A kitchen table discussion spurred three women to found their own wine company, and now, the three of them are vying for the final prize of $100,000 seed money on the I Quit show on Discovery Channel this Saturday.
Esrever Wines was founded in 2011 by friends Jasmine Dunn, Tyshemia Ladson, and Ashanti Middleton, and they produced and bottled their first wine in 2018. “Esrever was started at Jasmine’s mother Cheryl’s kitchen table,” says Ladson. “Her home was our refuge from the world ever since we were in elementary school, and her kitchen table became our boardroom.”
One evening, the three friends were gathered around the table discussing the joys and pains of life. “We all share a love for wine and surprisingly, had ran out that evening,” Ladson says. “So then someone joked about wanting to ‘reverse’ to the previous weekend, and that turned into a conversation about creating our own wine to remind us of happier times.”
Their name “Esrever” is “reverse” spelled backward, but these women didn’t reverse their dreams – they kept going, even though it took them seven years to get their first wine into production. “During the early stages, Ashanti learned in a college course that a creative way to name your business is to take a word and reverse it. Reverse backwards is ‘Esrever,’ and so our journey began,” Ladson says.
Since their first appearance on the I Quit show on Discovery Channel show, this New York-based wine company has experienced an uptick in sales. The show has its finale this Saturday. “It has affected us positively,” Middleton says. “It has also increased our brand awareness regionally, as well as in the African American wine culture. Above all, I’d like to think our story has offered other people hope, motivation and the courage to start their own businesses.”
The show tracks the progress of entrepreneurs from six businesses who risk it all when they give up their steady, 9-to-5 jobs to follow their dreams, and they are mentored in the process by three business leaders: Tricia Clarke-Stone, CEO of WP Narrative; Harley Finkelstein, COO of Shopify; and Debbie Sterling, GoldieBlox founder and CEO.
Right now, Esrever produces a Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay blend sparkling wine and a Muscat Canelli using 100 percent Moscato grapes with a hint of orange zest. The three founders have plans to expand their product line and their distribution, with the goal of having global distribution, and they would also like to create a mentorship program to help other entrepreneurs.
“We really hope that by having our experiences documented that we’re able to help pave the way for others to jump into entrepreneurship,” Middleton says.
The show has helped build their brand awareness, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The pandemic has definitely made things more complex on all fronts in terms of shipping, selling and even creating the wine,” Dunn says. “It’s harder to fulfill orders as quickly as usual. However, if anything this year has taught us it is how crucial it is to be flexible and to always e thinking outside the box.”
This flexibility and creativity, Dunn says, has helped spur some rapid online and in-store sales growth.
There’s also been a growing awareness – and appreciation – of Esrever as a brand because they are three Black women entrepreneurs who’ve founded it. “There has been an increase in demand, in part, because we are a Black-owned business,” Ladson says. “When Esrever first started, the uniqueness of an all-female owned wine brand always stood out, alongside the fact that it’s also Black-owned.”
“Recently, due to the current climate in this country, the stories of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others, have opened the world’s eyes to view Black people as a whole differently,” Ladson continues. “It’s made us come together, and it’s made other races want to assist us in succeeding by supporting Esrever and countless other businesses.”