By Prudence Minayo
Chris Wachira is the founder and CEO of Wachira Wines. Out of the thousands of wineries in the United States, less than one percent that are black owned. Hence, her journey is as interesting as it is inspiring. While the wine sells in China, Japan and the US, she said in a past interview that she hopes to expand to Kenya to serve as an inspiration to others.
During an interview with Miss Trudy, Wachira revealed she went to the US with only US$500 (roughly Ksh60,000) and today she is telling a story of success, courage and determination.
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Here is her story as told by WoK.
Wachira moved to the United States in the 1990s to study nursing. She went on to complete her Masters in Public Policy followed by a doctorate.
Her entry into the world of wine was inspired by the desire to make wine that would complement her mother’s dishes. She felt most of the wine out there did not wash well with the Kenyan dishes she made.
She launched her winery in Eat Bay, California in 2017. She named it Wachira since the name represents her as an individual. She was not impressed with her first batch of wines and did not sell them. However, as time went by, her craft greatly improved.
The business was capital intensive. There was also the fact that she was a black woman in a foreign country in a male dominated white industry. It was made easier with the fact that she had built connections over the years as she visited vineyards, attended wine tastings and visited wine making families. It is during these events that she met her husband, Chadwick Spell, who serves as the company’s chief operating officer.
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At the beginning, they were only five in the company: her husband, her husband’s brother and her two brothers. Today, they have grown to about 20 people.
She sources the grapes from farmers around California in regions, like, Napa, Lodi and Paso Robles. The regions have different soils, climate and topography, making the grapes unique. Wachira produces Chardonnay, Cabernet, Muscat and Zinfandel. Their cabernet have a special taste and quality since they are produced with grapes from all the regions.
Once she began making wine, marketing was very hard. Most distributors did not think they were big enough.
“Major distributors did not think I was large enough to support. When I met Spell, we built our distribution company, Soko. Soko creates access pipelines for minority-owned brands and small and locally-crafted wine brands,” she was quoted by Business Daily. Today, soko is a distributor for liquor, beer and wine.
The 2020 black movement helped to catapult their business even more. People became intentional about buying from black owned businesses
She also has a winery tasting room known as Karibu.
Lessons from business
In business, she has learnt that branding is very important. People are attracted to the look of a commodity before they can purchase it. Another important thing is the story behind the brand. She said people need to relate to the brand. When she tells the story, it’s a story of Kenya and the African heritage. This is why they are packed in bottles branded with the big five safari animals. The lion, engraved in their sparkling wines, is a symbol of command, it can start and end a party.
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