Detroit Doctor’s Wife Mom Launches Luxury Wine Label Opulence

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Starting a wine or spirits label is no easy task, especially for a black woman with no prior experience or connections in the beverage industry. But Dr. LaToya Thompson tapped into her passion for science to launch Opulence.

Its luxury label consists of a cabernet and a pinot grigio, made from produce that Thompson hand-picked on a trip through Napa Valley for the perfect grape pairings. The new label makes Rochester’s sports physical therapist something of an anomaly: Although women make up 57% of wine buyers, they only make up 28% of the country’s winemakers. Wineries and black brands are poorly represented, accounting for about a tenth of 1%. Despite these numbers, Thompson found the design process more difficult than she had anticipated.

“I didn’t realize how much of a process it would be,” says Thompson, a mother of three. Getting a state winemaker’s license took two years. “And it was difficult to find a distributor, like a new brand. I noticed that when I put my husband’s name on the email, even though I put ‘Dr. Thompson’ on it, I would get an answer. I thought, ‘Is it because I’m a woman, or a black woman, that I have difficulties?’ I think it was.” She found success with Great Lakes Wine and Spirits.

Like many, Thompson got into wine by sipping it at social events. But her scientific background has always made her curious about the journey from grape to glass. “The more I watched, the more time I spent looking at things.” She read a lot, took viticulture classes and studied food and wine pairings until her husband, a businessman, pointed out to her that they should make money, not spend so much, for wine. “You really know that stuff,” he told her.

When it came to her brand name, Thompson wanted drinkers to feel like they were having a luxurious experience, something she says is hard for African Americans to comfortably embrace.

“Wine is sometimes associated with wealth. Some people think we shouldn’t be in this space,” she says. “We are often afraid of beautiful things. I think we deserve and should have nice things.

As the first black woman in the Detroit metro area to own a luxury wine brand, she also wants to inspire others. That’s why it was only fitting that she launched her brand at House of Pure Vin in Detroit on Thursday night. Regina Gaines, owner of the downtown Detroit wine store, helped Thompson connect with the right people. The 3,100-square-foot space was packed Thursday night with fashionable ensembles — most of them black, and many of them women — as Opulence Wine sold out.

Wines of Opulence

Napa Valley Cabernet 2018
Persistent flavors of plum, cassis, cassis with a hint of grass and ends in firm tannins

Lodi pinot gris 2019
Primary fruit aromas of white nectarine, pear, green apple and lime. It takes on light honeyed notes; floral aromas of honeysuckle with a hint of refreshing acidity.

Both are sold at House of Pure Vin in downtown Detroit, ML Spirits in Birmingham, A-Star Convenience in Rochester Hills and on the wine website Opulence.

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Jean H. Vannatta