Rada Griffin is a NASA senior software developer. She works long hours on a project to put the first woman on the moon in 2024.
"We have a lot of responsibility to make sure that everything goes well," she said. "When I have time, I do my thing with wine."
Griffin, from Huntsville, Alabama, has three lives. On weekdays, she works for NASA. Weekend wine and food combinations sometimes take her to Napa Valley, California, where she observes her first harvest. She began creating her own “Anissa Wakefield Wines” in 2019 after completing online wine classes offered by Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration instructors. As a result, she became Alabama's first Black woman winemaker.
"Wine is food to me," said Griffin, a local private chef. "How do you think about food? When a chef shows you something beautiful, and you can't wait to eat it, I think about wine the same way. Do more: That's what I thought."
Griffin enrolled in the eCornell course, developed by Nolan School senior lecturer Cheryl Stanley, as soon as she began exploring winemaking. She began the credential program shortly after attending Stanley's Wine Essentials class at Cornell in early 2020. It concentrated on wines from California, Washington, and New York.
Griffin called the professor "wonderful."
“It's hard to praise her or the program she runs enough,” she gushed.
Griffin returned last year to finish Stanley's other certificate program on French wine. She's also met new friends, which is good. Because they all enjoy wine, the students become like family.
A local wine club called the Black Cuvee has also been set up for people who like wine in Alabama.
“The wine sector has been difficult for Black women and the Black community as a whole to enter and be welcomed into,” says Griffin. For African Americans, she said, "We're trying to get in on the wine business. There's a movement going on where more and more Black people are entering it. You can see it with celebrities and athletes, as well as everyday people. I want to do my part to move that forward."
Doing this in Alabama can be a challenge, but it can also be enjoyable.
"The state is still behind on wine," she remarked. State residents could only get wine shipped to them as of October of last year.
So before she could succeed, she had to solve some issues. In 2019, there were many fires in California, which smoked the grapes. “We didn't want to endanger my first year's harvest,” she said. With a heavy heart, she and her wine director went back to work to begin again.
Griffin is pleased to report that things are improving. "We watched the grapes just take off this past April all the way through harvesting in September and October," she said. "Now I'm blending."
After blending, she will bottle and pack the wine, Griffin anticipates.
Ultimately, she wants the wines on flights. "When you're flying, and you're choosing between white and red and you open that booklet and read the wine brands, I want Anissa Wakefield Wines to be there. That's my goal down the line."