The McBride Sisters are two women who came together to break into an industry notorious for it’s “old boy’s club” roots united through their love of wine and family. Their existence, relentlessness, and tenacity have challenged the status quo to allow them to secure their place within the wine industry. Long lost sisters, raised on two different continents, they are ultimately united by blood and bonded through a shared passion and interest in wine.
Robin hails from Monterey, California and Andrea grew up in New Zealand. The two sisters finally connected in 1999. Growing up in opposite wine regions of the world, Robin and Andrea McBride then embarked on a life-changing journey of sisterhood, and business.
Her Agenda: Can you first start by telling us the background story about how you and your sister grew up on opposite sides of the world and how you eventually came together to meet?
Robin McBride: My sister Andrea and I have been in the business together now for about 15 years. We started our business four years after we found out about each other and met. We have the same father and we have two different moms and neither of us grew up knowing our father. Both of us were born in Los Angeles and I’m nine years older than Andrea. My mother and our dad divorced when I was little and my mother decided to move up the coast to Monterey, California. Monterey is known for agriculture, and wine, of course. She raised me as a single mother.
Back in Los Angeles our father had remarried and had a baby girl [Andrea] but unfortunately, Andrea’s mother also ended up divorcing him. She was originally from New Zealand, and after the divorce, she found out that she had breast cancer, and she went back to her home country where her parents were. She took Andrea back there at the age of five and she passed away shortly after. Andrea grew up in New Zealand raised between her uncle, a wine grape grower in the country, and a foster family. We both grew up under the impression that we were an only child. Further on in life our father was terminally ill and asked his family to try to locate both of his daughters and to let us know that we each have a sister somewhere out in the world. It took years for them to locate both of us but they finally did, locating Andrea first and then a couple of years later they found me. We met in 1999, which was a very life-changing moment.
Her Agenda: As you were growing your bond as sisters when did you stumble upon the idea that you wanted to come together and start a wine business?
Robin McBride: It was really early on. When we talked about our understanding of how we ended up where we ended up, the cultural environment, the fact that their agricultural bases are on the coast, just very similar places. We have friends and families that we grew up with that are in the wine business and we both really admire that specific business and industry and we both love wine. It’s a part of who we are. We decided we wanted to be able to make wine together one day, or we should both go and learn to make wine in New Zealand and then in California. It was kind of a ‘haha’ kind of silly talk and dreams. By the time Andrea was in her junior year of college it became less funny every time we talked about it and more serious. And we came to the honest reality that we want to do this, we want to figure out how to do wine together. Before she had to make any other decisions about where she was going to go with her career coming out of college, we started putting together business plans and talking to people on the business side. Ultimately we started our first business importing wine from New Zealand. A really small production, importing high-end boutique, sustainable wines from families that she grew up with importing them into California and selling them in restaurants and wine shops.
Her Agenda: What was the next venture after that?
Robin McBride: We became licensed distributors so that we could self distribute the wines that we brought in [from New Zealand]. It grew quickly and organically based on the fact that we had some amazing wines and people found us interesting. We had a lot of early success doing that and ultimately we decided that we learned the business side of importing and selling wholesale wines, but we really wanted to learn the winemaking side of it.
We spent time in New Zealand, while still bringing overall New Zealand wines, with families down there. We learned the techniques that they used in winemaking and spent time with a lot of the winemakers there and then decided that we wanted to produce our own first vintage, which was the next stage in our company, and then ultimately we began producing more wines in New Zealand on a much larger scale and then adding the addition of wines in California from the region where I grew up. We stopped doing the self-distributing and importing as our volume grew with the amount of wine that we were producing and began selling nationally.
We’re not going to stop pursuing our business goals based on other people’s perceptions or biases. At that point is when we learned to represent ourselves as part of the brand and show that we have a story.
Her Agenda: As a company, you are two Black women navigating a typically white male-owned industry. Have there been any challenges? If there have been, what kind of challenges have there been and how have you overcome them?
Robin McBride: The strength of the old boys club runs really deep. Needless to say, upon first meeting [us] we do not register as ‘experienced wine professionals or winemakers’ to these people [old boys club]. Our challenge has been from the very beginning, we’re immediately met with [the perception of] a lack of credibility. We have to go through unnecessary steps to even justify our presence a lot of the time before we can move on to this amazing wine that we’ve made that we’d like to sell.
