Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma
Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - The Rise of Black Winemakers in Wine Country
The worlds of wine and viticulture have long been dominated by white owners and winemakers. But that is beginning to change, as a new generation of Black vintners makes its mark in California's famous wine regions. Napa and Sonoma valleys are seeing a steady increase in Black-owned wineries, as innovative winemakers break into the industry and put their own spin on traditional techniques.
Take SmithStory Winery, founded by husband and wife team Eric and Loreal Smith in 2018. Drawing inspiration from generations of family winemaking, they craft small-batch Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays on their estate vineyards. The Smiths aim to open doors for other wine enthusiasts of color by mentoring aspiring vintners.
At McBride Sisters Wine Company in Napa, half-sisters Robin and Andréa McBride carry on the winemaking legacy of their late father. Their Central Coast wines blend Old World tradition with a vibrant spirit, much like the two sisters themselves.
In Napa, husband and wife Chris and Crystal Williams founded Wander-Must Wine Company on a mission to make wine fun, approachable and inclusive. They source grapes from small farms to produce varietals from Sauvignon Blanc to Petite Sirah.
Misha Wilkinson honed her skills at Napa wineries before launching her own label, Tinted Earth Wines. As one of few Black women winemakers in California, she aims to inspire others by example.
Taking the road less travelled has allowed these winemakers to find their own voices and styles. The rich soils and sunny slopes of Napa and Sonoma provide fertile ground for creativity and innovation. By combining tried-and-true techniques with modern twists, Black vintners are crafting world-class wines with authentic soul.
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- Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - The Rise of Black Winemakers in Wine Country
- Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - Diverse Terroirs Yield Distinctive Wines
- Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - Tradition Meets Innovation at these Family-Owned Wineries
- Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - Wine Tastings with a Side of Soul Food
- Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - Supporting Black Businesses while Savoring Local Vintages
- Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - Pairing Bold Reds with Down-Home Cooking
- Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - Celebrating Black Excellence in the Vineyards
- Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - Expanding Palates and Perspectives with Unique Varietals
Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - Diverse Terroirs Yield Distinctive Wines
The unique soils and microclimates of Napa and Sonoma shape the distinctive character of wines from black-owned wineries. While the region is famous for Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, these versatile terroirs lend themselves to a rainbow of grape varieties that allow vintners to follow their passions.
McBride Sisters Winery sources grapes from the Monterey Peninsula and Paso Robles regions. The chilly fog and windswept slopes of Monterey grow bright and minerally Chardonnay, while the warm inland valleys of Paso Robles yield robust yet refined Rhône varietals like Syrah and Viognier. By blending fruits from diverse sites, the sisters create wines with layers of flavor.
At Brown Estate in Napa, a mix of volcanic and alluvial soils nurtures Zinfandel grapes packed with spice and fruit. Winemaker Coral Brown integrates modern and traditional techniques to craft critically acclaimed Zinfandels that express Brown Estate's unique terroir. She aims to dispel myths that blacks can’t make serious wine. “We want to be judged by the quality in the bottle,” Brown explains.
Tinted Earth focuses on Pinot Noir, a finicky grape that thrives in Sonoma County's cool coastal climates and pockets of volcanic soil. Winemaker Misha Wilkinson strives for elegance and longevity in her Pinots. She ferments grapes from renowned vineyards like Sangiacomo and Cherry Ridge Ranch to highlight the best of each site.
Wander-Must sources Sauvignon Blanc fromisha sources Pinot Noir from Jordan Vineyard in Alexander Valley, where warm days and cool nights develop intense fruit balanced by refreshing acidity. For their Petite Sirah, they turn to Dry Creek Valley, where rocky soils stress the vines and concentrate flavors. Blending across appellations creates complexity. According to the Williams, “We want to show the diversity of Sonoma's landscapes in every bottle.”
Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - Tradition Meets Innovation at these Family-Owned Wineries
At family-owned wineries like SmithStory, generations of winemaking knowledge are blended with modern technologies and ideas. The result is wines that pay homage to tradition while still being uniquely their own.
When Eric and Loreal Smith founded SmithStory Winery in Napa Valley, they drew from Eric’s family history in winemaking going back over 100 years. “I grew up stomping grapes with my great-grandfather and always dreamed of having my own vineyard one day,” Eric explains.
