Entrepreneur Builds Business Brand Toasting African Diaspora Winemaker

Benita Johnson raises awareness and her glass to black women and men in the wine industry

Three years ago, Benita Johnson was re-thinking her professional life. Her work as a business consultant was gratifying, but something was missing. Actually, two things were missing.

“Consulting is fun, but I like wine and spirits. I am a trained sommelier, and a former wine shop owner. I yearned for more people contact and a way to educate about wine. And I wanted to do something fun,” says Johnson. 

The “fun” began when she decided to leverage her experience as a wine entrepreneur with her certification as a sommelier. The result: The Vine Wine Club. Johnson launched a subscription wine service that sends out three wines per month to members. Currently, The Vine Wine Club only ships to Virginia and Washington, D.C., but future plans include the incorporation of more states.

To extend the brand, Johnson launched “The Exclusive BlackList,” an annual event feting African and African American winemakers. She says, “There are a handful of black wine brands that truly deserve the celebration and the introduction to wine lovers. The Exclusive BlackList seemed like a natural way to toast them as well as create another stream of income.”

In fact, Johnson has created a steady stream of events that call on her expertise as a sommelier and wine expert. The Exclusive BlackList is the leading event of its kind, but she also teaches groups and individuals about wine as an educator. “Wine is such a personal thing, so I’ve taken the stuffiness out of wine education to assist new and veteran wine lovers in stretching their palates.”

The Exclusive BlackList serves another important purpose to Johnson. It enables non-black wine lovers to experience wines by minority winemakers. “Event attendees represent a multi-racial scope of wine drinkers, so it’s great when they walk away with a wine like Shoe Crazy or Mouton Noir for their collections.”

2017 already promises to be a stellar year for the wine entrepreneur. The Exclusive BlackList has been re-configured into a two-day, destination event that includes the wine tasting as well as a wine-paired brunch the following day. But there is one more thing setting Benita Johnson apart from the pack. She will also be hosting a micro-conference for food, wine/spirits, and hospitality small business owners to cap off the weekend.

Behind the Business East is co-partnered with the culinary magazine Cuisine Noir, and is a satellite conference and companion to the magazine’s main conference held in San Francisco. The five-hour event features experts in marketing, branding, licensing, and retail procurement. Johnson says, “The conference’s focus will be on the individual who can benefit from networking and who, most likely, produces their products or business from their homes. Small food and spirits businesses are growing, but they are also a major part of a community’s economic development.”

As Benita Johnson expands her business model, she is also expanding her personal life. “My children are my priority, so these endeavors have given me the ability to devote more time to them. Time goes by so fast. I not only want them to see me, but I want them to see me happy. Happy mothers give children the space to pursue whatever makes them happy in the long run.”

To learn more about Johnson’s subscription wine service, services as a wine expert, and her events, visit TheVineWineClub.com online.  The Exclusive BlackList and Behind the Business East conference takes place February 10-11, 2017 in Richmond, Virginia.

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