Blount Wine Therapy: Why It's Not Just Another Wine Company
Before I tell you why you need Blount Wine Therapy, I need to tell you about its founder, Ericka Blount. Ericka was born and raised in Georgia, and attended Savannah State University on two full scholarships, one for basketball and the other for volleyball. Although she initially majored in chemistry and biology, the birth of her son changed her career path and she went into the school system where she was a teacher and counselor for 20+ years. For about seventeen years she taught middle school, high school, and college in Georgia, Virginia, Washington DC, and Houston before deciding to be a counselor.
Her reasoning behind the segue to counseling can be traced to her upbringing as a youth in Georgia, where her father ran a Boys Home for the rehabilitation of Wayward kids. In her own words she states, “I have a unique ability to rehabilitate children from any nationality or… any socio-economic background. And so, what I found myself doing at most schools that I would teach [at, is] … I would end up in a leadership [role] because of my innate ability to help Wayward youth and you know develop [a] positive climate within the school system… My family’s always helped children and been very successful. So, I just ended up deciding that I want to go from teaching in the classroom and coaching to actually doing the full-scale school counseling”
So how does one go from being a school counselor to Black vintner? I wondered this myself. Ericka is smart, charming, has a lovely voice, and can seemingly sell anything-- but even I know the wine industry is notoriously hard to break into. So how did she do it? The answer to this is best put in the only way Ericka Blount knows, with a beautifully uplifting story.
About 4 years ago, Ericka was a counselor at an alternative school for students considered too far gone to attend the public schools of the 5th Ward (one of the worst schools’ districts in Houston, TX). She was given 45 days to rehabilitate students and developed a first of its kind program focused on social and emotional behavior to help the get the students back into their respective schools. Of the many challenges that may come with pioneering such a forward-thinking program, Ericka says the short time frame was among the hardest.
“That was the first time in my whole life that I was not able to connect with people… and then I realized after I would fly back to Atlanta to visit family or deal with business stuff [there] was a big gap in culture; these kids weren’t used to dreaming. They didn’t know how to dream. I would bring back pictures from Atlanta airport and discuss what celebrities that I saw, and the students would say ‘Naw Ms. Blount’. And I would say ‘no really! There are Black people and minorities on billboards all over [the city]!’ And that’s when I realized the disconnect.”
Not wanting to be deterred by a challenge, Ericka soon realized she connected with many students (even those that were not assigned to her) on a casual level by virtue of her last name, Blount. Pronounced "blunt", Ericka attributes students love of marijuana culture coupled with her own vast sneaker collection as the catalyst for connecting with the students. She decided to take her name, her swag, and her knack for helping at risk youth realize the best versions of themselves and use this to create the first merchandise for the Blount Brand, t-shirts. Using Proverbs 22:1 (“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold”) as inspiration, Ericka made Black shirts with her name written in gold and silver.
With the principal’s permission, Ericka took the shirts to students and told them “You want to drive what I drive, and wear what I wear, then I’ll show you how you can take what you are doing and make money off of it. You have 55 minutes, whoever the OG is and thinks they can talk to people sell these shirts and bring me back the receipts.”
For some who had to sell candy or food or even merchandise in grade school this seems relatively simple, however at a school so heavily guarded and under constant watch for gang violence this could prove difficult if not handled delicately. Ericka, while concerned about the possible dangers, was pleased to find the students had sold $325 worth of shirts by the deadline.
“They killed it! They forgot about the gangs, forgot about what they do while they’re counting [the receipts] and I’m like ‘Lord, thank you Jesus!’ Because I did not know if that was going to work but then I also thought “Hell, I may have started my company!’
“Some schools in Houston lose 1 or 2 kids a year on average, while we would lose 1 or 2 in a week and a lot of the kids were desensitized to it,” she continued, “and so, I was telling them ‘y'all see how every week y'all are losing friends and family members because you know, they all were in the same circles doing the same crimes. I understand why you are robbing, why you are selling [drugs] but I’m trying to give you a way out. A way to make an honest living so you can sleep at night.’ [Now], 2 of the 4 kids have t-shirt companies now and they’re doing really well.”
Among the other things Ericka introduced to the school was an urban garden, inspired by both her desire to learn more about wholistic food (such as turmeric and elderberry) after her Aunt’s death from colon cancer and the lack of equity in the school system.
“The school was predominantly Black and Brown and that pissed me off. No white kids get sent to alternative schools, so I’m pissed like white kids don’t get in trouble? And these Black and brown kids don’t have anyone advocating for them at the school board so when I started, they saw me as a rebel, and I said ‘no! I’m not a rebel or a racist, I’m a realist! Why do you let these schools exist if there’s no equity?’ So, I got graduates from Prairie View (an HBCU in the Houston, Texas area) to help teach the kids about [herbs] and I started using the garden as part of my counseling. [I said] ‘You know what? I'm not going to walk you to the office all because you got in trouble. I'm walking out here; we’re going to talk and I'm gonna change the visualization of what we're doing.’”
It was through the creation of this garden and her students love of growing the wholistic herbs that, Ericka became friends with one of the Prairie View gradates that would help with the garden.
“I usually don’t hang out with people, I’m an introvert [but the person who helped with the urban garden] wanted to take me out one Saturday, so we go to winery. And the guy there was 74 years old, he was Italian, and he asked me, ‘What makes you, you?’.
And I said, ‘Man I’m just a counselor’ but my friend told him all that I was doing in the school and he just teared up. Then he asks me, ‘What do you really want to do? Because that seems more like your mission’ I said, ‘It is my mission! I’m really an entrepreneur, that’s how I get paid. I’ve always wanted to sell wine; I’ve always wanted to do what you’re doing’
He said so which one do you want? I said, what do you mean? He said pick one and you tell me how you want it and I'll make it for you. And I said are you kidding? and I sent an email, typed a label and started selling it and [before you know it] I called him, and I said I need another case. And that's how we got in business together.”
So why do you need Blount Wine Therapy? If for whatever reason Ericka Blount’s journey doesn’t inspire to partake in the Blount Wine Therapy Experience, then maybe the wholistic approach will. Most of the 32 kinds of wine sold by Blount Wine Therapy are infused with honey, elderberry, peaches, grapefruit and more, while boasting probiotic effects as well as anti aging and health benefits.
Going back to the lesson Ericka wanted to teach the students of Houston, Blount Wine Therapy is a way to show how she can utilize her name for brand. “It’s about the conversation,” said Ericka when discussing the origins of the Blount Wine Therapy Brand, “[Someone asked] ‘so when are you getting your doctorate?’ And I said ‘No! It’s going to be about therapeutic conversation, just like the one you and I are having. I told God, I want to be a quilt and connect different patches and different people from all walks of life. The wine has opened avenues for me to inform people that we all have different levels of trauma and it all looks different. So that is the therapeutic side of it, purposeful conversation”
I personally had the Savannah and it is among the best dark reds I’ve ever had; hints of plum but not too sweet, it pairs well with chicken, or any poultry driven meal. Not a fan of dry wines? Blount Wine Therapy offers a plethora of options that range from Peaches, a white wine made with peaches and notes of caramel to the Harley, a dark red with a mild oak taste but hints of vanilla to even the Southern Mist, a caramel pecan flavored wine (which tastes just like liquid praline). They even have the famed Blount Black and gold t-shirts for sale (as well as hats and sweatpants). If that’s not enough, Ericka Blount still works as a counselor in Houston and donates 10% of proceeds to assist with children that are combating PTSD. You need Blount Wine Therapy because it’s the only wine that guarantees an experience for both you the consumer, and the many children who look to emulate Ericka Blount as a trailblazing pioneer.