The McBride Sisters continue to withstand the elements—in both business and in life. Since the inception of their namesake brand in 2010, they’ve turned it into the largest Black-owned and female-led wine company in the nation, which is unprecedented in a sector dominated by white men. Before 1999, however, Robin and Andréa McBride never knew the other one existed.
“We had no idea that we had a sister out in the world,” said Robin McBride during our recent phone conversation. “Andréa was growing up in New Zealand, while I was growing up in Monterey, California.” In an arduous search, they learned that they had different mothers, but shared the same father—Kelly McBride, a Black man originally from Camden, Alabama, who later moved to Los Angeles, where both sisters were born.
“Obviously we grew up in completely different places unaware of each other,” Robin McBride explained. “Our dad was very much a character. First off, I’m nine years older than Andréa. My mom and our dad had a fast and serious relationship back in Los Angeles—he was very much kind of living that L.A. life, and ultimately he decided almost immediately after I was born that this wasn’t what was up, and she wasn’t the kind to put that life on him.”
Soon Karen, Robin’s mom, decided to leave Los Angeles and head to Monterey on California’s central coast to embark on a new life as a single mother. “We drove up the coast of California and ultimately decided that Monterey was gonna be the place to raise her daughter. I was like 15 months old at that point. When [my mom] left L.A., she didn’t have any of our data from that point, so I grew up not knowing him and didn’t have a relationship with him.”
For Andréa, her journey was entirely different, as she was raised by her mother Pauline in New Zealand—nearly 6,700 miles away from Los Angeles. “We had no way of knowing that several years later, a little bouncing baby sister was born back in Los Angeles,” said Robin McBride.
“Her mom and our dad fell in love and got married and had Andréa, but unfortunately, our dad was still up to his shenanigans, so her mom ultimately made the decision to leave that relationship.” Sadly, Pauline was also diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and she made the tough call to return to her native New Zealand when Andréa was just six years old, and soon passed away. Raised by an uncle and a foster family in a different country, completely disconnected from everyone in the U.S., it seemed virtually impossible that Robin and Andréa would ever find one another until providence intervened.
In today’s tech-driven society, it’s hard to imagine that the search for family members would be such a difficult task. However, as Robin McBride reminded, this was still the 1990s. “They did the hard work—without Facebook or Google—or any other real online resources to try to hunt down two family members who could be anywhere in the world.” His family, oddly enough, actually found Andréa in New Zealand first, and it took another few years before they would find Robin and her mom Karen in the States.
Brought together as a family after years of separation, out of that bond, the sisters would soon discover their mutual passion for winemaking. As Andréa McBride weighed in, suddenly, Virginia Madsen’s now-famous “life of wine” monologue in Sideways felt both tangible and real.
“After the initial shock of meeting a sibling and all the hugging and the tears and everything, the first natural question that happened was ‘what was it like where you grew up?,’” said Andréa McBride. “And really quickly, we figured out that we were both growing up in these small towns that were rural agricultural areas and they were world-class winemaking regions, and independently of each other. We decided that we wanted to be winemakers, that we wanted to be in the wine industry.”
“For both of us,” Andréa McBride continued, “it was watching the village of people that it takes to look after these little tiny berries, you know 12 months a year, then harvesting and turning these grapes into wine. And that the wine occasion itself was ‘people,’ ‘happy,’ or ‘food-gathering.’
“When you’re an only child and you feel like you don’t have family, wine can be the catalyst to creating a family you want to choose. I think when we look back and we think about what the attraction was, for both of us, it was that. And then, when we found each other, and we were getting to know each other, as sisters and as young women, we built trust with each other.”
As young Black women who also grew up in New Zealand and Monterey—two renowned wine regions—the sisters soon realized that both their unique experience and background gave them a distinctive vantage point that they could bring to the wine industry—one that has been left largely untapped.
“We can bring our really different perspective on the wine experience but also, we are the only people in the world that it’s unique to our story and that can authentically grow sustainable premium wine grapes in two different hemispheres, in two different countries under one winery banner,” said Andréa McBride.
The McBride sisters also recognized that both timing and their age give them yet another advantage to connect more keenly with today’s wine drinkers.
“Had we tried to do this 10 years earlier—instead of 2005, maybe 1995—I don’t know if it would have been possible because we really came in a generation with the internet,” said Andréa McBride. “That access to information, you know, we were as good as our Google fingers!
“And the way that we like to experience wine, as it aligns with our generation, we’re promiscuous!” continued Andréa McBride, while laughing. “On Monday night, I’ll have a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, and on Tuesday night, you know, we want to have a delicious Merlot red blend from the central coast of California. We just felt like that was such a differentiating factor, not only our story but also the portfolio and to be able to provide this massive range of flavor and wines and experiences that other companies couldn’t individually do.”
Getting a foothold into the wine business is far from easy, but once they identified their challenges, that somehow allowed them to address them, one by one, with some initial help from internet research.
“We really quickly solved two big fundamental problems,” explained Andréa McBride. “The first was that we didn’t know how to make wine and the second was we didn’t have money. But we were able to research and find out we could obtain a federal import license, which was $1,700. And we decided that a big place for us to start would be to learn the business of wine first.
“So we were able to obtain this license, then we went down to New Zealand to some of the growers and the families that I knew, we said to them, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in our basket, we’re starting out.’ We think we can help develop and grow your wines and your brands in California.”
For every vintage, the McBride sisters would go down to New Zealand, be a part of the harvest and learn all the key facets of winemaking. “We did that for four years, and then in the fifth year, we launched our wine company. In tandem, we were learning the business of selling wine, which was critically important, and also learning how to make wine.”
“Robin and I credit that as probably one of the best decisions that we made, which I don’t know if it was super strategic or calculated,” said Andréa McBride. “But it gave us a view at 30,000 feet of every single component and decision—from the vineyard through to the shelf, what had to be added in the cost and the quality, and how that translated in how you’re going to get to the restaurants and retailers and the consumers—has proved to be incredibly useful in developing our business.”
As these forward-thinking entrepreneurs continue to shatter glass ceilings that have largely kept Black women from having a seat at the table, in addition to developing both a sustainable and stunning wine collection for any occasion, the McBride sisters have also built sustainability into both their marketing and business model.
In addition to their impressive line of Black Girl Magic wines, which honors their Black heritage while concomitantly democratizing their demographic, The McBride Sisters also launched their SHE CAN Fund in 2019, promoting the professional advancement of women in the wine industry to eliminate the gender and ethnic gap.
In its inaugural year, the SHE CAN Fund awarded nearly $40,000 in scholarships to women toward this goal. And in 2020, during the pandemic, the McBride sisters awarded 30 women with $10,000 scholarships—totaling $300,000—thanks, in part, to contributions from Silicon Valley Bank and Morgan Stanley. Additionally, the McBride sisters have also formed a partnership with Facebook for their cohort’s elevate and leadership program.
Whether it’s COVID-19, the California wildfires, or the growing political chasm in the country, the McBride Sisters, once again, have found themselves in the right place and at the right time—as both a flourishing business with promise for long term success and also a socially-relevant model that builds in opportunity and growth for the future generation of Black businesswomen.