Every entrepreneurial story is one worth telling — from the 13-year-old with a 60,000 dollar lemonade business to the globe trotter with a travel-inspired blanket biz, women are creating the life of their dreams and making history while doing it. But every so often, we hear an especially inspiring, incredible story that we just can’t wait to share. The McBride Sisters, Andréa and Robin, started a wine importing business together in 2005, founded their namesake winery in 2009, and, oh yeah, they met for the first time ever in 1999! But we’ll let them tell you that story.
The sisters currently live within 10 minutes of each other in the San Francisco Bay area, but they’re constantly traveling between Cali and New Zealand (we know, rough) to visit distributors, host wine dinners, participate in events and, of course, be present during harvest at each of their vineyards. We caught up with the duo to dish on how they met, why they went into business together, and what it’s like being women in the wine industry.
Brit + Co: You two have an incredible story — can you share how the McBride Sisters came to be?
Andréa McBride: We share the same father, but were raised separately by different mothers. We were completely unaware of one another growing up, as I had moved back to my mother’s native home in Marlborough, New Zealand when I was very young, and Robin stayed with her mother in Monterey, California. Our lives changed pretty dramatically the day I received a call from our father telling me first that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Then, that he wanted me to know that I had an older sister in the US and he wanted us to meet. This was before Google or social media, so tracking each other down took about four years, until we finally met in 1999. I had been visiting my aunt and uncle in Alabama when the phone rang, and my aunt just began screaming for me to pick up the phone. After a long four years, it was my older sister on the phone!
Robin McBride: It was at first shocking and confusing, then overwhelming and, honestly, terrifying. But after the call, it became clear that it was a beautiful truth. The rest is history. Andréa just so happened to be going to New York City the following day, so I decided to book a flight that night, and we met at LaGuardia airport.
B+C: Wow, amazing! Once you connected, how did you decide to pursue a partnership in the wine industry?
AM: After meeting for the first time, we quickly realized we both grew up (coincidentally) in winemaking regions and had a shared desire to work in the wine industry, with budding plans of pursuing winemaking as a career.
RM: Since Andréa still lived in New Zealand, we saw the opportunity to start as wine importers, bringing wines into the US and creating a new market for them. This first step really accelerated our education of the wine industry, which ultimately led over time to learning how to make wine. It didn’t happen overnight — we were very young, still in school or just starting our first career, and we used this time to save enough money to ultimately make our first vintage. We started our importing business in 2005, and by 2009 had made our first wine.
B+C: Do you have a clear delineation of who does what between the two of you? What is it like to be business partners with your long-lost sister?
RM: We work really well together. Andréa is a dreamer and has big aspirations for our brand, which I tend to have to bring back down to earth and determine if what she is dreaming of can be achieved.
AM: We are constantly getting to know one another, as we missed out on a lot of time while apart, so working together has been rewarding beyond the satisfaction of making wines.
B+C: What does a typical day look like for you two? Or is there no such thing?
RM: There is no typical day! For the most part, we tend to start our day by prioritizing tasks that require our immediate attention, then we dive into planning and preparing for upcoming activities. We typically end the day by touching base and reviewing everything we’ve completed, as well as calling out items to keep on our radar. Since we both wear a lot of hats, we have to make sure to constantly communicate with each other on the status of projects and tasks. Since every day is different, these conversations can take place on the road in any given city or country, together or apart.
B+C: Can you share your proudest entrepreneurial moment?
RM: A proud moment for us was transitioning from being a boutique producer and importer to becoming a national brand with distribution coast to coast. That is a huge feat for any new wine company, but especially for us, given our grassroots approach, small size, and the fact that we are competing for retail presence against the largest wine and spirits companies in the world.
B+C: How have you stayed passionate as winemakers and business owners over the past 12 years?
RM: Well, first of all, we love wine — a lot! So, the fact that our life’s work is crafting something that we love and can share with the world is a dream come true. Over time, we’ve come to appreciate that we can play a role in changing people’s perception of wine. As untraditional winemakers, we love that we can tell our unique story through our wines and inspire a new way to pair and enjoy them. The McBride Sisters collection is an example of what can come from hard work and dedication, no matter where you come from or what your life story may be. We love that we are not seen as your typical wine experts, which has given us the opportunity to start a conversation.
B+C: The wine industry seems like it’s a bit of a boys’ club. Can you speak to some of the challenges you face as women in the wine industry? Do you see a shift in the power dynamic at all?
AM: When we first started in 2009, it seemed like there was not a lot of diversity at all. The rare women winemakers were still largely invisible, at least to us, not to mention African American winemakers, who were virtually nonexistent. These things were — and weren’t — shocks to us. A challenge for us was the number of doors we needed to break down to register on the radar of the powerful men throughout the wine industry.
RM: It just meant we had to work harder to get people to notice us and trust us. It was not easy, but it helped us become better businesswomen.
AM: However, in the 12 years we have been making wine, the industry has changed drastically. There are more women winemakers and winemakers of color now than when we first started in the industry.
B+C: Do you have any practical advice for women who are looking to break into or get ahead in the wine industry?
RM: Become an expert and stay agile. For any business, you have your core capabilities, but particularly in wine, there are so many avenues that your expertise can take you. Stay open to the possibilities of growing your business in a way that’s different from what you had originally planned.
AM: We think of ourselves as business owners who are unapologetically tenacious. If you are passionate about your business or product, you should knock on every door and follow every lead — and be willing to work harder and smarter than your competitors.
Would you ever want a career in the wine industry? Tweet us @BritandCo to tell us what you think you’d be good at!
(Photos via the McBride sisters)