PrideIndex was honored to interview Ericka Blount, the Chairwoman, and CEO at Distinction Management Group, LLC, and owner of Blount Wine Therapy. She started the wine company to deal with workplace trauma and mental health.
Born in Vidalia, Ericka played basketball and softball, which earned her two full athletic scholarships to Savannah State University, an HBCU. She earned degrees in Biology and Chemistry.
Formally a counselor in Georgia, Blount relocated to Houston, Texas, to begin expanding her reach. It was in Texas that Blount received her vision for her holistic wine company.
Ericka shared the inspiring story of how she got started as a winemaker, pairing ideas and understanding that your brokenness is your brand.
PrideIndex (PI): Good morning, Ericka. How are you this morning?
Ericka Blount (EB): I’m doing well. Thank you. And I’m very grateful for the opportunity.
PI: Let’s get started by asking you to talk about your background and what brought you to where you are today?
(EB): So, just a couple of key pointers about my background. I’m a child of Clinton and Ruby Blount, who own a boys’ home and youth program located on 431 acres located in Georgia. It’s not just American minority children; some are from international countries. I have the privilege of growing up in a world where probably only 1 to 2% of people get an opportunity to be raised. I grew up with a love for helping serve underserved people and families. I was an avid basketball, softball, and volleyball player and ended up attending Savannah State University, an HBCU, on two full scholarships. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Biology and Chemistry and followed in my father’s footsteps with teaching.
I ended up going into the education field, which was convenient because I had a son at 21 years old. And so that took me into navigating through the educational system and serving people. I ended up coming out to Houston at the age of around about 40-41 years old. I have lived here for about four or five years.
My aunt, the angelic one of my family who helped to run the boys’ home back in Georgia, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. The family crisis changed our world. She was trying to figure out a course to heal, and we needed to start putting a plan together just in case things did not “go our way” with her diagnosis. I ended up going into the let me cure role because of my biology and chemistry degrees. And because of my contacts within the medical industry, I was buying things from overseas before they were deemed okay and acceptable. At that time, I had a position at an alternative school in Houston, where I was the lead counselor responsible for laying out the social-emotional program for the school. It was the first alternative school that had such a program. During the day, I balanced my work life, but then I tried to balance my emotions at night. This was my family’s first deal with a long-term illness. The emotional baggage led me to start a program at the alternative school where I wanted to help the children eat better. I just wanted our people to be more aware of cancer, its effect on our bodies, and how it affects minorities. I was researching at night to find a cure, and I started an urban garden in school. I implemented the first urban garden and alternative program in the United States.
One of the guys working with me said, “Look, you’re flying back and forth from Georgia to Texas every weekend. It would help if you got a break. You look tired.” He begged me to go with him to a winery here in Texas, and of course, I don’t drink wine. He didn’t know that, but it was supposed to be a surprise. I told him I’ll go. We went to a winery, and as I looked, I said, dude, I don’t even drink. And he said, “Well, just come on in, but relax.”
PI: That is an amazing story.
(EB): It is. Let me continue. We went into the winery on the outskirts of Texas. And long story short, the guy who owned the wineries making the wine fell in love with me. He was a 75-year-old Italian who had been making wine since he was five. He landed me an opportunity to start my own wine label. The first one that I launched was an Elderberry and honey-based wine. The elderberry was supposed to help my aunt handle pain and alleviate some of her cancer symptoms. I was looking for a way to continue my voyage back and forth from Houston. As an educator, I wasn’t getting paid that much.
The wine sales could help. I have 37 varieties of wine named after the trauma I’ve dealt with throughout my life. One of the wines is called Annie Jackson, for my aunt, who passed away. I remember when I came home one of the weekends to visit her before she passed. She was living at my mom’s house in her room. I let her taste the wine, and she could barely talk. She said, “I don’t want you to stop this. This is going to be big; keep it going.” And so even after she passed on, I continued to have wine tasting, going to Fortune 500 companies, and doing professional development for mental health. My wine is unique because we cascade mental health.
PI: I’ve heard that wine has some mental health benefits. And of course, when you drink in moderation, not drinking every day and having that diet or being a glutton if you will. How many varieties of wine does your company have, and where do you sell it?
