Shakia Williams heads down the steps of her wine shop and ducks as she turns the corner. The ceiling of her storefront is less than 6 feet high, but it’s here that she is reaching for her dream.
Williams, 40, makes wine in this Hatboro basement, taking juice that she buys from around the world and fermenting, clarifying, and flavoring it, then waiting for months. After she bottles and labels the small-batch wines, her husband, Clifford, carries them upstairs, where she and her daughter, Cyan, 21, sell it in a quaint tasting room with comfy seating areas that accommodate private parties, and soon online.
Cyrenity Sips Winery — the spelling is a play on her daughter’s name — is one of the few wineries owned by a Black woman, not only in Pennsylvania but in the United States. Williams said Cyrenity, which opened in September, was also the first in Southeastern Pennsylvania, followed soon after by A Concrete Rose in Lancaster. The region’s best-known Black-owned winery is Mitchell & Mitchell, founded in 2012 by Frank and Kenya Mitchell and operating out of nearby Elkins Park.
“I feel like I’m in a unique position and here’s why: There aren’t many of us,” Williams said. “I’ll just give you the statistics. Out of 11,000 wineries [in the United States], there’s less than 100 that are African American [owned]. There’s less than that that’s actually women [owned]. And women are 80% of the wine drinkers. It’s so interesting to see it’s not as diverse as it could be. What I think I bring to the table is open up people’s minds to the diversity of wine. We’re always saying when you go to school, ‘you have to be a doctor, you have to be a lawyer.’ We don’t even think about the agricultural occupations, which are definitely important.”
Cyrenity’s product line — 18 bottles right now, priced from $16 to $25 — includes traditional wines (syrah, sangiovese, Foch, riesling, etc.) as well as those popular among fun-seekers. Take the La Peach, a peach-flavored wine with mica-based pearlescent pigments that create a glitter effect. (Shake the bottle and redefine the term “sparkling wine.”) There’s California Sunset (blood orange), Maurice-Antonio (chocolate raspberry), Leschelle N Lauren (passion fruit), and Kay Kay’s Crazy Cranberry, too. Most are named after family members or friends.
Williams said the business grew out of a hobby that she and her husband shared. “We decided that every time we travel, we have to have wine, spa, and coffee,” she said.
Right now, Cyrenity operates Friday to Sunday. Williams still works full time as a researcher for a health-insurance company. Her husband, a Navy veteran, works for the General Services Administration. They have known each other all their lives, having grown up on the same block of Baltimore Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia. “He was my boyfriend when I was 10 years old,” he said.
She started making wine gummies while they lived in Virginia Beach, Va., after she learned the process on Pinterest (“they’re just sugar, wine, and gelatin”). She ran into problems when trying to make them on a commercial scale. She tabled that idea, but got a job at a local winery to get tips about winemaking and management. She bought a wine kit.
“Then after that one wine kit, I bought several kits and several juices,” she said. “I just wanted to play around and then we ended up with 23 cases of wine in our garage. My husband’s like, ‘What are you going to do with all this?’ I said, ‘Well, let’s give it to friends and family and see what they think, and if they like it maybe we should start thinking about opening a small-batch winery.’” They liked it.
Around that time, the couple moved back to Philadelphia. Initially, they wanted a small setup that would allow them to sell wines at farmer’s markets. “Then we realized, in order to be in a farmer’s market, you still need a [winery] location,” she said. “I said, ‘If I’m going to have a location, I might as well have tasting room.”
They found the storefront on a commercial strip in Hatboro in Montgomery County, about 25 minutes from their home in Northeast Philadelphia. The town has welcomed them. “The mayor comes in here all the time,” she said.
It’s a family business. Cyan helps with bottling, corking, labeling, and sales. “My husband does all the heavy lifting,” she said. “He likes to say his job is to pick things up and put them down.”
The goal is to be in other retail stores and markets. She set up at the nearby Horsham Farmer’s Market and plans to sell at other markets in the spring.
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