Like a vinous Disney tale, two sisters who grew up on different continents, unaware of the other’s existence, are now making wine together. Roger Morris met them
Andrea McBride was 12 years old in 1995 when she received the telephone call that would change her life.
“I had just got home from school,” she recalls, “and I was getting ready to watch cartoons.” Andrea was born in Los Angeles, but her parents – Kelly and Pauline McBride – soon divorced. When Andrea was 7, her mother, dying of cancer, took Andrea back to her hometown near Blenheim in New Zealand’s Marlborough wine country. After her mother’s death, Andrea spent most of her youth at an uncle’s farm where the family grew wine grapes.
“Andrea, this is your dad,” were the words she heard when she answered the ringing phone. “I had dreamed of one day meeting my father again,” says Andrea, now 35 and living in San Francisco. But, he told her that he, too, was dying.
And if hearing the voice of her dad after all these years was a shock, he had an even greater one for her.
Kelly McBride told his young daughter that she had an older half-sister from a previous marriage and that his dying wish was that the two could someday meet each other. The only problem was that he had lost contact with his first wife Karen, and their daughter, and no one knew where to find them.
All they only knew was that her name was Robin and that she might still be living in California.
“There was no Google or internet searches back then,” Andrea says, so searching for a lost sister she had never met would be a daunting task. Her first efforts proved fruitless.
It wasn’t until four years later, in 1999, that 25-year-old Robin McBride, living in Atlanta, got the letter that would change her life. She had grown up in Monterey on California’s Central Coast, another winegrowing region. “I was working in the electronics industry at the time,” Robin says from her current home near San Francisco. Even though its contents were highly personal, the message came as a form letter sent out to multiple Robin McBrides in the hope that one of them had a father, now deceased, named Kelly McBride.
Like Andrea, Robin, too, had hoped to again meet him someday, but now would not have that opportunity, either. Fortunately, she still had her mother.
“At first I thought it was a hoax or it was sent to the wrong person,” she says, “but if I did have a younger sister in New Zealand, then I thought it would be nice to meet her someday.” There was a telephone number in Alabama to call if the letter had gotten to the right Robin McBride.
Robin made the call. Sixteen-year-old Andrea was visiting her father’s relatives in Alabama at that very moment and was planning to fly to New York the next day to meet with the northern branch of the McBride family. Twenty four hours later, she walked off her plane into the arrivals area of LaGuardia Airport and saw a very attractive woman who looked remarkably like an older version of herself.
Fast-forward 18 years, past Andrea’s graduation from the University of Southern California, and find that the two siblings now own and operate a very successful winery – McBride Sisters Collection – which has widespread distribution across the US with some sales overseas. Fittingly, their production is based on grapes grown and made into wine in Marlborough and in San Luis Obispo on California’s Central Coast. Although the siblings directly oversee the vineyard and winemaking teams at each location, McBride Sisters is otherwise a virtual winery.
Their wines include a sparkling rosé and a sauvignon blanc from Marlborough and a chardonnay and red blend from California, all quite delicious, very well made and attractively priced at just under $20.
Another surprise: “When we got started 12 years ago, there still weren’t a lot of women who owned wine companies,” Robin, now 43, says, “especially women of colour.” What began as a boutique wine importing business gradually morphed into a winemaking business.
“We have similar sensitivities in terms of tastes,” Robin says. “But Andrea is very creative, and she bring excitement and tenacity to the business. I’m more staid and process-oriented, but I contribute international sales and marketing expertise. I know logistics.”
Andrea doesn’t disagree with this assessment. “I’m from New Zealand, so I love bungee jumping and sky diving,” she says. “We do things together, but I can’t get Robin to try either sport. But she’s great. If we were the same, we wouldn’t survive in business together.”
If they have disagreements, it is generally about pace more than direction.
Both are very involved in all aspects of the business, although Andrea is more hands-on in the vineyard. They tend to share decision-making rather than fence off job territories. Even though both are now living in the bay area, they go to New Zealand at least quarterly to oversee the business, and San Luis Obispo is just a few hours away. “Although we do tend to be hands-on, selling takes up humongous chunks of our time,” Andrea says.
A bricks-and-mortar winery shimmers somewhere in the future, but, as Robin notes, “Our goals have gone toward building a legacy” for their family. Robin has three children who may one day be interested in the family. “Andrea just got married,” Robin says with a smile, “so she has some catching up to do.”