EB: We have 37 varieties of wine. We sell in two states. I’m trying to keep it small because I still have my regular nine-to-five. We’re selling five types out of the winery.
PI: Do you actually have a vineyard? Do you offer that kind of experience?
EB: Yes, I’m partnered with an Italian gentleman who trains me. The 45-acre vineyard is located on the outskirts of Houston. We get grapes from North Texas and Florida. I’m working on having my own wine bar in Atlanta, Georgia. I want to open in the spring of 2023. It will be called the Blount Wine Bar.
PI: What is your most significant entry barrier to the wine business? And how did you overcome those barriers?
EB: The biggest barrier I faced and others will face is that wine is a white male-dominated industry. Even with what’s going on with the Black Lives Matter movement and other things, it’s been tough to get distribution. I had a distribution deal, but they dropped me, saying my wine sales were too slow. But we know that wasn’t true because I outsold the top wines in 90 to 100 days. I was outselling the top wines in the state, but they dropped me. So, if you don’t have distribution in certain states, you cannot sell. It’s hard for minority-owned wine brands to get distribution deals.
PI: Let’s switch gears and talk about your award for Wine of Distinction for 2022.
EB: The Wind of Distinction Award came from Black Vines. The owner is Fern Shroud. Fern organizes the long-running festival. In 2021, USA Today voted Black Vines as the number 1 Wine Festival in the country. I was contacted about two and a half years ago to join their wine club, so she honored me as Wine of Distinction this past year. I was so proud to be celebrated. I want to say there are about 100 of the top black-owned wines in the country that are connected to the Black Wine Club. We have anybody from the McBride sisters to Chad Ochocinco, the football player with his own wine. So yeah, there are some pretty good wines in the club. They are collaborating with the Black Female Project. They did a documentary, and I was the face of a black educator. We talked about mental health facing black educators and what we deal with. I was interviewed for Teacher Truth: In conversation with Ericka Blount in front of an audience of about two to three hundred people.
PI: What’s the best wine to pair with the following: tacos, steaks, chocolate cake, or desserts?
EB: That’s a good question. All of our wines are full-body blondes and pretty much good with anything. I was trained by an Italian, and the way they process our wine honestly, it can be enjoyed with just about anything. So it’s kind of hard to pinpoint just one specific food.
One of the things that I often hear when I go somewhere or when people come to our tastings is that Elderberry and Honey are good with ice cream. One of our most popular wines, Clinton, which I named after my son, pairs well with steak. It is a semi-dry wine with Cabernet, Zinfandel, and Merlot. I would probably pair tacos with Ruby wine or a Merlot. Again, you have to understand that we have 37 varieties. Our wines are uniquely blended, so we have a peach with a note of caramel, an Elderberry and Honey, and Coffee with Honey. So, it’s not that we have the Riesling or different types that many of the wineries would typically carry. We create blends as well as our own fruit wines. So, we have just about any fruit you could come up with except for apple; we have anything else such as plum, peach, and grapefruit.
PI: What is the one takeaway you want everybody to take away from your product and business experience?
EB: The one thing I would love people to take away is understanding that your brokenness is your brand. I launched this company four to five months before COVID. I didn’t allow the pandemic to distract me. I realized that God had given me this right before COVID for a reason. I was dealing with my aunt being taken away, homesick, and ready to return to Georgia. I realized that the brokenness in my story was my brand. I actually bottled all of the brokenness. When people are reaching for big ideas, or you want to create your own thing, use your story and the journey God has set for you. Just tell it and tell your truth. It’s about monetizing time and using the time that God has given us on this earth and the journey and path he has put you on. Just tell everybody and be transparent. That made me more successful.
I noticed that many older wine companies used my marketing strategy. They had more money and experience than I did in the wine market. They noticed that I used my branded story and did the same. God put us all here for a reason, so go ahead and tell your story. It works.
PI: What if I or someone were having a wedding, brunch, or something like that and wanted to share your product at the event? What should they do?
EB: I could come out and do tastings, weddings, or whatever, as long as it’s at a private facility, and that facility said it was okay to do that. I just did one such event in Georgia for an HBCU’s homecoming. As long as we get the legal paperwork in order. And if you are comfortable with asking at your local liquor store, ask them to contact their distributor and have them contact us. I want Blount Wine to be in large and small stores, wine shops, and everywhere.