Although there are more than 8,000 wineries in the United States, Black-owned wineries are hard to come by. Exposure to making and selling wine is limited to specific communities, often excluding Black and brown people. Many Black-owned wine labels get overshadowed by labels created by Black celebrities, but the best Black-owned labels come out of wineries and vineyards in Northern California.
McBride Sisters is one of the most popular Black-owned wine labels in the United States. The brand was established in 2005, after the sisters decided to pursue their shared passion for wine. Robin and Andréa McBride were raised in different regions known for wine — Marlborough, New Zealand, and Monterey, Calif. McBride Sisters is known for the Black Girl Magic collection, which was created to encourage consumers to support Black-owned brands. The “SHE CAN” collection speaks to the power of women across the world. McBride Sisters is one of the few Black-owned wine labels that encourages consumers to be socially conscious.
Edward “Mac” McDonald’s father was a moonshine maker in East Texas. McDonald decided to follow in his father’s footsteps when he began making wine at the age of 12. The renowned vineyard owner created Vision Cellars in 1995, but did not sell wine until 1996. By 2002, McDonald had formed the Association of African-American Vintners. The organization is made up of 46 wineries and vineyards including McBride Sisters, Longevity, and Theopolis Vineyards. McDonald believes the wine industry “is a business that is based on name recognition, location, color, and finances.” Making and marketing wine is McDonald’s full-time job. He is involved with wine from the growing to the bottling. He continues to produce and harvest wine every year.
In 1995, siblings Deneen, David, and Coral Brown established Brown Estate, the first Black-owned winery in Napa Valley. The following year Brown produced its first Napa Valley Zinfandel. The trio decided to start making and selling wine as a part of a family legacy. In 1980, their parents purchased an abandoned ranch and planted grapes, which they sold to local winemakers. Attend a party or small gathering in California and expect to see Brown being served. The brand has grown in popularity due to its full-bodied Zinfandel. In 2019, the Domestic Delta One customers menu included Brown Estate 2017 Betelgeuse Sauvignon Blanc and 2017 Chaos Theory. The Brown Downtown tasting room was founded in 2017 and re-opened in September.
Southern California native Phil Long began making wine in his garage in 2003. By 2008, he and his wife had quit their full-time jobs to open a tasting room in the Livermore Valley. Longevity has made a name for itself in the wine industry. It is the third largest wine brand in the Livermore Valley. Long eventually expanded his brand with wineries in Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom. In 2019, Longevity was named Livermore Valley’s Winery of the Year. Long hopes to create more diversity in the wine industry.
Long is the current president of the African-American Vintners Association. When asked about the challenges he faces as a Black winery owner, Long said that all winemakers face the same challenges. “The hardest thing about the wine business is not making wine, it’s selling wine.” According to Long, his brand sells 3,500 cases of wine per year. His son works alongside him as an assistant winemaker.
In 2003, lawyer Theodora Lee started Theopolis Vineyards. Lee was raised in Texas and her grandfather was a sharecropper and cattle farmer. Theopolis Vineyards began selling wine in 2014 and was named 2020 Wine Industry Leader by winebusiness.com. Lee was introduced to wine by mentors at her law firm. The first time she tried wine she did not enjoy it, but knew she would love harvesting and growing grapes because of her upbringing. “I have farming in my blood. I learned to drive a tractor at age 8. When I was introduced to vineyards I got back to my farming roots.” Lee took courses on growing grapes at the University of California-Davis. Even though she’s a full-time lawyer, she is committed to the process of making wine. Lee believes the two biggest challenges she has faced are having resources and distributing wine. “There are still distributors who think you’re too small to bother with,” she says. But Theopolis Vineyards has made a name for itself and continues to attract visitors from across the United States.