In the realm of wine, diverse journeys unfold — whether through the legacy of a family business, the pursuit of a second career, or the bold decision of a grape grower to venture into winemaking. I can’t say I’ve ever told the story of a brave black woman with a passion for wine, coupled with a robust background in technology, fearlessly embarking on the journey to construct a business from the ground up.
I had a chance to connect with Stephanie Franklin, the Founder and CEO of Fly Wines. Transitioning from a career in technology, she made a bold decision to forge a company that artfully blends her tech expertise with a venture into the world of wine.
The beginning of the story unfolded when a close friend received a shipment of wine for a virtual tasting — a collection that, despite its high cost, failed to live up to expectations. “Quantity did not equate to quality,” she told me. She saw the waste with the discarded bottles and a disappointed consumer. Believing in her ability to change the industry tasting model, she envisioned assembling a curated group of independent winemakers from across the globe. Her idea was to offer consumers a taste of various wines through sample size bottles, eliminating the need for a full bottle commitment.
As life went on and time moved forward, a significant moment came when her mom passed away. Faced with the realization of life’s fleeting nature, she decided it was the right time to pursue her dream and commit. She had a vision of creating a high-end consumer wine tasting experience that would make wine easier for consumers to explore wines across the world breaking through the barriers of bringing family wines to the U.S. At the same time, she became fascinated with how different countries can access indigenous grapes and make great wine and wanted to bring that experience to her community.
She founded the company with her partner, Giuliano Manno, Chief Sommelier/Product who worked with her to find the family wineries, take a sustainable approach to bottling, and put into place an education component ranging from amateur to expert to expand wine knowledge.
But you may ask, how does someone without industry knowledge of regulations, wine protocol and a passion for redefining the rules make it through the gauntlet? Stephanie told me she just asked a lot of questions about the process. And either because she was charming while asking the right questions or she got lucky and found the right employee who wanted to help, she navigated through the rules and regulations of the ABC. Other government entities had to weigh in like the TTB, FDA and TCPB for her even to begin building toward a launch.
Next, she knew she needed to build upon her passion and bring in the right people. That included a diverse team of experts to complement her skills. Together, they made it happen.
Then it was finding the small, independent wineries, figuring out the tasting packaging and finding her target audience seeking wines that were not readily available. This became a mission to globally connect with people and understand their craft and values. She knew she needed to tell the story of what made them special. Some of the countries represented today include Turkey, Italy, Greece, Georgia, and California. These wineries had to be willing to bottle smaller sample size tasting kits.
She also talked about taking a different approach from the small black demographic currently in the wine industry. Launching a company that brings forward great products from all over the world is different and sets them apart. She talked about the fact that most black people in the business make wine and how excited she was when the community showed up for her as she worked through the process and got ready to launch.
The journey to reach that point was a substantial one. She initiated work on the concept in 2021 and successfully launched in May 2023. Reflecting on the experience, she expressed gratitude for not being overly informed at the outset. Navigating the intricacies of the wine industry, her limited background prompted a gradual, step-by-step approach, allowing her to learn the ropes of the process in tandem.
Today, Fly Wines operates as a wine importer, exporter, and distributor in Northern California, USA. The primary aim is to foster geographical diversity and community within the wine industry. They are dedicated to bringing independent wineries directly to consumers, positioning Fly Wines to broaden the presence of these small, family-owned vineyards across the United States.
Wine consumers are requesting high-quality wines. Forbes states that consumers believe the taste of wine is more important than price and many of them want to learn more about wine to be confident. A Mintel 2023 wine report states, “Because consumers limit themselves in how they learn about wine, sticking mainly to in-person family and friends and in-store browsing, it can be difficult to reach them with confidence-building knowledge.”
We did have a hiccup with the first tasting box that was sent from Fortino Winery. The kit contained four wines (187 ml each bottle) for $76. It arrived after traveling in 100-plus-degree weather and the wine had cooked in the Texas heat. A second attempt after the weather had cooled was more successful. This was a subscription package, which is $74, that included two full-sized bottles from Tenuta Mosole. These wines were shipped under perfect weather, and they were delicious.
- 2021 Mosole Pinot Grigio is a dry white wine from Venezia that had notes of citrus, green apple, stone fruit and almond along with a nice minerality.
- 2021 Mosole Cabernet IGT Veneto Oriente – a very approachable Cabernet with notes of black fruit, mocha, herbs, and black pepper.
The journey of Fly Wines and its visionary founder, Stephanie Franklin, represents a bold leap into uncharted territories within the wine industry. Stephanie’s courage to roll up her sleeves and figure out how to make things happen one step at a time has not only resulted in the establishment of an innovative wine company but has also brought forth a unique narrative in an industry often dominated by tradition. From navigating industry regulations to forming partnerships with small, independent wineries worldwide, Fly Wines stands as a testament to the power of resilience, diversity, and a shared appreciation for global craftsmanship. As Fly Wines continues to break barriers, fostering geographical diversity and community engagement, it emerges as a promising force, connecting consumers directly with family-owned vineyards and offering a delightful exploration of unique, high-quality wines.