Branding has become such a huge thing in 2021------from social media influencers endorsing a brand to a philanthropist throwing their name behind a product. We expect the name behind the product or brand to be socially responsible & highly knowledgeable about the product or brand they represent. With wine brands, we wine professionals are HIGHLY critical. We want to ensure that if we bring these wines into our stores or restaurants, that the person behind it is an authority to be inspired by. I went into this interview with Camillya Masunda (owner of Camellias Organics) completely unsure of where it would go or how I would, emotionally, leave the conversation.
Camillya seeks to unify people of different cultural backgrounds over a beverage that is the intimately tied to the regions it is produced in. The "togetherness of celebrating culture" as she put it during the interview. Before you ask: she is not a wine professional with a myriad of wine accolades or certifications, BUT one day she will be. Camillya's mission with her brand doesn't just stop at a heartwarming story about bringing people together. She is self-aware enough to know that her longevity in this industry will be predicated by her ability, and credibility, as a wine professional. She is currently studying for her Certified Specialist of Wine Certification in an effort to further her wine knowledge and speak from a place of authority over her wine brand, EBONY. In addition, she doesn't want to ever get to a point of knowledge that comes across as intimidating or isolates her audience. Camillya wants wine professionals to admire the crafting of her wines with a scholarly POV and everyday wine drinkers to feel like they can also chime in on the conversation. Creating integration, not separation is what makes wine the ultimate conversationalist beverage, and what Camillya has so wisely tapped into.
This young woman is working in tandem with a few different producers out of California to create the wines of the EBONY line-up. Windsor Vineyards & Michael Scott have been her biggest supporters thus far. She approached them as partners in her vision for this wine brand. Though she does not formally make the wine, she is intimately involved with the winemaking process of her wines in these vineyards. Due to the ever challenging COVD pandemic, Camillya has not been able to physically visit the vineyards or wineries, but has been able to do so virtually to keep up with the day-to-day operation. Samples of different vinified grape varietals are sent to her to taste through & determine which make the most sense to be bottled for her brand, and to ensure quality of the wine. As I will get into later in this post, her wines operate as true showcases of the grape varietal(s) she chooses to utilize. Her focus was on the wines being varietally correct & naturally lending themselves to a new world palate. Seasonality is also a focus for her. She wants certain wines (like her Riesling) to only be available during the fall season, and wants to showcase the varietals during different parts of the year to keep her audience enticed.
With her being a black woman in wine, Camillya touched briefly on some of the hurdles of getting all of this started. The world of wine is already competitive by nature, that much was never a doubt. Yet, when you look a certain way and attempt to break the mold, you will be met with opposition by way of virtue. A lot of doors closed on her. A lot winemakers told her no. A lot of people simply did not believe in the vision she had for her wine brand or take her seriously as a budding wine professional. One day she will spill all the beans in a autobiography or a scandalous article (hopefully as an exclusive on here, haha!), but for now she chose to highlight her gratefulness to the winemakers who did take a chance on her. These collaborators are teaching her about ins & outs of wine while also aiding her in spreading a brand message that is truly beautiful.
The EBONY wines are varietally correct, meaning the wines showcase themselves in a way that we as wine professionals have come to expect. I opted for the Riesling on one of my many ventures into Assorted Table Wine Shoppe & get some perspective on the wine before I drank it. Josh (owner of ATWS) & I had a deep conversation about brands and when you should/shouldn't put support behind them. With EBONY, we both agreed that it's the mission that is compelling. At his shop he celebrates conversations on wine that are open to all skill levels, and never leave any of his guests feeling alienated by said conversations. But again, as wine professionals we also want the juice to deliver the goods & these wines do just that. The Riesling was filled with quintessential tones of honey, lime zest & petrol, while remaining its lush acidity & fruit forward nature on the palate. A true Riesling by any standards. Though I would have liked to see it fall into a sweeter price point for the Charlotte market ($20-24 retail), I also understand that the brand seeks to be more present in restaurants like Steak 48 & exclusive boutique retailers like Assorted Table. So a $40 price point isn't completely out of the norm. Pssssst....that was my hint for you to go pick up some bottles from Assorted Table Wine Shoppe in the 7th Street Public Market!
After all was said & done, I walked away from the conversation excited for the prospects of Camillya's future and where I might see her wine next. I do believe the wines are worth a try. What will be interesting is the journey that we will get to see her wines undergo as she develops more as a wine professional and as her palate expands with new knowledge. Until then, keep an eye out for her wines popping up around town and some of the new mixed beverage wines she has coming out soon like the "Kinchasa", a nod to her roots in the Congo.
Until the next time----Cheers!