A Toast to Black Business Month—with Fine Wine
National Black Business Month was co-founded in 2004 by historian John William Templeton and engineer Frederick E. Jordan Sr. to expand and support Black-owned businesses nationwide. Although most of the Black-owned businesses in the state are located in Western Washington, there are about 70 such businesses in the Tri-Cities Area, according to Kennewick-based Mid-Columbia Libraries. Among them is Frichette Winery of Benton City, which is 50 percent Black-owned.
United Way of King County partners may remember Frichette Winery and co-founder Shae Frichette from our Eat, Drink & Be Generous events. Frichette Winery ships to 15 states and is sold at local restaurants. As part of Black Business Month, we sat down with Shae to discuss such topics as winemaking, owning a Black business in the state and finding inspiration to pursue one’s passions.
United Way of King County: What are the origins of Frichette Winery?
Shae Frichette: I’m from South Carolina and my husband is from Washington state. We were living in California, having a great life, and we decided we wanted to start a family and raise our kid near one of our sets of parents. I wanted South Carolina, he wanted Washington state. We decided to flip a coin; if it landed on heads, we’d go to Washington, and if it landed on tails, we’d go to South Carolina. My husband flipped a coin, and it landed on heads for Washington. I checked to see whether it was a two-headed coin, and it wasn’t. So that’s how Washington even became an option for moving from Southern California.
I decided that I needed to start looking for a job, because I was in corporate training at the time and my husband was in IT. I sat down and looked for keyword searches for jobs on Monster: “trainer,” “corporate trainer.” Then I started throwing in keywords that interested me. And I told my husband, “Hey, let’s do something that gives us goosebumps instead of just going into our current professions.” We started brainstorming, and since we had already begun getting into wine, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to grow wine grapes and make it ourselves?”
United Way of King County: Awesome! Where did you go from there?
Shae Frichette: We quit our jobs and decided to go into winemaking. I did a Washington state [wine making] program and a course at Wine & Spirit Education Trust. And I took a job at a wine bar, just to learn about how consumers talk about wine, to learn about wines of the world, wine styles and what types of wine I really loved. As we were digging into wine, we fell in love with a wine region called Red Mountain. A lot of the winemaking owners live on site, but there was nothing for sale when we wanted to get a spot out here. We just started knocking on doors asking if they wanted to sell to us. Nobody wanted to sell, but there was a place I enjoyed; it was a trailer house off the road with a nice-size storage shed on a 5.5-acre parcel. That place totally felt like home. I kept going back, and after four “nos,” they finally said, “yes,” that they would sell it to us.
We live in a little home on the property, and we remodeled their storage shed and made it our tasting room. We built our [winemaking] facility directly behind the tasting room. That’s were we make 2,500 cases of wine. We’re focusing on Bordeaux, all reds with maybe one white wine because it gets really warm here and we personally wanted something more chilled but had some weight to it, but nice ripe fruit characteristics to it. We landed on Simeon, which is a lesser-known white wine variety. Also, the business is owned 50/50 by my husband and me. I own the Sashay Wine label though.
United Way of King County: How did you launch your Sashay brand?
Shae Frichette: In 2018, I got away to a women’s retreat in Miami that was to also be a celebration of Black women and wine. I had never seen another Black woman winemaker. I was so inspired. I met a Black female winemaker whose dad was a farmer. She got into wine making because some of her fruit wasn’t selling. I loved that she was courageous in an industry where you don’t see one of us. That really inspired me to step my game up.
On the flight back home, I dreamed of a concept called Sashay, which is a play on my name but also a word my mom and aunts used to use to describe me, “Look at you, sashaying in here, like you don’t have a care in the world!” They said it with so much fun and love that I wanted it to be the name of my wine label. I started Sashay Wines; the vision was to play around with some varieties that I really don’t get to make with Frichette.
United Way of King County: When did you first hear about Black Business Month?
Shae Frichette: I first heard about Black Business Month last year, but for the last three years every month has been Black Business Month! In my social media networks and platforms, this year was the first year that I saw more visibility about it. There are so many Black businesses that have had more visibility, so for a lot of us we are gaining more awareness of other Black businesses outside our immediate area.
United Way of King County: What has it been like launching, succeeding and making inroads with a Black business in your industry?
Shae Frichette: The reaction I had when I saw my first Black winemaker inspired me because I was in an industry where you just didn’t see many people of color. I felt a little more intimidated in a room where I didn’t see anyone like me. I also felt overlooked, even though I was the person who probably stood out the most. And even in the wine industry, the folks that market Washington wine say, “You’re right, we don’t show that much diversity at all. We don’t show as many women in some of our marketing.”
More doors have opened now that there is more visibility for Black brands and Black businesses.Shae Frichette of Frichette Winery
More doors have opened now that there is more visibility for Black brands and Black businesses. You have folks more deliberate about where they’re spending their dollars, and the more education they’re getting, the more they say, “There were some brands that were overlooked, maybe I was one of the folks who overlooked those brands.”
United Way of King County: In what ways have you now inspired others?
Shae Frichette: If I see an opportunity to connect someone, I love doing it, and it doesn’t have to be about Shae. For the first two years after I moved here, I formed a nice relationship with our media people and sometimes I curate stories with them about our wine area. I will connect with other women who are other winemakers in the area and say, “Hey, I curated this story about Rose’, would you like me to connect you with them?” It gives them an opportunity to get their brand in front of our local folks.