Yet he also holds a PhD in viticulture and is eager to innovate. “With my background in science, I’m constantly looking for ways to elevate quality in the vineyard and winery.” The Smiths have implemented high-tech solutions like aerial imaging to assess vine health while also practicing time-honored techniques like small batch fermentation.
At McBride Sisters Wine Company, Robin and Andréa McBride merge Old World winemaking passed down from their father with New World technologies. “We blend tradition with innovation,” says Robin. “Modern equipment like optical grape sorters and tanks with precise temperature control allow us to gently handle the grapes and draw out the best flavors.”
The sisters source Petite Sirah from century-old, head-pruned vines in Paso Robles, in honor of their father’s love for the grape. At the same time, they make trendy varietals like Rosé. “We like putting a bold spin on different styles of wine,” says Andréa.
This fusion of tradition and technology is also central to husband and wife team Chris and Crystal Williams’ philosophy at Wander-Must Wine Company in Sonoma County. “We make wine in small lots using tried-and-true methods like hand punchdowns and foot treading while also embracing new advances,” Chris explains.
They custom-build all of their own winemaking equipment. This gives them the flexibility to control every step of the process based on each grape variety’s ideal needs. For example, their stainless steel fermenters allows precise temperature regulation to highlight aromatic qualities in grapes like Sauvignon Blanc.
At the same time, timeworn traditions are still king for varieties like Petite Sirah. “Petite Sirah is nostalgic to us, so we use open-top fermenters and employ plenty of stomping to maximize extraction and flavor,” says Crystal.
Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - Wine Tastings with a Side of Soul Food
Pairing wine with food can be an intimidating prospect. However, at several black-owned wineries in Napa and Sonoma, tastings come with a side of soul food that takes the pretension out of wine and food matching. For them, wine is meant to bring people together over a hearty meal.
“We want our wines to be opened and enjoyed with good company," says Robin McBride of McBride Sisters Wine Company. She and her sister Andréa hold tastings at their winery where wines are sampled alongside bites like peel-and-eat shrimp, mac and cheese, and cornbread. "We set out hushpuppies, fried catfish, ribs - whatever Andréa's craving that day," laughs Robin. The rich, savory flavors of the food, like smoky BBQ sauce, beautifully complement the sisters' full-bodied red wines.
Misha Wilkinson takes a similar philosophy with her vineyard tastings at Tinted Earth. "I don't just pour my Pinot Noir into your glass. I serve it alongside grandma's fried chicken, potato salad just like she used to make, and other family recipes," Misha explains. Her elegant Pinots can handle the crispy chicken while also cutting through the creamy, tangy potato salad. Misha wants people to enjoy her wines as part of a homestyle meal.
The Williams also fuse wine with food, inviting guests to savor Wander-Must wines alongside dishes that reflect Chris's Louisiana roots, like smothered pork chops with rice and greens, cornbread and Chilean sea bass. "We celebrate Chris's heritage and my Filipino background to complement our wines with comfort food," Crystal explains. Their soft and juicy Petite Sirah proves a perfect match for slow-cooked, succulent pork chops glazed in a savory gravy.
Eric and Loreal Smith take tastings at SmithStory Winery in a more upscale direction, pairing wines with gourmet soul food. Guests sample SmithStory Cabernets alongside duck confit, fried green tomatoes with spiced remoulade, and other elevated yet comforting bites. The Smiths feel this pairing highlights how well their complex reds complement rich flavors.
These informal tastings aim to make wine more accessible by joining it with cuisines that many black Americans grew up eating. "Soul food and wine may seem an unlikely match, but for us it just feels natural," says Andréa McBride. More formal wine rituals can be alienating. "We want people to enjoy wine in a way that's meaningful to their own experiences," she adds.
Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - Supporting Black Businesses while Savoring Local Vintages
As the popularity of black-owned wineries grows, so too does consumer interest in supporting these entrepreneurs. For many, visiting a black-owned winery allows them to enjoy delicious local wines while also contributing to the success of underrepresented vintners.
Eric and Loreal Smith of SmithStory Winery have seen a marked increase in patrons who come specifically to support their business. “There’s been a real movement around uplifting black-owned brands, and we’re grateful our wines can be part of that,” says Eric. The Smiths take pride in crafting world-class Napa Valley wines while also creating opportunity for people of color.
Robin McBride shares this mindset. “We want to pave the way for the next generation of black winemakers. When people visit our winery or buy our wines, it helps us empower others,” she says. Robin aims for an inclusive atmosphere where everyone can appreciate McBride Sisters' vibrant wines.
