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Jennifer McDonald of Jenny Dawn Cellars: “Why You Should Never Go Alone”

Jennifer McDonald | Jenny Dawn Cellars | Photo Credit: Tiffany Cody

The greatest lesson learned through my entrepreneurial journey was to never go alone. Currently, I have 5 amazing investors, dozens of peer mentors, and a host of business and wine-making mentors. Thus, I feel 100 percent supported! If I ever run into any problems or issues that I do not personally know how to tackle, I have a community of supporters to lean on and seek guidance from. As a woman of color, entrepreneur, winemaker — I am not alone.

The truth is — breaking into the wine industry is certainly not for the faint of heart, let alone for a woman of color. As for Jennifer McDonald, it was not an easy stroll down the yellow brick road by any stretch of the imagination. However, she is now the first African American woman to open an urban winery in Wichita, Kansas.

Vision, drive, hard work, patience, tough skin, tenacity, and timing were a select few of the ingredients to formulate the right concoction of success. And yes, we’ll toast to that!

Thank you for joining us Jennifer. Can you briefly share your experience in opening Jenny Dawn Cellars winery?

As the first black winemaker and winery owner in Kansas, it was not an easy road to travel on. I received push back with my business model through regulation and licensing. It was challenging to finance my business. I always felt like an underdog when it came to negotiating contracts even though I had legal representation and a business attorney. The construction of my winery took twice as long and cost twice as much than anticipated. At times it felt like everything that could go wrong — did.

My mantra is “have faith and never give up” so I stayed laser focused on my “why” and persevered. Ultimately, I was able to launch my winery and tasting room in November 2019. My strong sense of purpose keeps me moving forward and has allowed me to accomplish my goals despite the obstacles, challenges and resistance.

Where did you get the drive to continue even when things were so hard for you?

The greatest lesson learned through my entrepreneurial journey was to never go alone. Currently, I have 5 amazing investors, dozens of peer mentors, and a host of business and wine-making mentors. Thus, I feel 100 percent supported! If I ever run into any problems or issues that I do not personally know how to tackle, I have a community of supporters to lean on and seek guidance from. As a woman of color, entrepreneur, winemaker — I am not alone.

Jennifer McDonald | Jenny Dawn Cellars | Photo Credit: Tiffany Cody

This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers a few ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line.

The beauty of the Jenny Dawn Cellars business is the diverse background and profile of our clients. We have attracted clients from every walk of life and every ethnic background. We saw a need for diversity and inclusion in the Kansas wine industry and we have created wine and a space that has attracted diversity to us.

Our goal is to not only survive but to thrive. Short term, I am looking to expanding our physical footprint at Union Station in order to scale up our production facility. Currently, we sell wine in our winery, online with shipping to 38 states, and through distribution channels in Kansas and Nebraska. I am focused on expanding distribution to all of our bordering states. I am a dreamer at heart and my overarching vision is to launch Jenny Dawn Cellars locations at other Union Stations across the nation.

Jennifer McDonald | Jenny Dawn Cellars | Wichita, Kansas

In your opinion, what makes the Jenny Dawn Cellars’ collection “uniquely appealing” from other wines on the market?

Part of my inspiration for expanding the brand nationally was to put Kansas back on the map as a grape-growing and wine-making state. For many years, Kansas wines have been discounted by wine connoisseurs, despite a long and storied history of wine-making in our state. I hope to share with people across the country that Kansas grape and fruit wine can hold its own against wines produced in premier growing regions.

I personally enjoy California wines and found in my research that many Kansans do as well. I took that information to heart when formulating the strategy for my business. At Jenny Dawn Cellars, we craft premium wines that highlight grapes and fruit from California and Kansas — showcasing them in parallel (side-by-side) for an experience that is unique to our brand.

We believe that great wine is a powerful storyteller and we aim to tell a unique story with every wine we craft. Our Kansas wines pay homage to our Wichita roots and to our home in the historic Union Station. I was deeply inspired by the economic significance that train stations held in the early 1900s. Union Stations can be found across the country and these buildings hold a sort of power in our collective memory. Reminiscent of a time when rail travel connected the country and travel was a more leisurely affair, many of these elegant, powerful structures have fallen into disrepair. Others, such as ours, have been rebuilt and restored to their former glory — a nod to our storied past and a beckoning to a bright future.

In similar fashion, our Jenny Dawn Cellars wines are built on the solid, historied foundation of Kansas wine-making but weave a story only I could tell. Our Union Station Chardonnay is as elegant and timeless as the architecture of its inspiration. Black Locomotive Crimson Cabernet is powerful and bold, as the leader of the train must be. Red Caboose Dry Rosé is playful and lingering — the last glimpse of a loved one waving as the train disappears on the horizon. These wines are crafted to be storytellers for years to come.

You run a program called “Wineucation.” That sounds very interesting, Can you tell our readers a bit about that?

I have been hosting and teaching Wineucation for 3 years because I believe that pairing wine with the right food creates magical experiences. At Jenny Dawn Cellars, we believe that wine is a connector. Wine can help nurture and grow personal relationships as well as bring people from different backgrounds and experience together.

During each Wineucation session, we taste 6 wines with 3 food pairings. I discuss the vinification and wine-making process for each wine to explain what makes it unique. My hope is that these classes encourage participants to step outside their comfort zones and expand their relationship with wine and food. These classes are meant to be accessible to people with all levels of wine knowledge from

  • Wine novices who want to feel more comfortable with wine selection.
  • Wine lovers who want to expand their palate.
  • Wine pros that might want to learn more about the history of wine or a particular region.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Website: www.JennyDawnCellars.com

Instagram: @jennydawncellars

Twitter: @jennydawncellar

Facebook: @jennydawncellars

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/jenny-dawn-cellars/

LinkedIn — Jennifer McDonald: @jennifermcdonald217

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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