The story of Mela is a non-traditional one of breaking barriers. Let’s start with the story of the owners – four black women with a passion for wine who had to learn the business from the ground up, build credibility and launch a brand.
Mela was founded by Ryann Casey, a defense attorney; Erica Estrada, an event producer; Kyndal Easter, a middle school assistant principal; and Chelsea Walden, a physical therapist. The name Mela is the shortened version of Melanin representing the four founders’ shades of brown according to Erica, the cofounder and direction of marketing, creative and branding.
Even though none of them had a background in wine, it was a big part of their lives over the evolution of their 15-year friendship. They met in 2007 while enrolled at University of Southern California.
The concept originated after a virtual tasting at another winery and not having the best experience. It continued to develop during a Zoom book club that started up during the pandemic. They began to ponder if Mela could really happen, and they gave themselves a timeframe to come back to the table.
“This became a passion project for us. Wine has been a big part of our lives,” she said. The next step was research, planning, vineyard visits, blending, bottling, and figuring out the overall business of making wine.
I asked Erica why they looked to craft their passion into a second profession and launch a wine brand. I loved the answer. We recognize that there’s a huge under-representation within the wine community both in women and black winemakers,” Casey said. According to a study from Santa Clara University, of the 4200+ wineries in California in 2020, approximately 14% of them reported a woman as their lead winemaker. Of the over 11,000 U.S. wine producers, fewer than 1% have a Black owner or winemaker, according to the Association of African American Vintners. Clearly there is work to do.
The wines are a blend of the founders’ favorite varietals. The grapes for the Mela White Blend come from vineyards in Napa Valley, Clarksburg, and Mendocino. For the Mela Red Blend, the team sourced from a partner with vineyards throughout the Napa Valley and Clarksburg. They tasted a lot of wines to better understand complexities and most importantly, better understand how each of them described different wines. “What’s dry to me, might not be for someone else in our group – we needed to be on the same page even if we don’t always agree,” Erica said.
Mela Wines can be purchased directly at melavino.com.
2021 Mela White Blend
A blend of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier with a touch of Riesling. I tasted notes of honey, lemon zest, apricots, green apple, and stone fruit. It had lots of flavors. It was a burst of fruit with a dry finish.
2020 Mela Red Blend
A blend of Petite Syrah, Zinfandel, Malbec, and Syrah. I tasted blackberries, raspberry, tobacco, herbs, spice with some vanilla notes.
Kudos to four friends who broke through the barriers of color, gender, and snobbery to create a brand that is an inspiration for other women as well as the black community while continuing to make good wine and have fun.