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Vinequity’s national scholarship fund is increasing diversity in Canada’s Wine and Spirit Industry

In less than two years, Vinequity has raised and awarded more than $48,000 in scholarship funds to BIPOC individuals in Canada. So far this year, Vinequity has awarded $27,750 to a new group of diverse individuals, an increase of 31% from 2021. Vinequity also received an increase in scholarship applications in 2021 — a testament to the already growing impact of what representation can do.

Read on for a summary of our Spring 2022 scholarship winners, as well as the like-minded organizations that have recently joined forces with Vinequity to further our impact across Canada:


Formed by agent / supplier members of the trade association Drinks Ontario, with support from Vinequity and LCBO, Drinkclusion’s focus is to increase diversity, equality and inclusion across the beverage alcohol industry through educational resources, career building programs and scholarship funds.

With support from Vinequity, Drinkclusion raised $15,000 in scholarship funds this year for six deserving candidates. These recipients include new Canadians looking to build their careers, industry veterans pursuing opportunities for continuing education, and relative newcomers looking to grow in the industry. All recipients hope to inspire others and affect positive change within the beverage alcohol industry.

Drinkclusion Spring 2022 scholarship recipients include:

California Wine Institute

As of Fall 2021, Vinequity is proud to partner with California Wine Institute to offer complimentary access to Capstone California, the marketing board’s signature California wine certification program. Currently, all Vinequity directory members may enroll in Capstone Levels I and II at no cost. Upon completion of Levels I and II, Vinequity members are also invited to apply for a full scholarship to obtain the Level III Capstone Ambassador certificate. The Level III Capstone scholarship is valued at $5,000 USD and includes the full certification plus an educational trip to California’s wine regions.

Vinequity and California Wine Institute are pleased to recognize Sapna Patel with the Capstone Ambassador scholarship for 2022. As Sapna describes passionately: “Once I realized that I actually could be in this world of wine, I haven't stopped and I won't stop”. We are proud to empower motivated individuals such as Sapna, and believe people with a diverse background like her will enrich the industry and lead to innovation.

Nicholas Pearce Wines

The annual Nicholas Pearce Wines scholarship is awarded through Vinequity to an applicant pursuing a career in the business and importing of wine. The scholarship includes a monetary award for education and a business mentorship. This year, the prize was awarded to WSET Diploma student Mayuko (Kiko) Nakamaru.

Vinequity strives to address the intersectionality of our applicants and all the different barriers they may face. One such barrier disproportionately affecting women of colour is the ability to return to the workforce after having children. Kiko is the mother of young children and can attest, “[I] have put my best in them these last 5 years and am now in the midst of reviving my career.”

About Vinequity

Vinequity is a national nonprofit organization raising funds and gathering resources to support and advocate for BIPOC beverage professionals. We welcome anyone who identifies as Black, Indigenous or as a person of colour to join our online directory.

Our Scholarship program is uniquely positioned to offer a full breadth of internationally recognized wine education and certification, while centering BIPOC voices throughout the application and scholarship awards process.

Vinequity proudly supports BIPOC people who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+ or who live with a disability, as well as people at all levels of the beverage business — from new wine enthusiasts with goals of developing a career to seasoned industry professionals.

Our Impact

The high quality wine education and support that Vinequity scholarship winners receive are vitally important to fostering diverse engagement in the beverage world as well as increasing racial representation and BIPOC excellence within the ranks of beverage alcohol businesses and the hospitality sector, especially in leadership roles.

We aim to change not only the face of the wine and spirits industry but also the operating core. We believe that an industry well represented by individuals from different backgrounds and experiences will capture a greater share of the consumer market, and can more effectively meet the needs of the public, whether they are from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, women, 2SLGBTQIA+ and/or live with a disability.

Additional Spring 2022 Vinequity scholarships were awarded to: Brittany Morrison Rachna Contractor Maia Pearson Michelle Widerszpil Seema Pal

Scholarship Recipients listed in alphabetical and Bio

Brittany Morrison A lover and learner of wine, food and fun!

Felipe Avendaño

My name is Felipe Avendaño @pisco_avendano I started my studies at Escuela de Sommelier de Chile and am Certified by the Court of Master Sommelier, WSET Level 3 graduate and Certified Pisco taster at IDVIP (Wine and Pisco Institute) in Lima, Peru.

I have been working for a long time with wines and spirits in the main distributors of Chile with many wineries and brands of distillates; Premium Brands, El Mundo del Vino- Cavas Reunidas and La Vinoteca, as well as Bodegas Tabernero in Peru. The Sommelier profession requires a lot of knowledge, it is a continuous learning. I have had the opportunity to visit various wine regions and wineries in France, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Peru, Canada and of course Chile.

Maia Pearson

Working in wine on the hospitality end as well as the business side of things, currently based out of Vancouver. I graduated from Concordia University in Montreal with a BA in Honours Sociology, and have steered my career towards the hospitality industry. I am a life long learner and I believe in passionate leadership with a focus on strengthening and supporting our local communities. People are our greatest asset.

