New York City-based sommelier and writer Miguel de Leon beat some of America’s best food writers to win the James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for his long-form essay, “It’s Time to Decolonize Wine”, which contextualized his experiences as a Filipino and a person of color in the wine industry.
The essay was first published in the online magazine Punch in 2020.
In the Philippines-born wine expert’s award-winning essay, he writes about some of the microaggressions he’s experienced as a wine professional of color in a white-dominated industry and his struggles reconciling wine’s Eurocentric tasting sheets and descriptions with his Filipino heritage and upbringing.
De Leon, who serves as wine director of Pinch Chinese in Manhattan, wrote, “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. 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 got into wine because of its ability to connect people. We share bottles, we share stories, we share our vulnerability and ourselves. I connect with wine in a similar way that allyship and advocacy leads me to connect with my own and others’ humanity. Structures that aim to keep people like me away from this space don’t get the point of why wine exists.”
De Leon moved to the United States from the Philippines when he was ten years old, and graduated from the University of California Berkeley before moving to New York City to pursue a career in the food and beverage industry. He has worked in restaurants such as Casa Mono, Momofuku, and Per Se in New York City, and Chez Panisse in California.
It’s yet another high point for Filipinos in the U.S. F&B industry this year following Chicago’s Kasama became the first Filipino restaurant to win a Michelin star and Food & Wine magazine placed DC-based PogiBoy’s ube tocino burger on the cover of its June issue, which also honored other innovative Filipino chefs across the country.