Still Missing a Key Ingredient of the African American Vintners

Many of the people we meet as publicists, in the wine business, have separate worlds. This was the case for Dr. Marvin Poston, when I met him. While he grew gapes on his property in Calistoga, called Poston Crest Vineyards, he also was a very prominent ophthalmologist.

The reason I’m writing this story is because I just found some negatives and images from Dr. Marvin Poston’s vineyard in Calistoga, and it has me remembering one of the sweetest, most soft spoken men I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I also just heard that that we only live as long as we remain in people’s memories and they talk about us. So, here’s to you, Marvin, one of the gentlest of grape growers who simply understood what I wanted to do, accepting and supporting my public relations help quite graciously.

This story is dedicated to Dr. Marvin Poston, a former ophthalmologist and grape grower of African American descent.

From a story that I wrote for Wine Business Monthly, on March 3, 2002, called, The Changing Face of the American Wine Industry ~ For Every Macrocosm, There Is a Microcosm :

Dr. Marvin Poston – Calistoga ophthalmologist Dr. Marvin Poston has been selling his grapes to Kirkland [now out of business] for the last 26 years. Dr. Poston was a graduate of U.C. Berkley in 1939. He quietly moved in Napa Valley, and has been growing grapes ever since. So, when Alan [Goldfarb, wine writer] was asking his question about “Where are they?”… there was an answer, and has been for quite a while, including the Brown Family at the time Goldfarb was wondering.

Once I wrote the story, and I had found quite a few African American vintners in the process, I saw the big picture. There should be a marketing group.

Getting the Association of the African American Vintners going was very tricky, though, for me. The general consensus was, “Why would you, an Anglo woman, want to even do such a thing?”

My answer was pretty straight froward in my own mind:

  1. I’m a publicist, and I see the tremendous advantage for this story to be fascinating.
    • This was pre- Web 2.0, so there was no real way for me to get this story onto the Internet without the help of my writer colleagues.
    • Once I saw that the story had reached Malaysia, a year after I had started the group, I knew that I was dead on.
  2. I’m a woman, and I understand being the underdog in business.
    • This attitude doesn’t exist within the wine writing community, I’m happy to say.
    • But… we all know about corporate America…
  3. Wine is heart healthy.
    • African Americans have a high rate of heart disease.
    • With African American vintners making wine, they would serve as great role models.
    • I care about all people’s health, not just my Anglo friends.
  4. The African American community would want to know.
    • Bring out an emerging demographic.
    • Present positive role models for younger African Americans needing that kind of inspiration.

It turns out that I was right on all counts.

I met and worked with many African American vintners for a while, with Marvin being the one man who not only understood my motivations, but he also gave me great support from the start… No interrogation or mistrust.

It wasn’t until I just decided to do a bit of research on this man within his medical profession, versus grape growing practices, that I learned why we clicked.

I found an oral transcript entitled, The University of California Black Alumni Series, Marvin Poston, Making Opportunities in Vision Care, with an Introduction by Norvil Smith. It was an interview conducted by Gabrielle Morris in 1984 and 1985, for the Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley

Marvin Poston, on Resistance from the Medical Profession:

They’re looking for pathological symptoms. I think optometry came into being because medicine didn’t bother much with the eyes.

 Morris asks, “And ophthalmology is not a very big practice within medicine?”

Dr. Poston answers:

“Oh, it is a good discipline. It’s been very popular in the last fifteen or twenty years. But optometrists came into the field and started filling a need. And I think that’s why they survived. Their biggest problem as I’ve seen through the years has been medicine. Medicine has—organized medicine, not individual practitioners, but organized medicine has always been at work in the background. Not only against optometry. They fight dentists too. They fight psychologists. They fight podiatrists…. They fight them all. They consider themselves the kingpins. And they don’t want anybody to trade on their territory. And I understand that. If I make a lot of money, I don’t want anybody to take it away from me.

The  interview continues with more Morris Q&A, and then Morris asks, “In doing these vision screening things and your other work, did you find that there were any special vision concerns for black people?” Marvin answers:

“No, we didn’t do it on ethnic groups at all. It was just done for the general public. And it was done more as an educational program. You stopped and had your vision screened. If we found something wrong, then we would talk to you about what was wrong, and that you should see a practitioner. We didn’t say you had to see an optometrist, you had to see an eye practitioner. I guess medicine got some benefits from it. They probably fought it too.”

I also discovered that Dr. Poston was a philanthropist, although I’m not surprised…

The Marvin R. Poston Vision Service Plan Excellence in Primary Care: This award goes to a student who shows excellence in primary eye care, is in the top half of the class, and has made a commitment to enter the independent practice of optometry.

From VSP Vision Care Blog: He was the was the first African American student admitted to the study of optometry at University of California, Berkeley, in 1935. It took another 23 years for the second African American student to follow in his footsteps and graduate from the Berkeley School of Optometry. Dr. Poston later became the first African American licensed to practice optometry on the West Coast.

That’s what I loved about Marvin, he recognized needs and filled them.  It was always beyond the obvious, and we were kindred spirits in that way. Your memory still lives on, Marvin. See you in the great beyond.


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5 Responses to “Still Missing a Key Ingredient of the African American Vintners”

  1. gdfo says:

    It is always interesting to read about an good winemaker.

