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Black female wine brand CEO on bubbly, AI and giving back to Oakland

Choosing a bottle of bubbly can be daunting. It comes in a wide variety of styles, it’s mired in technical terms — dosage? residual sugar? — and it’s mistakenly viewed as special occasion-only.

The Sip, a discovery platform for sparkling wine and Champagne, is trying to make the process easier and more fun, especially for women of color. Oakland natives and best friends Erica Davis and Catherine Carter launched the wine brand in 2020 to help bridge the racial disparity in an industry where less than 1 percent of wine brands are Black-owned.

While men dominate the wine industry today, legacy Champagne houses like Veuve Clicquot and Laurent-Perrier owe their early success and innovation to women. Madame Clicquot, known as the Grande Dame of Champagne, created the first known vintage champagne in 1810, and in 1816 invented the riddling table process used to clarify champagne.

The Sip features these producers and more than 50 others, including smaller boutique brands, such as Washiru Wines, a Kenyan-American-owned winery in Alameda. The emphasis is on supporting wineries owned by women and women of color.

How it works: The Sip offers several points of entry, from full-sized, single bottles and bi-monthly subscriptions to one-time curated boxes that start at a reasonable $51. Those boxes feature 187 ml one-serving bottles, allowing budding bubbly aficionados to sample without breaking the bank or wasting precious juice. The technology drives recommendations based on user reviews. The more users sip and review, the better the AI works.

“The goal is to help people try new and different brands in an affordable way,” Davis says.

We recently caught up with Davis to learn more about the Oakland-based business, how The Sip works and how those bubbles are giving back to homeless women and children in East Oakland.

Q. How did you first get interested in sparkling wine?

A. For my 23rd birthday, my mom took me to Domaine Chandon. They spoke our language there. They didn’t try to overtalk us about wine. Catherine, my best friend and co-founder, was with us. We decided to join the wine club together. We were in our first jobs out of college, and it would’ve been too expensive to do on our own, so we shared it.

From then on our girls’ nights involved sparkling wine. It was something that bonded us. And it’s always been my love language with my mom and grandma.

Q. Why did you start The Sip?

A. We wanted to help people, especially women, figure out what they like without wasting money. Because Champagne is expensive, it doesn’t mean you should like it. It’s about undoing decades of stereotypes and marketing to help people find their own preferences. For instance, there’s this thought process that as Black women, we like pink or sweet wine. The majority of Champagne brands are run by white men but are consumed by women. It’s totally flipped. We want women to take back that power.

Q. How do you select the sparkling wine producers that you feature?

A. We have a ton of different brands. We like to work with producers who give back. We like to feature Black, brown and women-owned brands. Our goal is to have diversity in our catalogs. That means not just the big, legacy brands, like Veuve Clicquot and Laurent-Perrier, but also smaller grower Champagne brands.

Q. What are some of the Black and female-owned brands you feature?

A. We offer Wachira Wines, a Kenyan-American-owned winery out of Alameda. Our first subscription box partner was B. Stuyvesant Champagne, the only Black female-ownedChampagne company in the United States — based in Brooklyn, New York. We also offer Gloria Ferrer and One Hope.

Q. What is your Take a Sip, Give a Sip program?

A. This is really the foundation of our business. The Sip provides clean drinking water to the East Oakland Community Project, a multi-service organization offering emergency and transitional housing in Alameda County. For every box sold, we deliver 16 ounces of water. To date, we’ve donated 5,500 gallons.

Q. What was it like starting a business during the pandemic?

A. The pandemic allowed us to look at the culture and how they were using our product — to drink at home, for instance — and create more spaces and products to facilitate those moments. We thought we were going to be a monthly subscription, but people told us they wanted one-time boxes because they wanted to send something to a friend, or they wanted to do a virtual tasting with co-workers.


ERICA DAVIS

Age: 30s

Title: Co-founder and CEO of The Sip

Professional background: Prior to founding The Sip, Erica served as the director of content and director of merchandising at DarbySmart. She also worked in merchandising for Old Navy, where she completed Gap Inc.’s cross-divisional retail management program.

Education: BA in rhetoric and marketing, University of San Francisco.

Residence: Alameda

Family: Husband, daughter


FIVE THINGS ABOUT ERICA DAVIS

— She comes from a family of female entrepreneurs. Her mom is the chef-owner of Carolyn’s Creole Kitchen in Oakland. Her grandmother, Leola “Honey” Duhon Silas, was a successful Oakland real estate agent.

— Her favorite East Bay haunts are Alameda’s Karibu Wine Lounge and Oakland’s Caña Cuban Parlor & Cafe.

— She and co-founder Catherine Carter met through Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first intercollegiate historically African-American sorority.

— She enjoys a glass of Laurent-Perrier while watching “The Real Housewives of Potomac.”

— Her favorite thing to eat with Champagne is truffle popcorn.


CATHERINE CARTER

Age: 30s

Title: Co-founder and chief operating officer of The Sip.

Professional background: Before starting The Sip, Catherine was the senior community manager at Sequoia Equity. Prior to that, she was district manager at Oakwood Worldwide.

Education: BA in law and society, UC Santa Barbara.

Residence: Dublin

Family: Husband, daughter


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