Of the more than 10,000 wineries in the U.S., the Association of African-American Vintners estimates that about 0.1% of winemakers and brand owners are Black, and Black women represent a slither of that minuscule total.
Charlotte native Camillya Masunda joined the number last September when she launched Ebony Wine & Spirits, a brand inspired by her Congolese heritage. She fell in love with wine in her 20s as an adult student at Johnson C. Smith University and jotted down the idea of one day starting her own wine brand.
Masunda’s wine currently is in 15 specialty shops, including the Assorted Table Wine Shoppe at 7th Street Public Market and Tip Top Daily Market in the Villa Heights neighborhood. Customers also can shop the four flavor profiles — Riesling, Moscato, Red Fusion and a Sparkling Brut Rosè — online and in stores and restaurants throughout the Carolinas and Georgia.
Beyond the love of wine, Masunda views the business through the lens of creating generational wealth for her daughter, La’Nayah. The 18-year-old serves as creative director for Ebony Wine & Spirits.
QCity Metro sat down with the mother-daughter duo on College Signing Day, hours after La’Nayah revealed she’d be attending North Carolina A&T State University to study computer science.
Masunda talked about the beginnings of Ebony Wine & Spirits and the biggest challenge of entrepreneurship. She fought to hold back tears when talking about the pride she has in her only daughter. In return, La’Nayah shared lessons learned from her mom and how she plans to take the business experience and channel it into technology.
Answers edited for length and clarity.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for Ebony Wine & Spirits?
Camillya: I fell in love with wine in my early 20s after being surrounded by people who drank wine and attending different events. I would jot down notes with my biggest ideas — I’m a notebook person. Ebony Wine & Spirits started as an idea. I didn’t really start the work until about 2018. That’s when I really got serious about the steps to put these things in place as far as licensing and different information. 2019 is when we locked in the actual business plan and said, okay, no more sitting on it, we’re going to see what we can do.
2020 was when we were ready to launch. We were ready to launch at the beginning of 2020, but then, of course, Covid. It put a hold on a lot of things. However, the more we wait, the more we’re just sitting on this investment. At the end of 2020, we really took that leap and launched. We could only start with online sales.
Q. Because there are so few women, Black women in particular, within the wine industry, how did you find the resources and information to help you navigate?
Camillya: That’s the joys of an HBCU. You’re going to learn how to do the research. I always give praises to my professors.
I really didn’t have mentors or support to reach out to at that time. But if it’s something that you find a love for, you’re going to push forward to do it. I started off with a day-by-day thing. I would do research, from going to vineyards to asking questions of anybody who would give me an answer. I pushed forward until I had enough pieces to put the puzzle together.
Q. La’Nayah, how did you get involved in your mom’s wine business? You’re not even old enough to drink wine!
La’Nayah: I feel like I’m always involved with everything, so I knew I was going to have a place in this new venture. I asked her, ‘What do you want the brand to be?’ and ‘Where do you want to go with this?’ She said she wanted the brand to represent Black Excellence, and it can take on many forms. I was thinking about the brand, and I knew that was my place. That’s really how I took on the role as creative director.
Q. What does it mean to have La’Nayah by your side as you’re building this business?
Camillya: I have partners, I have my team. But with Nayah, she gets the full version. She understands me and how important it is to build legacy. When it comes to our relationship, I want her to see what it’s like to dig down inside and the work that comes with it. I want her to have that feeling before she gets to a certain age. I want her to feel a sense of community but also a sense of purpose in everything that she does. That’s why it was so important for me to have her by my side every step of the way.
Q. What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in entrepreneurship?
Camillya: The hardest part isn’t going to be financially, it’s not going to be you not having a plan, it’s going to be you believing in yourself. Sometimes, you have this amazing dream and you know you can do it, but you sit on it because you’re second-guessing yourself.
If I could tell anybody anything, it would be to stop second-guessing yourself. You don’t have to have a dime to start putting your dreams and ideas down on paper. If you don’t have the dream and the idea, it doesn’t matter how much money you have because you’re not going to know what to do with it.
Q. You mentioned earlier about being a ‘notebook person.’ What comes to mind as you read through your notes from over the years?
Camillya: The confidence that I have now, I wish I would have had all that confidence then because there are a lot of things I second-guessed myself on. That’s why I push Nayah so much. I tell her do not wait or hold back. Give it everything you got.
I look at my younger self, and I’m thankful for the notes. I’m thankful for the dreams that my younger self had because if it wasn’t for me dreaming early on, there’s no way I would be doing this right now.
Q. La’Nayah, you’re heading off to college and majoring in computer science. Is entrepreneurship something you also want to pursue?
La’Nayah: It’s definitely an avenue I want to explore. I want to build a technology company — hopefully as big as Microsoft or Apple or Amazon — that really brings to the forefront including people of color.
Because I’ve been around my mom in the field of business, I’ve been really focusing on how to incorporate technology in what we do every day. When I was exploring technology and taking computer science classes, I realized that avenue is very small for people who look like me. With the things we use every day, like Face ID or security cameras, they weren’t made by people that look like us, so they don’t work as well for people who look like us.
Q. La’Nayah, what do you admire most about your mom?
La’Nayah: Her grit. She never gives up, and no matter what she’s going through, she always made sure I was good.
We used to have these things called carpet picnics. On the floor, we would have candles and we would be eating spaghetti and watching VHS tapes. I had no idea that the spaghetti was supposed to get us through the week or that we were using candles because we didn’t have any power. I just thought it was fancy and that she really liked the ambience. [laughs]
Q. In reverse, Camillya, what do you admire about your daughter?
Camillya: I admire so much about Nayah. I admire her resiliency. I admire her love for learning, and I just love the fact that she’s confident in that. She’s a loving person and she thinks for herself.
I’m about to get emotional… [holding back tears]
She respects our relationship, so I’m just really thankful. She’s going away to school, and I know I have to let her fly. It’s going to be hard, but I have to let her do it. For her to tap into the next level of what’s meant for her, she’s going to have to fly. I can’t hold her hand. So I’m excited to see the person she’s going to develop into on her own.
Q. Anything else you want to add?
Camillya: This is what I would say to Black moms, don’t wait til your daughter is grown to love on them and fix the relationship. Daughters need their moms, and they don’t need them later, they need them right now. There’s no perfect person, so you need to make sure she knows that it’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s okay to be wrong, and it’s okay to be vulnerable.
La’Nayah: When you’re working with family, it’s not always going to be easy. Sometimes, you have to set apart family time and business time because the approach is different. But you should always be open to listening to what the other has to say.