Few Black-owned vineyards stretch across the United States, let alone the globe. According to Wine Enthusiast, a small handful of producers, about 100 wineries altogether, stretch from South Africa and Kenya to Italy, France, and Germany. Additionally, in the U.S., there are roughly 60 African-American wine owners/brand marketers. However, just 20 are estimated to be wine-producing operations. One such winery is Longevity Wines, which sits in our own backyard—in Livermore Valley.
The dream of Longevity Wines, from husband and wife owners Phil and Debra Long, was built upon their unified passion for wine and the all-important universal entity that connects us all: love. One might agree that it is this ingredient that makes their wines taste all the more special. During this intense period of global pandemic, now combined with racial tensions and widespread public division, Phil looks back on the journey of Longevity Wines, starting with Debra, who passed away in January, 2019.
“This started out as a love story between two people, Debra and myself.
“The reason there is a heart on the label is because I designed that heart for her. I used to give her hearts on Valentine’s Day; everything hearts. That defines who we really were and the love we had for each other. The [Longevity] brand really showcases that.”
Moonstone Red, Longevity’s delightful red blend, is named after Moonstone Beach of Cambria, where the two married. The bottle dons a picture of the colorful array of stones they once collected together on the beach, also formed in the shape of a heart.
Their story—and the stronghold of love—is seeing Phil and Longevity through unprecedented circumstances. When asked what would Debra say during this time of crisis, Phil said assuredly, “She would say you’re a great winemaker. That’s why we are where we’re at.”
Although Debra is not here to witness the uprising of racial issues that have so consumed the world, she was no stranger to their importance. In terms of the African-American presence in the wine industry, Phil shared, “She was on the journey of realizing how few African American winemakers there are and started to gain the knowledge that it is a big thing that there are so few of us— Why are there so few of us?”
In addition to being a wine producer, Phil is president of the Association of African American Vintners (AAAV), an organization to promote awareness of African-American winemakers. AAAV provides scholarships and internship opportunities for those considering a career in the wine industry.
“The goal of AAAV is to promote awareness that there are African-American winemakers. Our goal is to try and increase the number of African-American winemakers or people in the wine industry. We are trying to pave the path for future generations through scholarships, through internships, partners with the John June Lewis Sr. Scholarship Fund, and with United Negro College Fund.”
Lewis Sr. was the first African-American winemaker and vineyard owner in the United States.
“Growing up in an African-American community, I didn’t know anything about wine. What I knew even in high school was this tall bottle of Chianti my dad had in a corner that he never drank. That’s all I knew.”
When Phil and Debra started in the wine business, AAAV was just getting off the ground. Founder Mac McDonald, recognized as a notable pinot producer, met Phil and has since become a great mentor to him.
In reflection, Phil shares, “Back then I got into the wine business because I love wine and the whole aspect of producing wine from vin to bottle. I never really gave a whole lot of thought to the African-American side of it until I started to realize how few there were.”
He continues, “We are trying to pave the path for more to come behind us…that there really is an industry, there really is a path to the industry. If they have the interest, they can actually go in that direction.”
Phil assures, “We welcome anyone to become a member of AAAV, whatever your race, creed, background—it doesn’t matter. It’s really about being a wine enthusiast, branching out, and literally finding out more of what’s out there.
“In this environment now, the goal is to take in what’s going on and do what we can to keep that momentum happening in our society,” says Phil in his capacity as part of AAAV’s forward-looking leadership.
AAAV’s Annual Wine Symposium was set to take place this summer. The event was of course cancelled due to the rise of COVID-19, in the interest of public health and safety. AAAV will look to 2021 for continued wine events, even stretching current 2020 memberships so as to make them valid for another year.
Longevity was to host this year’s symposium. In the meantime, Phil continues to focus on the winery and move forward after much change.
“When Debra passed away, we were just starting to travel down the road with Bronco, and I know she would be very, very happy about that.” This remark is in reference to Longevity’s partnership with the Bronco Wine Company, to expand the company’s wines to a nationwide scale.
From Phil and Debra’s days of their homegrown online wine club to doing personal wine-making in their garage, the couple built a remarkable winery, one where together they achieved the recognition of 2018 Winery of the Year in the Livermore Valley, a region that is home to 50-60 wineries.
Debra poured a spirit into Longevity that could never be replaced. For example, in Longevity’s Rose of deb-ru-vee, a cuvée varietal, her memory lives on. Business continues, very fortunately, with a highly supportive staff who help to maintain winery operations. Presently, Longevity wines can be purchased online and are available for pickup at their tasting room. Free shipping is offered with a purchase of six bottles or more by using the coupon code provided on the website. This weekend is especially highlighted, as Longevity is offering a 20% Father’s Day discount on their black label wines through Sunday. And be sure to pick up their helix cork, a revolutionary new twist-off cork, at BevMo in Milpitas.
Shop Longevity Wines: https://www.longevitywines.com/
Association of African American Vintners (AAAV): http://www.aaavintners.org/