“It’s definitely an old boys’ club, and so obviously for us coming in as opposite, we definitely were looked at as not just not belonging, but really incapable of being successful.”
Co-founded McBride Sisters Wine Company with Andréa McBride, the largest Black-owned wine company in the US
The McBride’s portrait in the Fearless Portrait project consists of an ink drawing of the two of them on a map of California. Both wearing suits, and clasping wine glasses in their hands, Robin is on the left and Andréa is on the right. Monterey, CA, where Andréa grew up and where some of their wine is from, is located on the right side of Robin.
The journey to building one of the largest Black-owned wine companies in the world began in very unlikely circumstances. Andrea McBride was a teenager living in foster care in New Zealand when she got a phone call from her estranged biological father in Alabama. He was calling to deliver the double shot of surprise news that he was dying of cancer and before he died, he wanted to connect her with his other daughter—Robin—whose existence Andrea had never known of.
He died before they could find Robin, but Andrea did get to meet her father’s family and they sent letters to every Robin McBride in the phone book until they finally found the right Robin. She was living across the country in Monterey, CA.
When they finally got to speak to each other for the first time in 1999, one of their ice breaker questions was “what was it like where you grew up?” and they discovered they both grew up in winemaking areas and they were passionate about wine. In an effort to bond, they went to wine tastings and vineyard tours. After a few glasses of wine, they started to dream about having their own wine company together.
That dream became a reality in 2005, when they scraped together the $1,800 to buy an importer’s license and began selling New Zealand sauvignon blanc to high-end restaurants. Their operation continued to grow and in 2016, they took it a leap further and formed the McBride Sister’s Wine Company. In 2020, the company cleared $5.5m in sales.
Selling wines from each of their homelands, New Zealand and California, McBride Sisters Collection wines are available across the US.
The journey from first importing wine to creating a multi-million dollar wine business was not an easy one. They built their company without any investors or advisors in the beginning and faced challenges in a sector that is “notorious for its gatekeeping,” says Robin.
“It’s definitely an old boys’ club,” says Robin of the wine industry. “A large part of the industry is run by a very small group of older white wealthy men. There are a lot of dynasties in wine and family lineages that still run things. And so obviously for us coming in as the opposite—really of everything that, to that point, had been successful in the wine world, which was an older white man—we definitely were looked at as not just not belonging, but really incapable of being successful.”
The traditional way to sell wine was to work with wholesalers, distributors, and retailers, working each step like a ladder until the bottles eventually made it to store shelves. The McBrides found ways to bypass these gatekeepers by creating demand directly with customers.
“A lot of our experiences of us being curious about wine and how we were treated when we were in those tasting rooms and stuff is really a lot of the foundation of what our company is built on today, which is making wine accessible for everybody and helping people on their journey and making it fun,” says Andréa.
This customer-centric philosophy around wine helped propel their business into the largest Black-owned wine company in the US.
Beyond their own wine business, the McBrides are passionate about elevating women and people of color by raising a more diverse generation of winemakers and consumers.
“Our purpose and our mission,” says Andréa, “Is to change the face of wine for our community and for our industry. When we talk about our community, who we serve, we find that who is attracted to our brands are women and people of color. This is a really big group of people that the wine industry doesn't do that great a job in welcoming. For a long time, we have been one of the only Black-owned brands that has national distribution that is available at national grocery stores. We want to leave the wine industry better than when we started. We don't think that we should be the only ones here.”
In 2019, they launched the SHE CAN line of canned wines, which underwrites the SHE CAN Fund. A concerted effort to help close the gender and race gap in the wine world, the fund has contributed more than $3 million in scholarships, in-kind skills development, technical training, and ad credits to women vintners.
This episode contains music by Geovane Bruno and MusicTown.