Many black vintners actively encourage wine enthusiasts to branch out from well-known labels and try something new. "We gently push people out of their comfort zone to sample our wines," Chris Williams explains. The Williams family loves introducing their small-production Sonoma County wines to those eager to discover emerging vintners.
For some patrons, joining a wine club is their way of lending ongoing support. Wander-Must Wine Company's wine club members get quarterly shipments of the Williams' latest releases. "We have club members who may not know much about wine but want to learn while sustaining our dream," Crystal explains. The Williamses recognize that steady wine sales enable them to keep innovating.
Misha Wilkinson of Tinted Earth Wines partners with several black-owned restaurants in Napa Valley, providing her wines for their lists. "It’s a natural partnership based on our shared values and missions,” Misha says. Diners who order her wines are indirectly empowering two black-owned businesses. Misha also donates a portion of proceeds to nonprofits supporting people of color in wine and hospitality.
While supporting black vintners, visitors also get to sample the terroir of Napa and Sonoma valleys through a new lens. “We make wines that reflect the land, yet also speak to our backgrounds and palates,” says Andréa McBride. The McBride sisters believe their rich, fruit-forward wines offer a distinctive taste of place.
Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - Pairing Bold Reds with Down-Home Cooking
For many black vintners, wine is not just meant for fancy occasions - it should be enjoyed with soul food around the family table. Their bold, fruit-forward reds pair beautifully with the rich, savory flavors of down-home cooking. This unexpected combination brings out the best in both the wine and food.
Andrea McBride loves finances like smothered pork chops with her robust red blend. "The sweetness of the pork plays off the jammy dark fruit in our wine, while the savory gravy flatters the blend's subtle spice," she explains. Andrea first tried this pairing at a family reunion, when an uncle grilled chops seasoned with a secret rub. She knew their wine would be the perfect match.
At SmithStory Winery, Eric Smith recommends his velvety Cabernet Sauvignon with simple, satisfying fare like fried catfish. "The crispy breading on the catfish provides great textural contrast with our round, full-bodied Cab," he says. The fish's mild flavor allows the complex notes of cedar, tobacco and dark cherry in the wine to shine.
For Misha Wilkinson, her elegant Pinot Noir finds an unexpected complement in fried chicken. "The wine cuts through the crispy crust and juicy meat magnificently," she enthuses. Misha loves showing how a lighter red can pair with everyday comfort food when prepared thoughtfully. She suggests brining chicken in buttermilk and spices overnight to boost flavor.
Chris Williams takes pairing in a plant-based direction, matching Wander-Must Petite Sirah with vegan soul food like jackfruit jambalaya. "The fruitiness of the jackfruit balances the concentrated berry flavors in our Petite Sirah," he explains. Chris wants to make wine accessible for all diets and lifestyles. He shows how rich, bold wines can complement meatless dishes through mindful pairing.
These vintners enjoy breaking stereotypes about what "goes" with wine by returning to foods they know and love. "Ever since I was young, wine was served at summer barbecues alongside ribs and greens," remembers Robin McBride. She aims to evoke that spirit of family and connection.
Food memories also inspired the Williams' pairings. "Wine and soul food take Chris back to big Sunday dinners with his family in Louisiana," Crystal shares. By combining wine with nostalgic dishes, they build an inclusive atmosphere that resonates across cultures.
The McBrides echo this sentiment. "We want our wines to be enjoyed in the comforting, laidback way we experienced growing up," says Andrea. By forgoing rigid rules, the sisters make wine more welcoming.
Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - Celebrating Black Excellence in the Vineyards
There is a renaissance underway in Wine Country, as innovative black vintners make their mark in the vineyards and cellars of Napa and Sonoma. Their contributions are helping transform an industry long dominated by white owners. These pioneering winemakers have faced systemic barriers, yet through talent and tenacity they are crafting acclaimed wines that express their identities. By celebrating their achievements, we recognize the value of diverse perspectives in shaping modern viticulture.
