When Angela Mack was visiting her mother in Springfield in 2019, she found herself in the midst of a difficult day. That’s when she Googled nearby wine vineyards.
“Glendale Ridge came up as a result,” Mack said. “I drove out there and I was so relaxed. I was having a great time just in solitude because there were probably about four other people out there.”
A recent study of Black Wine Entrepreneurs found that Black-owned wineries account for less than 1% of all U.S. wineries, while Black people typically make up more than 10% of American wine consumers.
Mack says a big factor in her experience was how she was treated by the owners of the vineyard, Mary and Ed Hamel.
“This may sound crazy, but I didn’t feel Black when I went out there because I wasn’t treated differently,” she said, noting she was the only Black person present at the time.
“I'd order wine and they’d go ‘pay when you feel like it.’ And so that generally is not the Black experience,” Mack said. “Usually it is of being followed around the room or certainly leaning into stereotypes about who we are as consumers.”
Mack said she had a vision of giving all people, especially Black women, that experience and that refuge. That’s when she envisioned the New England Noir wine festival.
“Just see that visual of Black [people] against all of the colors of the trees, the grapes — we deserve those experiences, too. We don't want to be limited to the nightclubs, you know?” she said. “We deserve daytime experiences on a wine vineyard.”
The first festival, held last fall, drew about 350 people. The crowd grew this year, as nearly 600 people came to sip and soak up the vibes in Southampton in early October. Many of them, like Teka Jones, came from nearby Springfield.
“It is an amazing experience, it's an amazing feeling,” Jones said. “It’s a blessing we can have so many people come together at a positive event, celebrating and enjoying ourselves. It’s like a huge family reunion.”
Festival goers crowded around tables and on blankets as they soaked up the fall sunshine and sipped a glass, listening to the mellow tones of Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter and musician Bilal, who was performing live. Many of them brought their own spreads of cheese, crackers, fruit and other refreshments. Friends and acquaintances greeted each other with hugs, whether they’d known each other for a long time or just met.
“We rockin’ right now,” said DJ Mars, who was spinning on the ones and twos all afternoon, alongside DJ WHYNOT and producer Bryan-Michael Cox. “The vibe is electric. … just the energy of the community. People from all over New England [are here].”
Glendale Ridge gladly reserved a couple acres of their vineyard for the festival, nestled within the changing leaves of the Pioneer Valley mountains.
“We’re really happy that we can provide this space and the really good wine that we have here,” said Mary Hamel.
Among those on site was Sabrina Bolden, owner of Sabrina’s Divine Wine, promoting her home wine tastings. She was also selling some useful items.
“[This is] the wine condom,” she said as she held up a pouch holding a bottle, corked by a plastic cap. “It holds the bottle insulated. We’re all about fun,” she said with a smile.
Attendees also checked out the grapevines themselves, took advantage of photo ops around the property, and took turns posing against a 1970s-themed backdrop complete with vintage furniture, decor and vinyl covers of Teddy Pendergrass and Sister Sledge.
Mack and other organizers say they hope the festival — and Black wine connoisseur community — continue to grow.
“This is going to be the Essence Festival of the North,” Mack proclaimed, invoking the annual music and cultural event in New Orleans, Louisiana.
“We're welcoming folks into this area and we're making it clear that in the fall it's a destination,” she said. “We want it to grow past that vineyard, we want pop up shops that are hosted by Black women. We want the region to know how we are having an economic impact by bringing in visitors during this time of year.”
Correction: This post has been updated to accurately reflect the date of Mack's first visit to Glendale Ridge and correct the spelling of Teka Jones' name.