Despite the up and downs of the pandemic, there hasn’t been a shortage of wine lovers and connoisseurs.
We are especially proud to know that there has been a rise of Black winemakers across the country. Well, Jennifer McDonald is no exception. Almost two years ago, she launched Jenny Dawn Cellars in Wichita, Kansas, and became the first African American woman to open an urban winery in Kansas. We recently had a chance to catch up with her for an exclusive interview and to talk about her thriving business and latest expansions.
How has business been since JDC launched in the fall of 2019?
Business has been good, but with the pandemic, it has constantly been shifting. Jenny Dawn Cellars was built with three main business components: tasting room, distribution, and online sales. It has been a careful balancing act between these three to keep us afloat and growing.
Have you experienced significant growth from customers coming onsite?
Yes, since restrictions have been lifted, our tasting room sales have been great. People have wanted to get out and enjoy, but we are only one of the many places people can go, so we continue to work hard to provide all our guests with an amazing experience.
Talk about your expanded food and dessert offerings onsite?
The food at Jenny Dawn Cellars is different from many other venues. We provide amazing food to help people fully experience our wine; the focus here is always on the wine. So, we change our menu seasonally to reflect the way people choose their wines. Right now, we have many small bites and charcuterie (always a great choice when sipping wine), but we also have a lot of fresh and light choices: salads, sandwiches, and desserts.
How has it been for you as an entrepreneur? Have you had to adjust your staff/team?
Honestly, I have been running at 110% for several years now, and I know that is not sustainable. As my business has grown, I have worked hard to get the right people on board and in the correct seats. Unfortunately, the constant shifting of the pandemic made that process harder as our business needs shifted constantly as well. I’m confident that as we move forward and streamline, I will be able to take more off my plate and have others step into those roles.
Do you have a rhythm in how you conduct customer service and care?
For us, our customers are at the center of all we do. The guest experience and enjoyment of our wine comes first. Much of our hard work and balancing happens behind the scenes, and likely our customers may not even be aware of all that is going on to make their experience possible.
Talk about your new wine collections. What makes them different? Do they have unique names and stories as well?
I am extremely excited about the Black Sunflower Collection. It consists of three wines a white, a red, and a rose, all semi-sweet. They are fun, approachable, and casual wines, perfect for enjoying with a group of friends.
The Black Sunflower was chosen to let the world know that I am a Black winemaker in Kansas (the sunflower state) and that I am proud to be here making great tasting wine for everyone and every moment.
What are five pieces of advice you would offer someone who wanted to open/launch their OWN urban winery?
Know and embrace your community—locally and nationally, these are the people who will get you through the tough times.
Know your wine and be open to creating wine for everyone and every taste.
Be welcoming, inclusive, and open; we work hard to ensure our space is comfortable and available to everyone.
Remain true to your vision, don’t let others deter you or steer you away from what you want to be.
Be proud of who you are, what you do, and the product you create. If you can’t enjoy it, no one will.
Jenny Dawn Cellars inspires wine enthusiasts across the country; where do you see the company expanding to next?
Right now, we are busy planning our expansion at our current location. We are in the wonderful but stressful position of needing to substantially increase our wine production to meet the demand. There are so many opportunities we are considering, and we’re always open to new ideas.