Misha Wilkinson, founder of Tinted Earth Wines, exemplifies how black winemakers are breaking new ground. She focuses on Pinot Noir, a notoriously fickle grape that thrives in Sonoma’s cool climate and soils. “Pinot Noir has a reputation as a challenging varietal requiring specialized knowledge and intuition,” Misha explains. “That perception can be a barrier for minority winemakers like myself from being taken seriously.” Yet with her background in science and belief in the quality of Sonoma’s terroir, Misha felt drawn to Pinot Noir. She apprenticed under renowned Pinot Noir producers before launching Tinted Earth in 2012. Her elegant, complex wines now earn acclaim from critics who recognize her distinctive talents. “I want my success to show other people of color that with passion and perseverance, we can excel at any facet of winemaking,” Misha shares.
The McBride Sisters also stand out for their achievements as two of few black women winemakers in a male-dominated industry. Robin and Andréa grew up apart but reconnected as adults over their shared love of wine passed down from their late father. They founded McBride Sisters Wine Company in 2005 to honor his legacy. Though lacking formal training, through continuous learning they mastered the entire winemaking process. “We didn’t initially get much respect or belief that we could craft premium wine,” Andréa recalls. “But we knew that we just needed the opportunity to prove ourselves.” Their rich, fruit-driven wines from the Central Coast have earned impressive scores and distribution nationwide. The sisters aim to inspire the next generation by showing what’s possible with hard work and resilience.
Eric and Loreal Smith of SmithStory Winery also recognize the importance of lifting others up. Eric comes from four generations of Napa Valley winemaking, while Loreal brings a science background. Together they combine old and new techniques to produce superb Cabernets and Chardonnays on their estate vineyard. “We feel a responsibility to champion inclusion and community in an industry where privilege has opened doors for some that remain closed to talented people of color,” Eric explains. The couple partners with local nonprofits that provide mentorship for aspiring minority winemakers who may otherwise lack connections in the business. “By giving back, we want to sustain the upward trajectory for black vintners,” Loreal says.
Sip and Savor: Exploring Black-Owned Wineries in Napa and Sonoma - Expanding Palates and Perspectives with Unique Varietals
Beyond popular grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, black vintners are expanding wine lovers’ palates with unexpected varietals that offer new tastes and perspectives. By focusing on lesser-known wines tailored to their personal passions, these winemakers create distinctive expressions of place that tell a unique story.
Andrea Brown of Brown Estate Winery has earned cult status for her Napa Valley Zinfandels. She fell in love with old-vine Zinfandel grapes during college internships and was determined to showcase their potential for complexity. “I wanted to change perceptions of Zinfandel as a cheap, sweet party wine,” Andrea explains. She ferments grapes from low-yielding, head-pruned vines that instill spice and structure. Her balanced yet intense Zins have silky tannins that evolve in the glass.
At Wander-Must Wine Company, Chris and Crystal Williams champion Petite Sirah, a bold red grape popular with earlier generations of black vintners but overlooked commercially. “Petite Sirah has a nostalgic feel, like blues and jazz standards,” Chris says. The couple sources Petite Sirah from 80-year-old Dry Creek Valley vines that yield dark, concentrated wines balanced by bright acidity. Their smooth, lush Petite Sirah provides a blast from the past.
Misha Wilkinson believes Riesling also merits rediscovery, given its affinity for cool Sonoma Coast microclimates. This versatile white grape allows Misha to showcase her experimental side. “Riesling is like a blank canvas for creating wines in different styles,” she says. At Tinted Earth, she produces sparkling, dry and dessert Rieslings that each express unique terroir. Misha also blends Riesling with Pinot Gris in a lively white Cuvee that surprises drinkers with creamy minerality.
The McBride Sisters focus on Rhône-style white blends that fuse Old and New World techniques. “We created our own blend by marrying the fresh stone fruit flavors we love in California with floral, honeyed notes from southern France,” Robin explains. Their ‘Black Girl Magic’ white combines Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier from Paso Robles and Côtes du Rhône in a rich yet refreshing wine perfect for sipping or pairing.
Eric Smith of SmithStory Winery believes Malbec can shine in Napa’s soils. Traditionally a blending grape, Malbec becomes elegant and complex when grown in Napa’s volcanic terrain and warm climate. “These ideal conditions allow Malbec’s blueberry aromas and silky tannins to fully develop,” Eric explains. SmithStory Malbec offers a plush body wrapped in notes of violet and thyme unique to their vineyard.
By embracing outlier varieties, these vintners create more diversity in the bottle. Misha Wilkinson strives for “wines that stand apart yet still express Sonoma’s spirit.” The McBrides enjoy being “unconventional” to make each sip a discovery. Eric Smith loves “expanding perceptions of Napa” beyond its mainstays.