Filipino American sommelier wins James Beard award for essay on ‘white supremacy’ in the wine industry

Filipino American sommelier wins James Beard award for essay on ‘white supremacy’ in the wine industry
Michelle De Pacina
By Michelle De Pacina
July 6, 2022
Filipino American sommelier Miguel de Leon won the James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for his long-form personal essay on ​​dismantling white supremacy in the wine industry.
De Leon, a Philippine-born writer and New York City-based sommelier, received the award on June 11 for his essay, “It’s Time to Decolonize Wine,” which was first published in the online magazine Punch in June 2020. 
His essay won in the Long Form category of the 2022 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award. It is regarded as the Oscars of the culinary industry. 
De Leon, who currently serves as the wine director of the Michelin-rated Pinch Chinese restaurant in Manhattan, wrote about his experiences as a wine professional of color in the white-dominated industry. He contextualized the appreciation of wine beyond its Eurocentric heritage with his own Filipino heritage and upbringing.  
The status quo that white people were so comfortable with has been exposed for its racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and myriad other biases and transgressions wrapped up in the package of white supremacy,” De Leon wrote in his essay. “I’m looking for a better future, and I know what my role is and should be. I do not need to accommodate those who seek to protect the status quo.”
“I consider how much more I can do, as an immigrant, as a Filipino, as an American, as a cis gay man, as an ally, as an advocate, as a sommelier, as a friend and as a son. I don’t want to perpetuate the systems that dehumanized and demeaned me and my BIPOC colleagues,” he added. “I want to dismantle white supremacy in wine. I want to spark change, to remove the barriers of entry, to call in and call out peers and industry leaders about the results of their actions and the consequences of their inactions.”
The sommelier moved to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. He graduated from the University of California Berkeley before moving to New York City to pursue a career in the food industry. He has worked in various restaurants, including Casa Mono, Momofuku, Per Se in New York City and Chez Panisse in Berkeley. 
De Leon’s works in the media cover the topics of racism, social justice and equity. Last year, he was named the New York Sommelier of the Year.
“I hope my being inspires some other Filipino to consider this as a career,” De Leon told ABS-CBN. “I’m not a nurse. I’m not an engineer. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not an architect; doesn’t mean that I can’t be successful. On top of me being American, of me being who I am, it’s especially the fact that I’m Filipino that’s brought me [in the wine industry].”
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Featured Image via @migueld1 (left), @beardfoundation (right)
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