Alumna Profile: Justin Trabue
Justin Trabue (Wine and Viticulture, ’17), assistant winemaker at Lumen Wines in Los Alamos, California, jokes that she was destined to work in the wine industry because her parents named her after Justin Winery in Paso Robles. That calling was fulfilled by traveling from her hometown of Washington, D.C., to attend Cal Poly.
Trabue’s journey across the country led to the start of a career that she is quickly excelling in. She credits her time at Cal Poly for paving the way forward and solidifying her love of winemaking. “Growing up in Washington, D.C., I always thought I’d attend a university on the East Coast. But when I visited Cal Poly during my junior year of high school, I fell in love,” Trabue said. “Cal Poly’s wine and viticulture program is fantastic to its core, from in-class wine tastings, to lessons in the vineyard, an opportunity to study abroad in Adelaide, Austrailia, and a student club called Vines to Wines focused on exposing students to leaders in the industry.” In fact, the first harvest she worked as an intern, led to her job at Lumen Wines, where she just finished her fifth harvest.
A vivacious young winemaker, Trabue’s charisma is contagious. While the wine industry is now home for her, what is now familiar, was not always. She recalls meeting a Black sommelier at an event in her hometown and realizing it was the first time she had seen someone who looked like her working in the industry. “I didn't meet my first Black friend within the wine industry until after I graduated, when I went down to New Zealand,” she said. “It was really hard to find my community within the wine industry.” She’s determined to change that.
Trabue is quickly becoming a crucial voice in the effort to increase diversity in the wine industry. Together with Simmone Mitchelson, a fellow winemaker and confidant, a call to action was made to the wine community, asking their colleagues to come together to create a more diverse wine industry that better reflects U.S. demographics.
In response, industry leaders created a scholarship fund through the California Community Foundation* to support Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) students at Cal Poly who are pursuing a career in wine and viticulture.
Several donors have contributed to the scholarship program already. The O’Neill Family and Charles Woodson, former NFL player, have teamed up to create the Charles Woodson and O'Neill Family Wine Scholarship, which provides funding for a full-ride scholarship, including tuition, room and board, for a students' entire four to five years at Cal Poly. There is additional funding available from other donors to give partial scholarships to additional qualifying students.
“With community investment toward Black, Indigenous, people of color students, we can foster equity in education,” Trabue said. “Access to education and resources has always been skewed; by providing scholarships and opportunities, BIPOC students can find interesting and exciting jobs in wine.”
The scholarship is available to any BIPOC student in Cal Poly’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences who expresses an interest in a career in the wine industry, with students majoring in wine and viticulture receiving preference.
“Diversity in our industry is important for our growth and our health because it's showing that the wine world isn't just a certain type of people, the wine road is for everyone,” Trabue said.
Mitchelson, chief operating officer of Natural Action Wine Co., said the scholarship benefits the wine industry as a whole. “This scholarship program is particularly important because the impact is direct and the outcome offers sustainability to both building equity and diversifying the wine industry in our immediate area,” she said.
Both Trabue and Mitchelson agree that the path forward will pave the way not only for future generations of students pursuing an education in wine and viticulture, but for the success of the industry as a whole.
“We intend to create lasting change for the next generation. We want there to be Black, Indigenous and people of color who feel seen and heard and can look up and see someone who looks like them. That's what I think is most important: being able to see yourself within the industry that you're working in. I feel like we're finally starting to see that.”
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*The California Community Foundation is not affiliated with Cal Poly.