But at the same time, we’re not going to [stop pursuing] our business goals based on other people’s perceptions or biases. At that point is when we learned to represent ourselves as part of the brand and show that we have a story so that we would get that respect as unique wine business owners other than the immediate perception that we have no place in this business. As with every other winery, we have a unique story and it’s real and it’s valid. And that has really helped us a lot because otherwise, we would have never aligned our personal story with our winemaking. [Our story] has opened a lot of doors for us and given us a lot of opportunities to showcase the diversity that is in our industry.
Her Agenda: As sisters, how do you individually contribute to the company or do you both do a little bit of everything?
Robin McBride: We both do a little bit of everything. However, we are very lucky in that each of our personalities are different enough so that we both lean a little more toward one way than the other. I lean more toward winemaking, operations, business, finance, all of that is where my natural talents are and then my sister, on the other hand, leans more on marketing and sales, relationships and all of that. It’s perfect because we’re small enough that everyone’s still touching everything but we have the sort of natural divide where we both compliment each other and then where I’m not strong or less interested, she is stronger and more interested.
We have to go through unnecessary steps to even justify our presence a lot of the time before we can move on to this amazing wine that we’ve made that we’d like to sell.
Her Agenda: What do you find has been the most valuable lesson that you both learned in building this wine company and ultimately building the future long-standing legacy with your sister?
Robin McBride: The most important thing that we learned, we didn’t actually learn all that long ago but it’s invaluable. We believe in the power that’s in community. When we started our business, we realized that we didn’t feel that we had any real support within our industry. There certainly were no other women of color that we could find or look to for mentorship or advice or just camaraderie. And so we both became very insular. Our natural reaction was to close off and not talk about our business or not seek advice because we didn’t necessarily feel that we could trust it or that it would be valuable for us. That was from a place of feeling like we were in an industry that just wasn’t welcoming towards us. But a few years ago we had the opportunity to meet and connect with Gayle King and she introduced us to a group of women who were very excited about what we were doing. They’re all women of color very excited about what we’re doing and helped us really with the networking and with aligning us with some people not specifically in our industry but other women who were successful and leaders within their own industry, that we got a lot of advice from.
[This moment allowed us to] grow as leaders in our company and [learn] some best practices and talk about things we were experiencing. There are resources, there is a community [of] women [who] support women.
Her Agenda: What’s a motto that you ladies stand by when you’re running the company?
Robin McBride: I don’t know that we have a motto but one thing that permeates the culture in our company, is to live your passion which I know people use a lot. But our team members truly and honestly believe and feel our goal, which is to diversify the space and any other space that we can touch. And [our passion is in] making the wine, accessible and enjoyable to everybody and all walks of life.
Her Agenda: I read that you have a mostly female staff. Is that true?
Robin McBride: Yes. And actually, we were just talking about it yesterday. We’re talking about diversity over here and we’re not well-diversified, not in terms of gender. We are a 90 something percent, female staff, right now. We have one guy on our team. Both of our winemakers in California and in New Zealand are women, our office in Oakland is all women, our sales team is all women. So it is almost completely women run.
Her Agenda: That is awesome. Did you have anything else that you want to share? Any upcoming announcements or projects?
Robin McBride: We launched our newest product which is our wine in a can. It’s called ‘SHE CAN.’ We dedicated it to each of our mothers. We have one wine that’s from New Zealand and one that’s from California. The California wine we designed with my mom’s initials and the New Zealand one we designed with Andrea’s mother’s initials— her birth mother as well as the foster mother who raised her in New Zealand.
And we launched that product on International Women’s Day this year in March and at the same time in conjunction with the launch we were able to [launch] a scholarship fund that we developed called McBride Sisters SHE CAN Professional Development Fund. It’s a fund dedicated to promoting and advancing women in the wine and spirits industry for leadership and ownership and professional development and coaching.
We just closed the applications for the scholarship. So we’re hoping to be able to get maybe like 30 scholarships up this year. Soon we’ll be able to announce the recipients and we are super excited about being able to help them advance their careers. [The wine industry is] super male-dominated but it’s come a long way since we started.
[Editor’s note: This article has been edited for length and clarity.]