Robin McBride, co-founder and President of the McBride Sisters Wine Company, owns the largest Black-owned wine company in the United States. She started it with her sister, Andrea McBride Johns, nearly 20 years ago.
McBride was recently a keynote speaker at the 2023 Unified Symposium. Following the event, she answered questions from Vintner Magazine about how she and her sister are making wine more accessible by offering a free multi-module wine course, and more inclusive by awarding over $3 million in grants and programming.
VINTNER: As champions of inclusivity and accessibility, what are some developments in that department you’ve seen in the wine industry that have encouraged you lately? What are some areas you’ve seen that need addressing and what, in your mind, are some things in that area you’d like to see the industry as a whole improve at?
MCBRIDE: Since our start in the wine industry almost 15 years ago, we’ve seen the wine industry make strides in the areas of inclusivity and accessibility, but there are still areas of improvement in terms of representation across the US. One area that needs to be addressed within the wine industry is “otherism,” specifically as it relates to Black Americans and women. There is often an assumption that we do not have the same capabilities and palate comprehension as our counterparts. This is a challenge that we faced at the beginning of our wine careers, and it’s one that we’ve continued to encounter on our entrepreneurial journey. We would like to see the industry as a whole focus on the importance of representation and making wine education more accessible for all. The industry does not always understand or represent the full customer demographic, and that needs to change.
VINTNER: What are some ways McBride Sisters Wine Company is working to make wine more accessible to all? What has that done to help you grow your audience and emerge in a crowded marketplace.
MCBRIDE: One of our biggest achievements has been the vibrant community that we have built through our brand and partnerships to help create spaces for all to enter and enjoy “wine for the new world.” In 2021, through the McBride Sisters SHE CAN Fund, our 501c3 that was founded in 2019, we launched our HBCU Winemaking & Viticulture Professional Development Program & Pipeline with Southern University, to support the next generation of wine industry talent. It is important for us to continue making strides for the representation of Black and women winemakers across the US.
Additionally, as the largest Black-owned wine company in the US, we are made up of nearly 90% women and 50% people of color By representing a strong show of diversity within our own business, we have been able to grow and connect with our audience, as well as emerge in a crowded marketplace in a way that other brands haven’t been able to.
VINTNER: What does your wine course include, how did you develop it and who’s your target audience (if you have one)? Is it already underway, and if so, what kind of feedback and participation have you had? Why does that encourage you?
MCBRIDE: We first launched our free wine school, “McBride Certified: Wine 101,” in 2021 on Facebook as a way to connect with our community and to introduce an approachable and accessible way for people to learn about wine. At the time, there was not a widely affordable or easily accessible industry resource that offered people an opportunity to learn about wine at their own pace. Our goal was to create a free wine course that was applicable to the everyday – throwing wine, pop culture, music, and food into one arena where it could all be appreciated within a community setting. McBride Certified is a series of modules that walk students through digestible wine information – real knowledge that can be implemented when shopping for a bottle at a local wine shop, pairing wine with a meal, or ordering a glass at a restaurant.
VINTNER: How did you decide what you wanted your brands to be, what you wanted the messaging to be, and how did you develop your three brands?
MCBRIDE: Our mission at McBride Sisters Wine Company is to break down barriers and make the future of wine more accessible with Wine for the New World.
McBride Sisters Collection: With no winemaking legacy to stand on, we set out guided by one set of principles – to make our own wine traditions, and place women, culture, cuisine, taste and lifestyle at the center of a wine experience. Andréa and I grew up on opposite sides of the globe, in the Central Coast of California and New Zealand, or Aotearoa in Māori language. McBride Sisters Collection offers a delicious range of wines with maximum freshness, flavor and elegance, to enhance any food, mood and occasion. This includes our McBride Sisters Collection Reserve Wines – our newest collection of luxury, single-vineyard wines from both California and New Zealand, which were inspired by pivotal moments in our journey to sisterhood and founding McBride Sisters Wine Company.
Black Girl Magic: With Black Girl Magic Wines, we pay homage to our heritage, including the women in our family from Camden, Alabama – the heart of the agricultural “Black Belt” and Civil Rights movement in the United States. And, we honor all Black women in our community, across the Diaspora, and the world, who have graced culture and society with her soul, spirit and MAGIC for generations. Our collection of award-winning Black Girl Magic wines are sourced from California’s finest winegrowing regions, designed to serve magnificent Black Women and all of her celebratory moods and occasions.
SHE CAN Wines: We are a women-first, women-owned, and women-led company. We show up and advocate for all women. We walk the walk, talk the talk, break the rules, make the wine, and then DRINK IT! Our cans prove that SHE CAN have it all. We deliver lip-smackingly delicious, and affordable, premium quality wines and spritzers in a can. SHE CANs are nimble and ready to show up to your journey, complement your spectrum of moods or favorite foods. Versatility and experimentation are our priority. We are change agents who advocate for fun, experimentation, inclusivity, and empowerment to revolutionize the wine industry and beyond. We see you, and invite you to show up and discover a like-minded community with SHE CAN. We are committed to making an impact. SHE CAN Wines donates to the McBride Sisters SHE CAN Fund, which supports the advancement of women in male-dominated industries with scholarships, mentorship and community.
VINTNER: You’re doing a wonderful thing by awarding grants. How do you encourage folks to apply, how do you determine who receives them, and what gives you hope that they’re helping you fulfill your mission.
MCBRIDE: Many factors contribute to our McBride Sisters SHE CAN Fund grant selection process. Each year we announce a new focus of the SHE CAN Fund, choosing a new demographic of women entrepreneurs to support through our 501c3 efforts, based on current statistics. For example, this year, the SHE CAN Fund will award WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) courses and certification or Sommelier certification courses and exam scholarships to high-potential women in the wine and spirits and culinary fields, to enhance their skill sets and to aid in the advancement of their careers This decision was based on current category statistics, which shine a spotlight on the lack of women in leadership positions within America’s hospitality industry.
Following our focus announcement, we open applications for those who are eligible and spend the following months meticulously reviewing backgrounds and business details of all applicants. Year after year, we’ve seen an increase in applicants and enthusiasm for our announcements. We’ve created a community of nearly 3,000 women within the SHE CAN Fund, and it brings us so much joy to follow along with scholarship recipients to see how they utilize their scholarships and mentorship for professional and business development. What gives us hope is that we are fulfilling our mission by leveraging this platform to expand the conversation about the inequities between Black and White Americans, that we are leading by example to support the businesses that need it most, and that we are hopefully inspiring others to do the same.