Comedy Explores Black Wine Experience


A new TV comedy goes where the wine industry wants to – into the Black community.

Carl Tart is drinking (non-)wine with costar Nicole Byer in the show Grand Crew.

| Carl Tart is drinking (non-)wine with costar Nicole Byer in the show Grand Crew.

“Wine is Black now.” That’s a line of dialogue and also something of a mission statement for Grand Crew, a new sitcom airing on NBC. The show is a buddy comedy about a group of professional 20-something friends who gather at a wine bar called “Cru” in Los Angeles.

The concept is a lot like Friends or Seinfeld, but in this case the friends are all Black. This isn’t a minor point. The pilot opens with comedian emeritus Garrett Morris monologuing that Black men have layers: they love, laugh, care and cry. Another episode revolves around a day of coping with unspecified “bad Black news;” one method is “bad Black news brunch”.

Wine is more of a setting in this show than a character, but it’s inescapable. The gang has adventures and mishaps in other locations but they always ultimately return to the wine bar for some banter and Cabernet Franc (a fine pairing, by the way.)

The show was created by Phil Augusta Jackson, who has previously written for the comedies Key & Peele, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the under-appreciated Survivor’s Remorse. Just as in the show, Jackson found himself hanging out at a wine bar in Hollywood with his friends, two of whom appear as characters on the show. I arranged a Zoom interview with Jackson and one of the show’s stars, Carl Tart, an actor-writer-standup comedian. I wanted to talk about wine and capture some banter, so I’m going to run this as an edited transcript.

Where’s the real Grand Cru wine bar?

Tart: It’s called Covell. It’s in Hollywood, a nice little spot. It’s a really dope place. Phil chose this place and he had us meet in there. I was like, I’m trying to drink whiskey coke. What is this? Eventually we all fell in love with it. The charcuterie board is the best in Hollywood.

Jackson: I don’t think I’ll ever consider myself a wine expert. But when I think about the things I order now, it’s a lot different from when we started. We grew into wine lovers.

Tart: Covell is a real wine bar, the first that I’ve ever gone to. They tell you what the wines are and they explain them. Before I started going there, I was a very novice wine drinker. I would get a jug of Carlo Rossi. They showed me wines that were like that, but were actually good. Now I know what I like. I know the flavor profile that I like. A lot of places in Hollywood, when it comes to wine, it’s just red or white.

Jackson: I definitely have a wine fridge now, which shows how into wine I am now.

(I ask him what’s in the fridge and both of them gleefully leave the room to fetch some bottles. Jackson returns with Lo-Fi Santa Barbara County Cabernet Franc, Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon, Château d’Issan Margaux and Sottimano Langhe Nebbiolo. Tart holds up two bottles from Tolosa that he just got; he’s a member of its wine club.)

Jackson: I like Cabernet. Cabernet Sauvigon and Cabernet Franc. Cabernet’s kind of my jam.

Tart: I’m also dark and sweet. If it’s Cabernet Sauvignons, Malbecs, Syrahs, Petite Sirahs, that area for me.
I like it dark and sweeter.

Jackson: I’m really excited about Petite Sirahs right now. All of us are into bubbles in some capacity. When we order at Covell, nine times out of 10 it’s by the glass. That way you can try more than one wine. If it someone’s birthday or we just finished production, we might order a bottle. Recently they put me onto a Mexican natural wine called Bichi.

How much could you go to Covell during the pandemic?

Jackson: For the first three months of 2020, we would have a standing time of Sunday or Monday when we would go to Covell. For the first three months of the pandemic, we did it digitally. For the beginning of the pandemic, it was actually really nice to have that. Of the six in the main cast, three were already the people we were already hanging out with in Covell: Carl, Echo Kellum, Nicole Byer. Grasie [Mercedes] is the last person who was cast as Fay. Oddly enough, she was going to Covell before we tipped to Covell. We didn’t become aware of her until we did the show.

One of the signature lines in this show comes in the pilot, when you say, “LeBron drinks it. Wine is Black now.”

Tart: In the pilot episode when we got to the wine bar and we settle in there, that was true to life. That conversation about LeBron, that happened. I’m a big LeBron fan. But I’m a Clippers fan so when he came to the Lakers I had to stop following him. We had that conversation, just like in the pilot. Why are we here? Let’s have a couple drinks here and then get down to the bar and have a drink. I’m a big dude. Drinking wine isn’t enough to get me where I need to go. We had that conversation. We’ve had some good times there since. It has become a home away from home.

Wine is Black now … it’s a joke, but what I mean is that accessibility to things is growing. Things that weren’t taught to us before. Our wine drinking was Carlo Rossi or Franzia. Wine wasn’t really pushed to the Black community for a long time. Like I started playing golf during the pandemic. I never thought about golf before.

Once our friend group started getting more stable in our lives, we started trying to do cooler stuff. Who do you look up to when you do that? LeBron is so much more than an entertainer. I look up to him because of everything he has his hands in. As a business person, as a person who built a school, in the entertainment industry. We’re older now, we’ve got a little bit more money.

Jackson: There have obviously been Black wine drinkers for a long time. There are more people in the Black community having interest in it. Saying “wine is Black now” … we’ve been drinking wine for a long time, but wine does seem to be having a moment. If the show can help get people interested in wine, that would be dope. I heard that there’s 1 percent Black ownership when it comes to wineries. My hope is that it generates a change in that.

I think LeBron is the greatest social media influencer. Have you ever bought any wines he showed on Instagram?

Tart: No. But the coolest thing I ever saw LeBron do was him getting out of his car at the Staples Center, on his way into the game, and he had a glass of wine in his hand. He had a glass of wine on his way in! And he still went in and dropped 30.

How difficult was it to pitch the show?

Jackson: When we were pitching the show, I did speak to the idea that wine is having a moment, specifically in the Black community. But it was also just, let’s explore the dynamics of Black male friendship and vulnerabilities and joys and two-handed emotions. I didn’t get any indication that they were aware that shows like Kings of Napa were coming down the pike.

While wine is constantly in the background, you don’t mention many specific wines on the show. Is that intentional?

Jackson: As far as the hierarchy of things that we wanted to relay with the show, the backdrop is the wine. We do have an episode where we go to a vineyard. It is a make-believe vineyard, Sunset Rose Vineyard. We shot it at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu.

Is any of the wine you drink on the show real?

Tart: On set we don’t drink any wine. No wine. No wine, NBC. We all have our different types of fake wine. I was drinking diet cran grape, in my glass. I think Nicole had a flavored water that made it look like sparkling wine. There was a non-alcoholic wine that they tried to make us drink. It was quite disgusting.

If you’re renewed, what might you explore in a second season?

Jackson: They’re novices at this bar. There’s an opportunity to get into which characters like which wines and why. I can see them exploring why they like wine from a metaphorical standpoint. We’d just be looking to push that a little further. I’d like to highlight more Black-owned wineries. That would be dope.

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