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Diversity & Inclusion
March 18, 2022

Pairing wine with inclusivity

Robin McBride and Andréa McBride John, half-sisters who led parallel lives on opposite ends of the globe, are overcoming barriers for women and people of color in the wine industry.

Robin McBride and Andréa McBride John are enjoying wine, taking in views of the vineyard, and getting to know one another. It’s the early 2000s, and these half-sisters only recently learned of the other’s existence. Although they’re having a great time, they notice a few things that seem off. “We were young women of color. We just weren’t prioritized in these spaces. Sometimes it took us quite a while to get some wine in our glass, or we were side-eyed, or we were offered the least expensive wine,” Robin McBride said.

These experiences didn’t deter them. “We loved wine, we loved being in wine country, we loved tastings,” Robin McBride said. “We started to joke to ourselves: If we had a winery or if we had wine tastings, it would be something much more inclusive, something less stuffy.”

What started as a half-jest has turned into a serious business. Today, they own McBride Sisters Wine Company — the largest Black-owned wine company in the U.S.

Parallel lives lead to shared passion for wine

Robin McBride grew up believing she was an only child. At 25, she got life-changing news: she had a sister, nine years her junior, living on the other side of the world.

In some ways, the women lived parallel lives. In addition to sharing the same father, they both grew up in wine country: Robin in Monterey, California, and Andréa in Marlborough, Aotearoa.

So perhaps it’s unsurprising that Andréa McBride John said, “We are hauntingly obsessed with wine. This is our passion. This is our love.”

A younger Andréa and Robin McBride smile while standing cheek to cheek.
At left, a woman and her child in a studio portrait. At right, two men and two women stand smiling at the camera.

The first meeting: Andréa McBride John and Robin McBride shared an immediate connection upon meeting each other in 1999.
Photo: Courtesy of the McBride sisters

At left, Robin McBride with her mother, Karen O’Neal. O'Neal raised her in California’s wine country. At right, learning about each other gave the sisters a new extended family, which included uncle Sam McBride and cousin Mike Wheeler.
Photo: Courtesy of the McBride sisters

The desire to pair wine with inclusivity led the sisters to start their business in 2005 as Aotearoa wine importers. In 2009, they began creating their own wines and currently have three labels: McBride Sisters Collection, Black Girl Magic, and SHE CAN. The latter was launched in 2019 as both a product (wine in a can) and a professional development fund that helps women in wine and related fields.

Wells Fargo wine expert’s insights help company with growth

With business booming, the McBride sisters came to Wells Fargo and Lead Commercial Relationship Manager Gail Nakama for help with their growth.

This pace is uncommon in the slow-moving wine industry. Robin Wenzel, Wells Fargo’s in-house wine industry financing expert, calls it “hockey-stick growth”: a straight line with a sudden sharp uptick.

With this degree of growth, the McBrides needed “someone who understands the industry, the inventory, how they source and make their wine, and how to help mitigate risks so they’re not bumping their head and they’re not having to turn down an opportunity to double their offerings,” said Wenzel, a senior vice president and manager for Wells Fargo’s said Wenzel, a senior vice president and manager for Wells Fargo’s Food and Agribusiness Industry Advisors team.

Wenzel, who brings 18 years of experience in the wine industry to the table, provides that value to the McBrides.

“Wells Fargo was able to support our business in a way that other folks weren’t able to,” Andréa McBride John said. “We’ve been able to gain really great peer insight and expertise with Robin. It’s great to have someone who can offer you advice for you to make a really good decision for the company.”

Changing the wine industry from the inside

With their business and influence, the sisters want to do more than sell wine; they want to break down barriers in the industry. They’re setting an example with their own company — their staff is 93% women and 51% people of color, Robin McBride said.

They also want to expand a love for wine among new and diverse consumers.

“People want to feel comfortable ordering wine, drinking wine, talking about wine, and it’s a hard thing to do,” Robin McBride said. “Wine as a product has been purposely set up to be exclusive. It can be a pretty challenging barrier to just feeling comfortable.”

So during the pandemic, they offered a free online wine school, expecting a couple hundred participants — but reaching more than 10,000 people. Informal classes taught wine basics in an everyday, relatable way.

And charitable work they’re doing with SHE CAN and partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities are helping Black women enter the industry or grow their own business.

“What they’re doing with the industry by giving back and supporting women, that’s just honestly groundbreaking,” Wenzel said.

Wenzel said the whole Wells Fargo team feels fortunate to support the McBride Sisters Wine Company.

“It’s not just about them. It’s about the greater good,” Wenzel said. “You can do well in an industry, you can do well as a company. But what’s really neat to me is if you do well while doing good.”

 

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