'Bias Is a Business Killer,' Says the Co-Founder of the Largest Black-Owned Wine Company in the U.S.
Here are three lessons Robin McBride and her sister have learned while building McBride Sisters Wine Company.
I love sparkling wines, and I recently discovered the McBride Sisters Wine Company and this particular bottle: Sparkling Brut Rosé. I've become obsessed. I brought my new favorite bottle to dinner parties, opened it when I had guests over and gifted it to a girlfriend. My friends like the wine as much as I do.
"My curiosity for wine started as a child," says Robin McBride, co-founder and president of McBride Sisters Wine Company. "I can recall trying to ferment Welch's grape juice in baby bottles under my bed! My sister and I always had a passion for wine that we wanted to share with the world, in an industry where very few people looked like us."
The size of the U.S. wine market is approximately $63.69 billion, with an expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.8% (from 2022 to 2030). The sparkling wine segment, my favorite, is predicted to grow the fastest at 7.7%, driven by prosecco and Champagne.
Enter the McBride Sisters Wine Company, which the sisters founded in 2005 in California, first as importers and then as wine-makers. Its collection of still, sparkling — and canned — wine has taken the industry by storm in recent years.
Robin McBride and her sister Andréa McBride John co-founded their company in an industry that has notoriously lacked diversity of representation. "About one percent of one percent of all winemakers are Black," Phil Long, president of the Association of African American Vintners (AAAV), said in an interview with Wine-Searcher. "If you're looking at winemakers and brand owners overall there are over 50, but if you're looking for African Americans who are both the winemaker and the brand owner, there are just a few dozen."
The McBride Sisters have ignited the movement to change that. "My sister and I are on a mission to transform the industry, lead by example and cultivate community," Robin McBride says. "One delicious glass of wine at a time."
Here are the three most important lessons McBride and her sister have learned as they've built the largest U.S. Black-and women-owned wine company:
Stop thinking money will solve everything
McBride has always been a problem-solver. As a child, she loved to take things apart and put them back together. She also recalls asking a lot of questions. "I got on everyone's nerves," she says. "I was always on a mission to find out the why and seek out solutions."
Now as co-founders, the sisters are always in problem-solving mode. On their journey to build the company, they have been under-resourced and understaffed. The pandemic was another reminder that money won't solve everything. "We can't pay to play in our industry. The other players are just too big and will always outspend us," McBride says. "During the pandemic, we needed to innovate around ways to engage our consumers. We created a free online wine school on Facebook and filmed modules from home, and it didn't cost us much more than our time. We not only engaged our community but grew it [by providing] useful content."
"Bias is a business killer"
The sisters' road to building their business hasn't been easy. "There is an immediate lack of credibility you can feel from investors who are skeptical of your success as a Black woman founder, because you must be an anomaly," McBride says. "Hundreds of questions come your way. Who actually owns the company? Who makes your wine? Do Black women even drink wine? Bias is a business killer."
Early on, an investor actually recommended that the sisters get a white man as a partner to help them raise money. But the sisters wouldn't give up; they would not be ignored. "We are great business leaders, and we know our consumers," McBride says. "Eighty percent of wine purchases are made by women. And yes, despite what some of those investors thought, Black women do drink wine."
Today, the McBride Sisters Wine Company employs 51% people of color and 93% women, which includes an all-women winemaking team.
Celebrate and give back
In 2019, the McBride sisters were invited to the Essence Festival, and they were asked to join the mayor of New Orleans on stage at the opening party. They decided to make a wine to commemorate the moment and called it Black Girl Magic Riesling. They made fewer than 100 cases for the event, and the demand was enormous. The sisters weren't prepared for how well it would be received.
"People really loved the wine," McBride says. "For my sister and I, it was an opportunity to celebrate our culture and community, to honor Black women. Because for far too long, the industry has not catered to us as consumers, and it was important to us to create a line of wines for us as a community that can be enjoyed by everyone."
The McBride sisters continue to push beyond all barriers to provide customers with a wine that represents their culture, their story, their likes and their celebrations. "This collection is inspired by and is meant to celebrate the incredible Black women in our family, our community, and everyone who celebrates them," McBride says. "It's our opportunity to give back to so many Black women who continue to support us."
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