US. The staff at Domestique wanted to do something that could change the face of wine retail.
"Jeff said if I could figure out some funding and plan it out, we could do it," said Pineda. "So, I kind of just put my head down and talked to a ton of smart people."
"The fellowship is based on the idea that if people of color are in leadership roles, the closed mind nature of the wine world will slowly change, but they would need practical skills to make this happen," Pineda continued. "And the shop can give them some skills and 'insider' knowledge."
The first recipient of the Major Taylor Fellowship was Kayla Mensah, who now works as one of Domestique's managers and said her fellowship gave her a clearer understanding of the logistics of the wine industry. "What it did do was provide me with a look inside the wine industry outside of retail and restaurants and more with meeting with importers and learning about importing wine."
Domestique's fellowship is a small step in the right direction. But Moorer feels that the wine industry has a long way to go towards true accessibility and inclusion due to the fact that it's still very much a cliquey and predominantly white space. "You have to break down the idea barrier that things are supposed to be XYZ and have to do it in a certain style," he said. "Wine is a journey that is best experienced the way you want to experience it. And I think once we get away from that when you have to drink this, be seen here, buy wine from this person."
Domestique and its staff aim to open up more opportunities for people of color in the wine industry "We don't care where you fit into it," said Moorer. "What matters is that you're along for the ride with us. The idea of 'service' is making sure that you can take care of whoever walks in that door, no matter what their level or background is. And making sure that people are not having the same old, boring ass, stuffy-stodgy experience."
Although it may make some people uneasy, Moorer welcomes the awkwardness. He feels once the industry becomes more diverse, more aspiring wine lovers of color will become more comfortable with a community of different ideas, perspectives, and palates.
"I want to make people uncomfortable," said Moorer. "I want more people around who make people uncomfortable, thinking about something in a way that you haven't had to think about. As we open up and more people get comfortable, they are going to seek out other people like POC, women, people from non-historic wine countries. I think that we're going to start having more conversations and I want to be part of that."