In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, minority-owned businesses were disproportionately impacted and Black owned businesses were the hardest hit.
Raymond Smith, owner and operator of Indigené Cellars, found success instead, pivoting his wine-making business during the pandemic.
Smith grew up in Oakland and moved to the Central Coast to pursue a career in the wine industry.
Smith started out in the wine bottling business. Then, he moved onto creating wine of his own with Indigené Cellars in 2008.
“The name Indigine comes from wines that I think are native to terroir, “ said Smith.
Smith has now made a name for himself in Paso Robles by making wine in a predominantly white community, which he said he’s always felt supported by.
“The fact that I’m a black-owned winemaker does draw a certain amount of people, but a lot of times when people find out that I own this winery they’re surprised,” Smith said. “Between Black and white, when it comes down to the wine business, it comes down to good wine or bad wine and that’s that.”
During the pandemic, minority-owned businesses closed down at alarming rates. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Asian American businesses were down by 26%. Latinx businesses fell by 32%, and African-American owned businesses experienced a 41% drop in business activity.
“A lot of times the minority owned businesses are created by artisans that year. It’s not handed down from generation. It’s not a tradition,” Smith said.
Smith had to shift Indigené Cellars business to mostly online sales and curbside pickups.
“There was a lot less personal operation between me and the customer, but the online sales picked up 40%,” he said.
Movements toward social justice last year actually helped Smith.
“They were trying to support a Black-owned business because of social justice was the first initial exposure, but after that they’re just buying wines now because they like them,” Smith added.
Now Smith hopes he’s started a tradition that he can pass onto his daughter.
“Hopefully this company is going to be a legacy for my family generations down the line,” he said.
Smith added that in recent years, he’s seen the Paso Robles economy thrive. He’s expecting many local businesses to grow significantly coming out of the pandemic.