Chevonne Ball refuses to be typecast by the “rags to riches” story many want to apply to her as a Black woman business owner.
Sure, the Portland native certainly put in the work to develop Dirty Radish, her wine and hospitality education company, by herself. But it’s not the typical “clawing her way out of the ghetto” narrative many try to spin it as.
“I’m an Oregonian, and it’s weird to be in spaces with people who think I should be culturally Black in a certain way,” says Ball, age 40. “It doesn’t matter how many languages I speak or how many accolades I get. There are definitely a lot of people who still just see me as a dumb n—r.”
Ball started Dirty Radish back in 2017, after years of honing her craft while working at local fine-dining establishments like Le Pigeon. She has nurtured relationships with many of the wine industry’s key players, from the Willamette Valley to France, where she lived for a time, allowing her to provide top-flight accommodations for her patrons, whom she takes on tours of vineyards around the world.
As a certified sommelier and scholar of French wine, Ball definitely knows her stuff. But she’s no stranger to the stark lack of diversity in the wine industry.
That’s something she’s spoken on in her Tea Talks—conversations she has on Instagram Live regarding racism and discrimination in her field, as well as the overall exhaustion of the moment. One of her recent videos addressed vineyard internships and how they’re not really set up for Black people to participate in.
“How are they supposed to learn if they can’t house themselves or get to and from these spaces?” Ball asks. “You’re asking to have more Black people in the spaces, but you’re not creating a situation that works for them.”
She’s also candid about the homogeneity of many wine regions, recalling a time she visited one of her favorite Willamette Valley vineyards and found it was next door to a house brandishing a garage door-sized Confederate flag.
In many ways, Ball has come to see herself as an educator—about the culture surrounding wine, and the nuances of Blackness.
“Black people are just trying to humanize themselves—we’re trying to make people see that we’re human,” Ball says. “Black people have been raised to behave, because behaving in public spaces keeps you safe. It’s a survival skill—and I’m just trying to survive.”
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