First Black-Owned Maryland Winery Co-Owner Says “We May Be First, But We Won’t Be Last”
Kimberly T Johnson made her Maryland Wine Festival debut not as a winery owner, but as someone drawn to the benefits of volunteering as a volunteer.
She and her friends have worked at a number of festivals across the state, she said recently.
“They stopped doing it, but I continued,” she said. “I realized that I fell in love with wine.”
This weekend, she will return to the 37th annual Carroll County Farm Museum’s grounds festival as one of the founders and owners of Philosophy Winery, the first black-owned winery in the state and one of the only two operating in the mid-Atlantic. The other is located in the state of New York.
Philosophy Winery is a so-called mobile boutique producer, where she and her longtime friend and co-owner Denise Matthews sell their product at farmer’s markets and festivals in addition to delivering it to your doorstep and selling it online. . They don’t have a tasting room yet.
Longtime wine consultant John Levenberg is working with Johnson on the production of The Wine Collective, a collection of Baltimore-based businesses that includes several artisanal wineries, located in a former Sears warehouse.
Certainly, the fact that it is a black-owned business in a largely white industry makes this business unique. Indeed, they hope the business, as it grows, will attract other black owners to the industry. There are so many sommeliers, she said, “but no one has taken that next step.” But it will happen, she said. “We always say we may be the first, but we won’t be the last. There will be more. “
To help fill that void, each year they select a young black woman who is interested in the wine industry or Maryland agriculture and mentors that person through the winemaking process.
“It’s a really wonderful experience to give back to someone everything that has been given to me,” she said, “to someone who looks like me.
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The winery’s name, Johnson said, is inspired by “who she and I are, our personalities.” We threw out so many names but the philosophy stuck because we live according to a specific way of life, a code. “
The two grew up in Baltimore and were already friends when Johnson said she had a particularly tough day at her finance job. This prompted a call to Matthews. “I said, hey, I’m so tired of this mess, would you like to start a winery with me?” And she said, yes, of course.
By then, Johnson had already worked for years at Old Westminster Winery, run by three siblings – Lisa, Ashli and Drew. This trio made the producer a nationally recognized producer for the quality of their red and white grape varieties, blends and pet nats. Among the tasks Johnson worked under Lisa Baker Hinton, the winemaker.
“It has been great learning how to make wine from a woman,” she said. “She was like my hero.”
Johnson is still employed there part-time and is taking courses online through UC-Davis for her oenologist certificate. Matthews is training as a sommelier.
“Kim and her partner Denise don’t just make history, they make amazing wines,” said Drew Baker. “It’s amazing to see her evolve from employee to peer. I am really proud of her.
For now, they sell their wines at festivals and markets, and in several shops around town, including Serenity Wine Bar and Off the Rox Wine & Beer Shop. Their wines are also presented to the Wine Collective every first Tuesday of the month.
Over time, Johnson said, they would like to find a home. “Ideally what we want to do is develop at some point a tasting room and a fermentation area,” she said, “where I will make wine and [Denise] will serve and talk about the wine we have.
Today that includes a Viognier and a Cabernet Franc, with plans for a new vintage rose and a red blend. They make about 130 cases of each wine they produce.
They are already welcome additions to the Maryland industry, said Kevin Atticks, founder of Grow & Fortify, which represents the state’s wines as well as its craft beers and distilleries. He was for years the executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association (MWA), of which Johnson is the treasurer. Says the owners of Atticks of Philosophy, “[Kimberly] and Denise have created beautiful wines that share their passion for wine and their spirit of service.
He was the one who told the couple when they started that Philosophy Winery would not only be the state’s first black winery, but also the first wholly female-owned winery.
When Johnson heard this, she said she was devastated.
“It’s 2021, you know, it’s not 1957,” she recalls responding. “I was just like, whoa, it’s amazing.”
The Maryland Wine Festival runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Sunday. Ticket prices vary depending on the package. You can find more information at this link.
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