planting roots

Cherished Houston nonprofit uncorks scholarship program fostering BIPOC participation in wine

Houston nonprofit's new scholarship fund fosters BIPOC wine pros

Lindsey Rose Southern Smoke Foundation Roots Fund wine scholarship
Photo by Randy Caparoso, LAIC Collective

A Houston nonprofit has made a major commitment to increasing diversity in the wine world. The Southern Smoke Foundation has partnered with the Roots Fund to launch an $80,000 scholarship fund for BIPOC who want to improve their wine knowledge. 

STEP (Study, Taste, Educate, Prosper) will grant annual scholarships to courses overseen by the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET), a British-based non-profit organization that sets qualifications and courses in wine education. To be eligible, a person of color must be a legal U.S. resident, at least 21 years old, and prepared to enroll in a WSET certification program between October 1, 2021-December 24, 2021. Applications for the scholarship will be available September 6-24 on both The Root Fund and Southern Smoke Foundation websites. 

The Root Fund aims to empower people of color to be more involved in wine through education, scholarships, mentorship, and, job placement. According to the organization, only five percent of America's over 10,000 wineries are owned by someone who identifies as BIPOC, a situation programs like STEP are designed to improve. To date, 99-percent of Roots Fund participants have passed their certification exams, which allows them to advance in wine-related careers.

"Through the STEP program, more than 89 scholars will receive WSET scholarships allowing them to excel in the industry and eliminate a financial obstacle,"said Ikimi Dubose, co-founder and executive director of The Roots Fund, in a statement. "STEP will continue to build bridges for people of color in the wine industry. It’s important that we as powerful nonprofits continue to work together, uniting our visions and helping our communities.”

Although the Southern Smoke Foundation is primarily known for its emergency relief fund that offers financial assistance to restaurant workers in crisis situations, the organization offers other kinds of assistance as well. Both The Root Fund and Southern Smoke intend for STEP to be a long-term partnership.

"When BIPOC professionals make up such a small percentage of the wine industry, it is evident that a significant amount of support must be dedicated to creating a necessary change," Southern Smoke executive director Kathryn Lott added. "Diversifying the wine industry will grow and enrich the entire food and beverage business, the people who work in that business, and the people it serves.”