A brand built on transforming the industry, leading by example, and cultivating community—”one delicious glass of wine at a time.”
You’ve more than likely learned of their story reading one of their many news features, or perhaps listening to their two-part episode on Guy Raz’s How I Built This podcast: two sisters who grew up on opposite sides of the globe find each other and then go into the business of making wine together. Since its inception in 2005, Robin and Andrea McBride have built a business that is now the largest Black-owned wine company in the United States. The McBride Sisters Collection currently consists of four styles of wines: the inaugural Reserve Wines, SHE CAN, Black Girl Magic Wines, and their name’s sake collection—each with their own unique characteristics that showcase the sisters’ personal story and passion for wine.
“Our intention from day one has been really focused on making wine accessible. And, to us, a big part of accessibility is not only price, but it’s also location,” says Andrea McBride.
“With our portfolio, we purposefully have concentrated on being available in grocery stores and large independent retailers so people could find us and so that we can over deliver on the quality to the price.”
While the sisters have plans on expanding offerings within each of the categories, their mission as business women remains the same: “to transform the industry, lead by example, and cultivate community, one delicious glass of wine at a time.”
Like many businesses over the last 18 months, the McBride Sisters have experienced a few operational setbacks of their own due to the global pandemic. One of their goals last year was to expand distribution in on-premise locations like restaurants, independent retailers and event venues. But when shelter-in-place and social distancing mandates were fiercely enforced across the country, causing many restaurants and bars to shut their doors, that goal became more challenging to achieve.
“About 85 percent of our business has been in chain retailers, so we had already been experiencing great success in off-premise sales,” says Robin McBride. “When the pandemic hit, not only did it impact our ability to sell on-premise, but it was also heartbreaking to see all of our colleagues in hospitality experience such uncertainty.”
A silver lining kept the McBride Sisters business moving forward. Last summer’s social justice movements and resurgence of discussions about race, equity and inclusion in this country also helped to shed a bright light on Black-owned businesses across all industries, including wine. And with the ability to ship DtC nationwide, the McBride Sisters were very fortunate to share their collection with new and existing customers. As restaurants and event venues start re-opening doors and resume operations at near-full capacity, the sisters want their wines to be in those places and available for all to enjoy.
MANAGING A GLOBAL BRAND
Growing up in Marlborough, New Zealand and Monterey, California respectively, Andrea and Robin each lived with wine country right in their backyards. So, choosing to make wines from both California and New Zealand seemed like a no-brainer—and the perfect way to set themselves apart from other wine brands. “We started as importers of New Zealand wine, and then we started making our own wines in New Zealand,” says Robin. “After a few years, we also started making wines in the Central Coast, and soon realized that managing harvests in two different parts of the world presented quite the challenge.”
Fortunately, growing grapes in different hemispheres yield different harvest times, and the McBride Sisters credit their head winemakers Amy Butler (based in Paso Robles, California) and Diana Hawkins (based in New Zealand) for keeping things running smoothly. For their New Zealand-specific wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and sparkling brut rosé) the grapes are harvested, and the wine bottled in New Zealand, then shipped to the US. But due to global supply chain issues over the last several months, there has been a backlog at the ports with the shipping containers. Couple that with cooler spring temperatures and late frosts that led to a lower harvest yield of Sauvignon Blanc (down 30 percent) across Marlborough, 2021 has presented a unique opportunity for business.
“In the U.S. and the U.K. markets specifically, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is considered flavorful and reasonably priced. And during the height of the pandemic, when consumers were limited to buying wine from the grocery store, we saw a huge influx of new customers with our Sauvignon Blanc,” says Andrea. Since the brand already had plans for growth, they have enough inventory to continue to satisfy the high demand—despite the short supply issues.
“Additionally, the DtC component—the digital increases in sales created this boom of new Sauvignon Blanc customers,” said Andrea. While things like climate change and supply chain disruption are inevitable, the McBride Sisters are relying on innovation to give consumers a non-traditional wine experience.
IN THE BUSINESS OF BUILDING OTHERS
As part of their mission to create change within the industry, Robin and Andrea believe in breaking rules daily. Case-and-point: SHE CAN—their line of premium canned wines. “A good part of our internal initiative around innovation is packaging and figuring out how we can help wine go into new places outside of the white tablecloth,” says Robin. “Bottles of wine tend to take up space in the fridge, but cans are functionally easier to handle, and they provide two generous pours,” says Andrea. Not only are the sisters keeping the consumer in mind with how they produce and sell wine, but they’re also uplifting those who are creating change in their own communities. A portion of SHE CAN sales supports a fund that the sisters have created to empower women entrepreneurs through professional development scholarships and grants. Recently, the fund received a $2 million donation from Meta (formerly known as Facebook) that will provide 100 Black women entrepreneurs with $20,000 in Facebook advertising credits, and access to Meta’s Elevate program. “Robin and I are really passionate about providing other women with the opportunity to succeed, because we believe that it doesn’t need to be as hard as it was for us,” says Andrea.
What lies ahead for the McBride Sisters? More innovation and collaboration. “New packaging and ways to experience wine in new places,” says Robin. The sisters are also working on some cool collaborations and partnerships that will bridge wine with media, pop culture, food, and other brands. “We’re really proud of the business that we’ve built,” Robin says. “Even if it’s a small part of the industry, we’re proud of how we’ve been able to make an impact on how wine is perceived to a new audience.”
_______________________________________________________________________Chasity Cooper is an award-winning wine journalist whose work can be found at the intersection of wine and culture. With wine education, Chasity’s goal is to break down the barrier of intimidation and make learning about wine enjoyable for all. A Chicago native, Chasity enjoys traveling and spending time with family and friends.