“When you think of representation, all it takes is seeing one person that looks like you doing something that you never thought was possible, to really start believing in your own potential.” This is how Jamele Favorite describes what it has been like for him to join Wine Unify, the US organisation that has been set up to give a voice to diversity in the wine industry and support racial and ethnic minorities get a foothold in the sector though education and mentoring. Here in a new series, in partnership with Wine Unify, The Buyer talks to Favorite about his career in wine and how his Music in the Bottle podcast is doing far more than give him a voice, but share his personality, love of wine – music and black culture – to a growing audience.
Jamele Favorite has had a busy 2020 that has seen him break into the wine industry with his own podcast and being an award winner in the inaugural Wine Unify awards. (Lead photograph by Alec Arambula).
Can you tell us about your background and how you got into the drinks industry?
I went to Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI. Received my bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. I found myself working in the hospitality industry at a few different hotels as a guest service representative and then a guest relations manager, becoming a leader in guest service both online through social media and throughout the hotel property. I found myself in the drinks industry mainly in part due to Music in the Bottle podcast.
But that was really my true introduction to divining into wine. Prior to that, being in hospitality and working at a hotel with a restaurant I was exposed to different things in that sense.
What key roles have you had to date?
I have received my CGSP (Certified Guest Service Professional) Certification through The American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute, which increased my knowledge on customer service and put me into a position to share that knowledge with others at my company. In the wine industry, I am honoured to be a part of Wine Unify as a Welcome Award recipient, and alumni ambassador for the organisation. I’m looking forward to what this journey through wine has to offer
What do you enjoy most about working in the drinks industry and what has it brought to you personally?
Outside of enjoying the podcast, I’m currently working part time in a tasting room here in West Michigan at an amazing small craft winery. I enjoy talking with customers and employees about the wine we all get to enjoy. Understanding that everyone has a different palate is the most fascinating thing and discovering what wines they enjoy through conversation is really cool.
Personally it’s brought me a reset on life. 2020 was a tough year for everyone. Work at the hotel changed and I almost felt lost and stuck. Not sure what I wanted to do. The podcast again opened up a whole new world of possibilities, and now being a part of a community of wine professionals that look like me has shown me that there is more out there for everyone.
What have you been most proud of in terms of your achievements to date?
Starting a podcast and being able to be my authentic self on it, and staying consistent with it. Applying for the Welcome Awards through Wine Unify. Taking my WSET Level 1 test in wine through Napa Valley Wine Academy. All of these achievements are things I would’ve called you crazy at the beginning of 2020 if you said any of it was possible.
You run the Music in the Bottle podcast – how did it come about?
I’m a co-founder and co-host with my best friend Darryl. Prior to 2020 we would hang out with each other and catch up on life, new music, and things going on around black culture. We talked about the idea before the world shut down last year and slowly started to piece together the name and the content. The world essentially stopped and we started the podcast to put things in simple terms.
Talk us through a typical episode and the kind of guests you have?
A typical episode begins with Darryl, myself, and Wayne, who also does our video production. We start by checking in. Sharing how our weeks were and just casually having conversations while drinking wine. Before we end the introduction we tell our listeners what wine we are drinking.
From there, if there is no guest, we dive into things going on around the culture. Could be sports, could be a new celeb wine, an achievement of some sort, and currently we’re recapping episodes of our favourite show right now on FX, Snowfall. The next segment has us diving into some of the latest songs in Hip Hop and R&B, and giving our first listen takes. From there we ‘Wine Down’ with our ‘Bottled Up Questions’ which are five questions we ask such as “what’s your favourite”, “This or That” all in regards to music, culture, food, and everything else.
Each episode ends with us sharing a song and adding that song to our playlist on streaming platforms, called Music in the Bottle Sleepers. Essentially they are songs that we think are slept on as far as great songs. And of course, we wrap up with our thoughts on the wine we had. Giving general tasting notes and thoughts and our final ranking out of 10 of the wine.
So far we’ve had a handful of guests, which have included a few sommeliers such as George Walker III of Wade Cellars, Super Bowl Champion, Will Blackmon of the Wine MVP, and a few other great people in the wine industry. We’ve also had a few artists on the show. As we build, we’re looking to build on our wine guests because it’s not only a learning experience for us, but also for our listeners.
Who is your audience and how have you built it up?
Our audience is primarily individual’s aged 28-34 from the midwest, but we’ve watched that grow to other areas out east such as Virginia and out west in areas like California and Washington. All known for their wine in one-way or another. Everything is being built from the ground up. Consistency has been key as we’ve gone a year with only missing one episode. Instagram is our main platform of connecting with our audience currently. We’ve watched that grow to more than 1,000 followers in less than a year. It just makes you think, if that was year 1, what does year five look like?
What do you think is the key to having a successful podcast and standing out?
Again, consistency is key. They say most podcasts don’t make it past episode two. If you can find the time to record and get a schedule going, you’re going to see the growth of your show. The other thing is finding the sweet spot or your niche. It’s OK to do what others are doing, it’s even better if no one is doing it because now, everyone that comes after you is now using your show as the blueprint for success
What is your approach to talking about wine and sharing your knowledge – how do you pitch it?
