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'Representation totally matters': Tri-Cities winemaker shares lack of diversity in the industry

Despite Washington being home to more than 1,000 wineries, only three are Black-owned.

BENTON CITY, Wash. — Washington produces the second-highest amount of wine in the country, just behind California. But despite the vast number of winemakers in our region, very few are owned by women or people of color.

It’s something Shae Frichette, with Frichette Winery in Benton City knows all too well.

“There’s a ritual around wine when it comes to sniffing and swirling,” said Frichette. “I think sometimes those things can be a little bit intimidating. At the end of the day just be open to exploring.”

With a personality that's as bold and robust as the wine she creates, Frichette doesn't hold back when it comes to talking about how rare it is for a Black woman to be in her position.

“When I first came into wine, I didn't see any Black female winemakers and so I just didn't see that represented so I really had to figure out my place in wine,” Frichette said.

According to the Washington Wine Association, there are just over a thousand licensed wineries in the state. Just three of them are black-owned.

“I would go to trade shows and I'm pouring on behalf of Frichette. Sometimes I was the only black person in the room and I totally noticed that and I felt like other people noticed that too,” Frichette said.

Frichette is very vocal about wanting the wine industry to be more inclusive and more welcoming to people of different backgrounds.

“I was at an event and this was an event that I helped plan and had invited some wine professionals from the U.S. to come to and I'm welcoming a gentleman and within 20 seconds, he had said to me, “I'm more interested in talking to the winemakers.” And that was interesting to me because it was just like, well, what about me made you feel like I couldn't be a winemaker?” Frichette said. “What else am I to think? Was it because I was black? Was it because I was a woman?”

Originally from South Carolina, Frichette and her husband Greg started Frichette nine years ago after deciding to move to Tri-Cities not long after their son was born.

“I grew up in a dry household,” she said. “So I wasn't exposed to wine or fine wine or much alcohol. So coming into this is really new for me, it's new for my family, there's no doubt that they're proud.”

In addition to the Frichette brand, Frichette also has another label called “Sashay” which she started after being inspired by a Black woman in a wine event.

“I wanted to craft a message that would inspire someone else to do the thing that they never saw themselves doing and that thing that helps them live in their true purpose and potential,” Frichette said.

For now, she may be one of the only black winemakers in Washington but if she has any say-so, there will be many more to come.

“Representation totally, totally matters,” Frichette said. “But I think this is an industry for everyone. I'd love to see more women, owning vineyards, owning wineries, owning distribution companies, owning custom crushed facilities, owning warehousing, I would love to see that because there is a place for any person of color in this industry.”


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