It’s an age old question some will never find the answer to: how do we do we get paid to do what we love? The McBride sisters have it figured out, and are conquering the wine industry by doing what they are passionate about: making delicious wine.
I sat down with this duo over a glass of Truvée Chardonnay to chat about being the first African-American sisters to found a wine company. Robin and Andréa McBride were insightful, honest, and a delight to chat with.
Destiny in the making
From the beginning, the Robin and Andréa McBride’s relationship was blessed with serendipity. Sharing a father yet completely unaware of each other’s existence, they came from coastal wine regions at opposite ends of the earth. Robin grew up in Monterey, California surrounded by the Central Coast vineyards and Andréa was raised near Marlborough, New Zealand where her family was involved in the grape growing industry. At their father’s wish, they were brought together after his passing by an aunt in 1999, at the ages of 16 and 25.
When they finally met, it was like looking in the mirror “We had this really intense bonding experience,” says Andréa.
With the seeds of destiny sown the pair took one of their first trips together driving along the coast near Andréa’s home town, and were drawn into the local wineries for tastings. This marked the beginnings of the McBride sisters as a brand and led to the eventual birth of Truvée, which is derived from the French word for “to find”.
The flavor vision: a taste of Truvée
In 2010, the sister’s started their adventure as vintners with their first wine company eco.love wines, from New Zealand. With the success of these wines, they were able to create the Truvée line, this time featuring grapes from the Central Coast region of California.
“We wanted our wine to taste delicious and accessible, without any polarizing flavors,” says Andréa. “We’re both big fans of tropical fruit notes, which we kept in mind while choosing grapes for our Truvée Chardonnay.”
This resonates with me, as someone who prefers to enjoy my wine from the first sip, rather than learning to enjoy overwhelming bitterness or acidity. This is typical of women I know; we’d rather sip something tasty and leave the mouth puckering reds to the seasoned pros.
Choosing the grapes: it starts with taste
The McBride sisters are Négociants, which means that they own vineyard and also purchase grapes from various growers, giving them freedom to choose grapes based on the flavor they desire for their wine. The soil, weather, and amount of sunlight all dictate the flavor of the grape and then they decide the amount of time they must age their wines in the barrel. These interconnected factors make winemaking a complex and constantly changing art.
As a white wine kind of girl, the crisp Truvee Chardonnay is my favorite. It’s lightly oaked, meaning a small portion of the overall wine spends time aging in an oak barrel, with the majority of the wine having no oak influence at all. This allows the fruity tones (think pineapple, peach, and citrus) to shine through, without being overwhelmed by a buttery, burnt toasty taste common to oaked chardonnay.
As true wine artists, the sisters are able to detect the tones that will flavor their wine by nibbling the grapes and sampling the must. This level of involvement and quality is uncommon for most wines at the Truvée price point, making the brand stand out.
On finding your passion
Growing up surrounded by vineyards, growers, and wine, both sisters knew that being involved in the industry was their calling in life. Part of Truvée’s vision is to help people find what matters most to them, so I asked “How can people find their passion?”
“You have to take the time to experiment, and try new things until you discover what you truly love doing” says Robin, “Once you do, you can meet like-minded people and think of how you can turn your interests into a business.”
During our interview, the sense of pride and enjoyment the sisters get from Truvée was obvious. It convinced me that we should all take finding our passion in life seriously. “It doesn’t even have to become a business, it’s just important to find something you can lose yourself in,” adds Andréa.
Starting a business from scratch
After their initial trip together in New Zealand, Andréa studied international business in the U.S. and during her course work she thought about harnessing the potential of the grape growing region back home.
After graduation, she and Robin decided to dive in and start a small distribution business, purchasing several cases of New Zealand wine directly from local winemakers and selling it to high end restaurants in the U.S. “The wine industry is a lot more complex than people realize,” notes Andréa. It’s dominated by a few major players, and there are some unwritten rules in the distribution game. By starting small, the sisters were able to educate themselves about the business, “Starting in distribution was a great way to learn a complicated system,” says Robin.
Taking the leap into wine making
There is a pivotal moment every entrepreneur faces, when it is time to put everything on the line and follow their dreams. The outcome is unknown and the risks are huge, but so are the rewards. I asked Robin and Andréa how they overcame any doubts as they moved from distribution to wine making (with their first line, eco.love):
“If it felt too comfortable, I would wonder if something was wrong. That element of the unknown is what makes starting a business so exciting, so we put our plans into place and went for it,” says Andréa.
“You’re never going to feel completely ready. If you wait for that, it may never happen,” adds Robin.
The pair also stresses the importance of finding the right cofounder, preferably someone who possesses skills you lack, a yin to your yang if you will.
“We complement each other’s capabilities and balance each other out,” says Andréa, “This is such an important consideration, and I wouldn’t recommend going into business with someone just because you’re friends”.
Growing the McBride Sisters brand
Perseverance, vision, and relentless energy led to the success of the McBride sister’s brands, Truvée and eco.love. In the beginning, Robin was still working full time at a corporate job, and both were overseeing every aspect of the business.
“It was great experience and a way for us to prove to investors that we could make things happen quickly, and without using a lot of outside help,” says Andréa.
By believing in themselves and producing a quality product that spoke for itself, they earned face time with some influential players in the industry who later became mentors.
I asked Robin when she felt the time was right to leave corporate America and focus full time on the business, “I just felt it was time. I knew I would have to make some sacrifices, but it was worth it. For the business to grow, I needed to invest more time.” It certainly has paid off!
Being a woman in business
It’s a shocking statistic, but only 10% of California’s wine makers are women, and fewer are women of color. The industry tends to be an old boys club and the sisters have had to work extremely hard. Now, they hope to serve as an example for women who dream of being in the wine business. It’s clear that they are pushing forward and clearing a path for other women.
“We love our wines and we’re confident in our brand, which was so helpful in the beginning when we were pitching our business.” This confidence and fearlessness helped the sisters knock down the barriers to getting both Truvée and eco.love onto shelves across America. “Believe in your product, and don’t let setbacks get you down. There were definitely times when things didn’t go so well, but that’s where your creative problem solving comes into play,” says Robin.
The best part about being an entrepreneur
I asked the sisters if they are experiencing what Forbes Magazine calls the “New Norm” or work-life integration, where the boundaries of life and career are blurred. “Absolutely!” says Robin, “You’re going to work a lot of hours when you run a business, but when it’s your passion project, it doesn’t feel like work.”
The McBride sisters were recently featured in the June issue of Oprah Magazine (Oprah is taking a selfie on the front cover – amazing). I had to ask what it was like to meet Oprah, since just seeing her from across the street once had me totally star-struck. “I had a whole speech planned,” says Andréa, “But when we were introduced she said ‘The McBride sisters? I know all about you!’”
I’m not surprised; the McBride sisters have an incredible brand and a fantastic story to back it up. It was an honor to interview them, and spend time with such inspirational business women. Their advice was invaluable, and I’ve found my new favorite wine.
Where to get Truvée
The manufacturer’s suggested retail price for Truvée is $15.99 for a 750 ml bottle, and you can order it online here. Remember, you must be over 21 years of age. Both the Truvée Red Blend and Truvée Chardonnay are great options to have on hand, and make the perfect party/hostess gift.
If you’re in San Francisco:
- Polk & Clay Liquor Store
- SOMA Wines & Spirits – they deliver!
- Friends Liquors (on Filmore)
- Amelie (my favorite wine bar on Polk!)
- Sens at Embarcadero Center
- The Slide
- 1300 on Filmore
- Café Flore
Next time you’re out, ask to try Truvée!