On the podcast we make it very approachable. Simply drinking wine and having conversations that everyone has over music and things that you talk about with your friends anyway. We’re making wine more accessible to those around us. Not only that, but we’re also sharing the knowledge that we have through certifications and research. In a more general sense, I approach it the same way. Make the conversation more casual. Everyone has a different palate so there’s no need to force the wine on someone, but instead gradually work towards diving into the wine as the conversation gears up
What are your plans for the podcast and growing it?
I plan to continue building through social media and Instagram. There are so many opportunities on that platform that can help grow the podcast tremendously. Building that relationship with others in the wine industry is also something that is big. The more people in the industry that we introduce our listeners to, means the more we’re doing in showing that wine is accessible. We’ll start doing more interactive things with our listeners as well such as pop ups, and meet ups.
Covid makes these things a little harder, but when we can safely do so, we will hit the ground running again. There’s so much we have in the works. I can’t share everything but for now you’ll be able to catch us on Instagram and in the Midwest area. Again, that’s just for now if you know what I mean.
How were you impacted by the pandemic?
The pandemic nearly broke me. Not physically but more so mentally. Things started to change in a not so good way at my job. Budgets were cut and that essentially cut a future position in social media out of the question for me at my job. It’s almost a blessing that things happened the way that they did as far the pandemic went as well as my job. I was able to reset with the podcast and enter the drinks industry in a not so traditional way.
What are you thoughts on how diverse and inclusive the drinks industry is?
2020 was eye opening. Outside of my favourite basketball players that drink wine, I wouldn’t have been able to share with you anyone I knew that looked like me in the industry. Doors have been opened slightly in making the drinks industry diverse, but there’s a lot of work to be done. Representation does matter and this past year has proven that.
Have you experienced any issues at all in your career?
I’d be lying if I said no. When you think of representation, all it takes is seeing one person that looks like you doing something that you never thought was possible, to really start believing in your own potential. In my hospitality career thus far, that’s been non-existent. I’ve held a managerial position and have held it well, yet I haven’t noticed the progress or want from higher management to see others like myself succeed.
It’s like everything looks good on the cover, but when you turn the page that energy is gone. It’s unfortunate that people have to experience underrepresentation, when diversity and inclusion are supposedly at the top of everyone’s agenda.
Do you think there are the right steps being taken compared to five or 10 years ago?
I do believe that we are taking the right steps. The year 2020 has shown that in multiple ways. Now it’s just about building on that and truly staying true to and consistent with what you say about becoming change. Do I believe that we have a very long way to go? Yes. But I do think the world is waking up more and more and now seeing how things are being played out and how people are really being treated.
What steps would you like to see companies and individuals take?
It’s simple, if you say you’re going to do something then do it. If you have a platform, then use it or respectfully step down so someone else can. The bottom line is important, but what’s also important is being responsible and taking responsibility to engage in issues and situations that you can make a difference in. Forget the bottom line for two seconds and be genuine and understand what’s going on around you.
You are involved in Wine Unify – what does that entail?
Wine Unify is a community at the end of the day. I’ve been able to take my WSET Level 1 certification thanks to Wine Unify, but what really matters is the connections and relationships I’ve made with the other recipients and mentors. That’s what it’s all about for me. We’ve studied and pushed each other, we’ve amplified each other, we’ve supported each other, and in some cases, we haven’t even met in person.
Wine Unify sets out to welcome those who have interest in wine, ‘Elevate’ those in the wine industry already, and ‘Amplify’ those that are further underrepresented in the industry. With the support of each other, we’re able to do all of that and then some
What do you hope Wine Unify can achieve?
I think co-founder Mary Margaret said it best. The goal is to not have something such as Wine Unify. But for the industry to be diverse, welcoming, and ready to elevate and amplify those in the industry. Wine Unify is definitely doing its part in opening the doors for underrepresented individuals. It’s amazing to be a part of the community and seeing the support in less than a year of receiving the award. I do believe that the goal will be achieved and Wine Unify will one day be known as a pioneer in the new diverse wine industry.
Would you urge other people to sign up ?
Without question. Again, for me it’s more than just an award. It’s a community. Education will always be important and the Wine Unify community helps support and builds each other up as we work towards our goals. Wine Unify really helped change my life. I couldn’t be more blessed and happy to be a part of this wine community.
Anything else you would like to say?
First and foremost, thank you for taking the time to listen to what I have to say. I hope others read these words and see that a guy who had no idea where he was going, was able to travel down a new path with a brighter future. There’s no magic number as to when you figure things out. You don’t have to have it all figured out. The only thing you need to do is believe in yourself. Once you do that, you really start seeing more of what you’re capable of.
I’m still learning and growing daily like everyone else. Always learn and always grow. Surround yourself with like-minded people that are doing the same. Celebrate the small wins. Cheers!
- To find out more about what Wine Unify does and how to sign up and become part of its community click here.