Dubroff: Iris Duplantier Rideau’s story is both timeless and as timely as ever
The summer of 2022 has been about breakthrough stories from revered Black leaders.
We learned new details about the norm-shattering role played by Nichelle Nichols, aka Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura, after she died on July 30.
We relived the social justice advocacy of Boston Celtics superstar Bill Russell, who died the next day at 88.
On the Central Coast, we have our own breakthrough leader who is telling her story this year. And she’s getting some timely recognition for her role in the wine industry.
In her new memoir, “From White to Black: One Life Between Two Worlds,” Iris Duplantier Rideau tells how a New Orleans native overcame setbacks, became a groundbreaking businesswoman in Los Angeles and founded the first winery in the United States owned by a Black woman.
Duplantier Rideau will find herself in the national spotlight in the coming months, when she is featured in a PBS television series about wine industry legends. And while she doesn’t own Rideau Vineyard anymore, she has left an indelible mark on the Central Coast.
Her path was driven by ambition, unique opportunities, and a desire to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams.
As a child in New Orleans in the 1940s, both she and her Creole grandmother could pass for white, providing a unique window into life under Jim Crow laws. Heading west by train to California as a young child to visit her father, she was treated like American royalty — a dining car with white linens, fine sleeping arrangements and attended by porters who were invariably Black.
Back in Louisiana, she witnessed prejudice and the narrowing of expectations. Like Russell, who grew up in Monroe, Louisiana before his family moved to Oakland, she never forgot the hatred. She, like the future NBA star, became part of the Great Migration, as 6 million Black citizens left the south, seeking opportunity.
But life in California was not easy. She had a turbulent relationship with her father. She married young, had a daughter, experienced domestic violence, and found the path to a career blocked.
She did find help along the way. A Jewish family that owned an insurance agency offered her a job and taught her the how to appraise properties and assess risk. In the same way that a small Catholic college, the University of San Francisco, offered Russell a scholarship to play basketball, she got to reach the first rung on the ladder toward success.
Just as Martin Luther King Jr. convinced Nichols not to leave Star Trek after one season, it was Tom Bradley, the first Black mayor of Los Angeles, who encouraged Duplantier Rideau to expand her horizons and figure out how to help neighborhoods devastated by riots get property coverage.
Duplantier Rideau’s talents were not those that get you a bio on IMDB or your number retired by the NBA. But her attention to accounting detail and her ability to focus on the bottom line, combined with Louisiana street smarts, made her one of the most successful Black businesswomen in Los Angeles. She brought insurance and financial services to deeply underserved communities.
After selling her agency, a retirement of sorts beckoned, and Duplantier Rideau, like many Angelenos, found her happy place in the Santa Ynez Valley. But she could not resist the lure of a run-down old adobe that would become the winery that brought together her love of entertaining and her passion for all things Louisiana.
“From White to Black” is a not merely a personal memoir. It is the story of the Black experience in America from the 1940s to now, told in a confident voice through the eyes of a woman who never lost sight of her dream.
In addition to the book and upcoming PBS segment, Duplantier Rideau was interviewed by Veronica Kusmuk of the Business Times for the latest episode of Charting Her Course, our monthly podcast on women entrepreneurs. Find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn more about “From White to Black” at irisrideau.com.
• Henry Dubroff is the owner and editor of the Pacific Coast Business Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.