Divas Uncorked: A look at the high-octane sisterhood

The Divas, from left: Paula Wright, Barbara Cruz, Carole Alkins, Katherine Kennedy, Stephanie Browne, Gert Cowan, Carolyn Golden Hebsgaard, and Karen Ward. — Photo by Lana Saucier

This was supposed to be a light and airy review of an evening spent at a wine-tasting hosted by Divas Uncorked. Enjoying the view of Lagoon Pond. Walking to and fro. Speaking, perhaps, of Michelangelo.

But after two hours of conversation with the Divas and their guests, one concludes that these women can do virtually anything they choose to do. Here’s what I mean. Nine African-American women in Boston decided 12 years ago that they wanted to know more about wine and food. Last weekend, they hosted their fifth annual fundraiser on the Island, this year benefiting the Island Food Pantry.

Today they are intercontinental travelers exercising significant societal clout in their wine-y orbit. They have their own wine brand and preside at international wine events. The Divas as people are empowered professionals. Savvy, vital women who are connected and networked from here to hereafter.

The core group includes a Pulitzer Prize winner (Katherine Kennedy) and an Emmy-award nominee (Karen Ward). They are lawyers, IT execs, entrepreneurs, journalists, and artists. Their sphere of influence is expanding. They drew people to their group such as New York ad executive Judith Mason.

“This is my second trip to the Vineyard and Divas was the impetus. A friend told me about them. It was good to know that a group of women like this existed. They took this idea that women could know more about wine and expanded it. And here we are,” Ms. Mason said, gesturing around the Sailing Camp Park overlook.

For recent college grads and 20-somethings Joycelyn Gathers and Elicia Pellegrino, it was all about the vibe.

“Young African-American women do not have to be the product of their environment,” asserted Ms. Gathers, a teacher in Connecticut. “I always felt a little intimidated by my lack of knowledge so I’ve been following this group of professional African-American women for a while,” she said.

“I grew up around people like them,” Ms. Pellegrino said. “They are women to look up to and show that women of color can aspire and succeed.”

For Melody Fuller, the wine part is good — she has made a living writing about food and wine — but it’s also symbolic of still-existing barriers. “We’re still suspect. It’s hard to get respect at high-end places, both as women and people of color. Sort of a last bastion,” the Oakland, Calif. author and journalist said.

Divas Uncorked founder Stephanie Browne understands. “The real mission is to create diversity around the world,” she said. “That’s the message.”

Jack Shea, of Vineyard Haven, is a regular contributor to The Times.