Mayuko (Kiko) Nakamaru After working in the Restaurant Le Beaujolais, a family-friend's Banff restaurant in the summer of 2010, I started taking online wine courses from every provider I could find. I finally landed with WSET and dove head first into my Level 3, followed up with enrolling into Niagara College's Winemaking Diploma in 2012. After discovering that my talents were not in the painstaking art of winemaking, I took some time off to find my career feet again - where I found some other roots and got married. I eventually managed a wine shop in Calgary, AB, and started a family. It's been a blur since then - between having more children, moving back to Toronto, and the pandemic. How does one re-start a wine career that barely took off before having kids? I'm trying to figure that out, and that's why I'm here.

Michelle Widerszpil

Server/bartender on the path to becoming a sommelier. Current WSET level 3 student.

Natasha Samuels

I'm Natasha and I have always had a passion for wine and love exploring different flavour profiles. I am continuously expanding my palate and have a desire to share my passion with others. Currently, I am enrolled at George Brown College in the Wine Specialist Program. I would like to become a Wine Specialist while working towards becoming a Sommelier. Recently, I created a virtual wine tasting event called 'Taste with Tash' where I host monthly wine tastings. I have had the pleasure to host these fun and informative events exploring different wines and various flavour profiles. It has been a privilege to expand my knowledge and be able to share what I have learned so far with those around me. I look forward to continuing to grow in this industry and learn from all of these amazing wine enthusiasts and professionals.

Navjit Sidhu

Nav has 6 years of experience in wine marketing and branding. Having previously worked as a Trade Marketing Manager for a wine agency she understand the complexities of and integration needed between sales and marketing departments.

Her true passion lies in building new wine brands. She has successfully introduced and grown many new wineries and new wine brands into the Canadian market.

With a Diploma in Marketing, a B.A. in Psychology and WSET Level II; she has a unique set of education that is tailored towards wine marketing.

Currently she is working as a Vintage Cellarhand in the Okanagan to increase her understanding of wine and how it’s made.

Nicholas Oliveiro

Nick has made a name for himself in Toronto's Wine Community over the last few years as the Sommelier at Peter Pan Bistro and Peter Pantry, where he leads a passionate team of wine people.

He is committed to creating an environment where wine feels accessible and free of gate-keeping. He loves meeting new wine people, from winemakers to sommeliers, and especially wine nerds who love geeking out about dornfelder or falanghina. Nick is certified with the Court of Master Sommeliers where he was awarded the Walter Clore Scholarship for scoring highest in his exam. He is currently pursuing his Advanced Certification as well as studying Sake in his 'spare' time.

Paul Aquino

Rachna Contractor Rachna Contractor is a server who started working in the hospitality industry eight years ago as a cook. She's worked in India at The Oberoi, Gurgaon and in Toronto at Momofuku Noodle Bar, Marben, The Broadview Hotel and Bar Raval. Rachna is particularly fond of Spanish wines. This year she's working towards completing WSET Levels two and three.

Sapna Patel

After 15 years living and working in Europe, Asia and the Middle East in events management, I travelled home to Toronto to pursue my passion for wine. After completing WSET 3, I then eagerly enrolled in WSET Diploma at IWEG. I also have my FWS and am currently using this time in lockdown to study for my SWS (my favourite wine region is Spain) and final diploma exam. I'll be a lifelong student of this wonderous wine world because the more I study the more I realize how much there is still to learn.

Seema Pal

I am a recent CAPS and WSET Diploma graduate. I am hoping to find a job in wine education, which is my passion. In the meantime, I am looking to get involved in the CAPS Manitoba Chapter to do my part to spread wine culture!

Thierry Alcantara

I started my career in hospitality back in 2011 while I was living and studying in Dublin, Ireland. Prior to that I went to university for Accounting and worked in financial audit in my home country of Brazil.

In 2013 I joined the beverage team of a major cruise line company, where I had the opportunity to learn more about the world of beverages while traveling to some amazing destinations. In 2015 I decided to go back to college, and moved to Toronto, Canada, where I attended the Hospitality program at George Brown College, I graduated the program in 2017 with a 4.0 GPA and was the recipient of the International Scholarship Excellence Award.

My passion for wine started while I was attending George Brown College, I attended a basic wine course as part of my curriculum in which I excelled, so I decided to seek further knowledge. I took WSET Level 3, and eventually joined The Sommelier Factory program, which has been an integral part of my learning experience.

Between 2015 and 2018 I worked in Food & Beverage for Fairmont and Marriott Hotels. I had the opportunity to work as a Sommelier for Byblos Toronto, Air Canada Signature Lounge, and most recently, I was working under the mentorship of Master Sommelier, Bruce Wallner at Grand Cru Deli.

In 2018 I passed the Certified Exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers, and in 2019 I was also certified by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers. That same year I had the opportunity to take the Advanced Sommelier Course with the CMS, and I hope to take the Advanced exam in the next few years. Currently, I am living in Prince Edward County, where I am working as a Sommelier at Stanners Vineyard. I hope to further my wine education and share my experiences and passion along the way.



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