Always pick up the phone? I know that seems like weird advice, what with more and more companies/charities/candidates employing an ever-expanding phalanx of thick-skinned sales people to call during
the dinner hour all hours of the day. It’s tempting to let all your calls go to voicemail!
But imagine what might have happened if you had ignored a call like this one, coming in from an unknown number…
“Hi honey, this is your father. I know we’ve never met, but after your mom and I split I went away for a long time. Like your mom, I too have terminal cancer and want you to know before it’s too late that you have a half sister. My brother and his wife are going to help you find her.”
That’s essentially the phone call that reunited Andrea and Robin McBride as they told us their story over lunch at San Francisco’s Sens restaurant on Thursday. The sisters now constitute a fair percentage of America’s female winemakers, and an even larger percentage of winemakers of color. And if we slice that pie even thinner, they are the only American winemakers who can call themselves “African American sisters”.
After meeting for the first time in 1999 (one was raised in New Zealand, the other in Monterey, CA) they discovered many similarities, including a love of wine. To make a great story short enough for the space available, in 2005 – the same year I launched the Sideways Wine Club (though their story is a bit more exciting) – they decided to become importers of New Zealand wine.
Their first shipment consisted of just a single pallet – about 55 cases, because that was all the cash they could afford to risk. It was hardly worth the paperwork! But they took those wines from account to account and through pluck, charm, intelligence and hard work, they leveraged that first pallet into a sizable import company with over a dozen representatives. Along the way, they related stories of how their gender and race led some to assume they were “the assistants”. They said they never took it personally, and just let their wine do the talking.
Their first venture into winemaking started in New Zealand, with a brand called Eco.love – three wines with a commitment to sustainable production that resonates with the female millennials that are their primary customers. Now they’ve partnered with Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines to launch their California brand TRUVÉE (Tru Vay – poetically enough, French for “to find”), introduced in January of this year.
The TRUVÉE brand has launched with two wines, each produced in quantities of about 10,000 cases, and each priced at $15.99 (retail).
TRUVÉE 2013 Chardonnay – this lightly-oaked wine (50% “with oak”, 50% Stainless Steel) is from a number of top Central Coast sources, Edna Valley, Bien Nacido, Chalone and others. Their goal was to span the Old World and New World styles with a wine that was in the sweet spot for what our industry classifies as “Super Premium” wines (keep in mind that only 4% of wine sold costs more than $20). This was a nice, every-day Chard that paired very well with all the dishes Sens served us on Thursday.
TRUVÉE 2013 Red Blend – A Rhône-style wine that blends Grenache (primarily San Benito), Syrah (Chalone), Zinfandel (Paso Robles) and Merlot (San Lucas Valley). Lighter-bodied and very approachable, I tasted the red wine with each of the dishes and it spanned nicely, the tannins sufficiently tame to pair well with Sen’s lower-fat Mediterranean dishes, and the acidity sufficiently high to remain refreshing.
All in all, I was pleased to discover the sisters and their wines. There are many, many good wines out there, but I suspect that five years from now this brand will be among the winners. Because even a good wine does better with a good story, and there is no better story than that of Andréa and Robin McBride. I wish them all the success they deserve.