Trail Blazer. Risk Taker. Wine Warrior. History Maker.
After conducting extensive market research while in grad school at Kansas State University, Jennifer McDonald discovered that there was a strong demand for consumers to have access to fine wine in a winery setting, and specifically in the urban core of Wichita, Kansas. Since most wineries were located in rural areas and not easily accessible to city-dwelling consumers, “I wanted to make and sell wine within proximity to this under-served market, so I chose the location of the recently restored Union Station in downtown Wichita.”We caught up with Jennifer to talk about the making of rapidly expanding Jenny Dawn Cellars and her entrepreneurial journey.
What makes Jenny Dawn Cellar’s wine collection “uniquely appealing” from other wines on the market?
Part of my inspiration for taking the brand national by offering Jenny Dawn Cellars wine online was to put Kansas back on the map as a grape-growing and winemaking state. For many years, Kansas wines have been discounted by wine connoisseurs, despite a long and storied history of winemaking in our state.
I believe 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. Therefore, 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 side-by-side in an experience that is unique to our brand.
What is the story behind your brand?
At Jenny Dawn Cellars, 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 winemaking but weave a story only I could tell. For example:
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, hanging on 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.
Tell us about your experience of being the first African American woman in your state to open an urban winery?
Being the first Black Winemaker and Winery Owner in Kansas 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 personal motto 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 of 2019. My strong sense of purpose keeps me moving forward and has allowed me to accomplish my goals despite the obstacles, challenges and resistance.
What is the profile mix of your clientele?
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.
What were some of your greatest lessons learned along your entrepreneurial path?
The greatest lesson that I learned through my entrepreneurial journey was to never go alone. I have 5 amazing investors, dozens of peer mentors, and a variety business and winemaking mentors. 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 Black woman-owned entrepreneur and winemaker, I am not alone.
Where do you envision the business going—perhaps in 5 years from now?
Right now, it is difficult to say where my business will be 5 years from now because the long-term impact of coronavirus and the current economic crisis remains to be seen. Our goal at Jenny Dawn Cellars is to not only survive but to thrive.
Short term, I am looking at expanding our physical footprint at Union Station 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 our bordering states.
It is also important to me to offer career development opportunities for my team members while also creating better work-life balance for myself. I am a dreamer at heart and my grandiose dream is to open Jenny Dawn Cellars locations at other Union Stations across the nation, just like the Fred Harvey diner model. The pandemic changed my five-year plan but as for now, I am focused on staying flexible and nimble to serve our markets.
Connect with Jennifer McDonald and Jenny Dawn Cellars on all social media platforms:
Featured Image by Tiffany Cody