    It is not necessary to dwell on a winemakers gender or race. Those are different topics. I do not care about those things if a winemaker is making good wine or doing innovative things in the wine business. In this day and age gender and race should not be issues.

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Dear gdfo,

    Thanks for commenting, and I’d love to be able to agree with you. That would mean that we’re living in a near perfect day and age. And, that’s an honestly lovely sentiment, and one that I’d love to embrace.

    I’d also love to agree with you about not dwelling on gender or race in this day and age, but sadly I live with a different set of eyes.

    You see, my husband is Puerto Rican. The island had slaves brought to it from Africa many, many years ago. If you were to guess his ethnicity, like I did years ago, you’d guess he’s African American. He was quick to tell me that he’s not African American, he’s Puerto Rican; and I get that, now that it’s been explained to me, and I’ve been to the island many times. Through the years (we’ve been together for 35 years), I’ve witnessed discrimination from time-to-time (right up to today’s time)… Like the time he got a letter that told him to get off the radio, or he’d be killed and so would I. The FBI was called in, it was taken that seriously.

    There was a time when he applied for a great wine job in Sonoma County. The owner of the company told him, “You should go check out this guy I know in Napa. He’s African American and could probably use a marketing person.” (What?)

    In the gender game, you’ve not had a head hunter call you, ask for “Jo,” and when I said, this is “Jo,” the phone went dead silent. In that dead air time I chuckled to myself, “He’s thinking, Jo, Pat… You never know in-this-day-and-age who you’re going to get on the other end of the phone.”

    I realized that he was looking for a man to fill the job, not someone simply capable. Then, about two months later, I got a letter in the mail addressed to “PAT Diaz,” thanking me for having interest in the job (which I didn’t…He called me, remember?).

    Our daughter who was working for a very prominent diversity trainer in the SF Bay area (for years) has so many stories of instances that need correcting that it makes me feel ill to my stomach to think of them. You see, this guy would be out of business, if what you think is correct… Instead, he’s very, very busy and on the road constantly… In this day and age that race and gender shouldn’t matter… But we’ve still got a long way to go.

    To admit that it does exist… differences among us all… is more kind, because it recognizes diversity as something positive. I personally think diversity is splendid. It’s like the colors of the rainbow… each one is fabulous in its own right, and I love talking about red, and orange, and blue and purple…Each has its own character, and I don’t mind pointing out the blessings of each… (There are pitfalls, too. I’m no Pollyanna. I’ve experienced a lot from many sides of the fence.)

    So many people are living with blinders… still, gdfo.

    To say that racism and sexism doesn’t exist, because we’re now in an evolved say-and-age, no harm, no foul on your part…

    For my part, just telling it like I’ve lived it; and bringing the man’s character, tenacity, and warmth to light again… keeping his energy alive.

  3. Jo Diaz says:

    It’s always interesting to wonder who’s behind initials that give no clue to the owner… As I’ve pondered this one throughout the day, I can’t help but wonder, in this day and age of disclosure, why not claim oneself?

    I guess we all have our quirks…

  4. gdfo says:

    gdfo are my initial and my account name for the excite portal

    My name is Greg.

    Yes, some people still have gender and race problems. So? Why add to it or prolong it. When you taste and appreciate a good wine it does not matter what the gender or race or religion or sexual preferences are.

    By bringing it up it is made an issue.

    Some people would/can read a statement like:

    Bill is an african american winemaker whose wine has recieved many awards….

    as …inspite of being black/african-american Bill made good wines.

    Many of us have been the target/victim of bigotry and prejudice in its different forms. There are lots of stories about all kinds of this available on the internet.

    At least to me it becomes tiresome. I do not think my attitude can be reduced to a sentiment.

  5. Jo Diaz says:


    I appreciate that your attitude can’t be reduced to a sentiment, while mine can.

    That’s why there’s chocolate and that’s why there’s vanilla, as my husband likes to say when we come to an impasse.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

    Dr. Poston was a remarkable man; and the bigots, like my dad and uncle when they were alive, still need to know that African Americans can achieve true greatness… just like any other ethnic group… (My uncle actually told me once, pre my days with Jose – that African Americans weren’t at intelligent race… to my horror.)

    And, yes, Anglo is an ethnic group, but greatness is not exclusive to this demographic, and historians are here for a reason. I’m a historian, if you didn’t notice. I’ve been chronicling the advancements of Petite Sirah as a variety for the last nine years (www.psiloveyou.org). I single out that grape, too, for its greatness.

    Also, I learned very quickly, when I started the Association of African American Vintners, within that demographic, many people were thrilled to learn that people of color were finally making some advancements within the wine business. While I was president of the group (for a year), we had requests from so many people – who had just learned that there were people of color who were making wine, not just enjoying it – that we couldn’t keep up with it all. The demand far out stripped the supply…

    I still believe that it’s a great story to tell… as I watch my grandchildren now grow and have positive role models to replicate, who are achieving greatness against all odds.

    To simply say “We’ve arrived,” just isn’t enough at this stage of the game… for all of those who still demand a birth certificate from Obama, for instance.

    Finally, if it didn’t matter, the hoards of people who gravitate toward Juneteeth events organized by the Association of African American Vintners – mostly of ethnic descent – would collapse, which it’s far from doing. While it may not matter to you, I’ve witnessed how it definitely does matter to many.

    So, we’re back to having to agree to disagree, which is what makes the world go round…

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