How Mela Wine Was Born From This Group Of Best Friends’ Book Club
We’ve all heard the jokes about book clubs and wine: there’s usually a lot of it, and sometimes the drink trumps the books.
That’s what happened with Kyndal Easter’s book club, but on a whole different level. Wine became so important to this group of best friends that they created their own wine label.
It all started one evening in March 2021 with a virtual wine tasting. Their group was disappointed with the selections and thought: why can’t we make a great wine?
It turned out to be more than just a flight of fancy.
Easter and his book club best friends Erica Estrada, Ryann Casey and Chelsea Walden are now co-founders and leaders of Mela, the wine brand they launched in May 2022. They received ratings of 90 and 93 for their blends red and white, respectively. , of The Tasting Panel magazine.
“We are grateful,” Easter said. “The response and support we have received in these first few months has been incredible. Our early release bottles sold out in 43 minutes. Our inaugural white blend sold out in just one month after our launch. It’s humbling and reaffirming to receive such great feedback on the two blends we created ourselves.
The name Mela is short for “melanin,” which the band says “honours our shades of brown.” They were delighted to discover that in other languages, including Sanskrit and Hebrew, “Mela” means “to gather” and “to be satisfied”.
The group met as freshmen at the University of Southern California. In senior year, the four of them crammed into a two-bedroom apartment downtown.
Navigating the dynamics of roommates in a small space, along with the annual trips they took after graduation, made them experts at keeping their friendship healthy. And now that they’ve started a business together, they prioritize their relationship even above company profits.
They believe that the foundation of their friendship should remain strong. If their connection fails, the business cannot thrive.
Prioritizing and balancing workloads is especially challenging for this group, as Mela is a side hustle to each team member’s successful career. Easter is an educator, Casey is a criminal defense attorney, Estrada is a luxury event planner, and Walden is a physical therapist — in case you’re not feeling like a slacker yet today.
Their path in the wine industry energizes this dynamic team.
“It’s an indescribable feeling to step back and see that we’re actively filling a void and to see it being widely recognized,” Easter said. “And to think that we are only at the beginning of our journey.”
I connected with Easter to learn about the founders, their favorite wines, future plans for the Mela brand and more.
What were your favorite wines to drink when you started this project, and has that changed since developing Mela?
“Before starting this business, we each had our own favorite grape varieties. Kyndal liked a full-bodied zinfandel, Ryann and Chelsea a sweet pinot, Erica a bold taxi. We made a point of presenting our favorites to each other, and it was always interesting to see which ones we unanimously liked versus which ones we agreed on.
In 2020, when many things in the world were seemingly unpredictable, the need to stay in touch with loved ones and cherish each day was ever more pressing. For this reason, we launched a virtual book club celebrating black women authors and thoughtfully paired different wines and dishes to accompany each book. The more we tasted, the more we learned not only about the wines themselves, but also about our own personal preferences.
The more experienced we became, the wider our palettes became. This growth was extremely helpful in the actual creation of our white and red blends. During the blending process, we developed a new appreciation for how blends work together. For example, before our blending session, we had listed all the varietals we had considered in our red blend – Malbec was not on this list. However, after many hours of blending and tasting, it wasn’t until we added Malbec to our blend that we achieved the fullness we were looking for.
While we all keep our favorite varietals, the beauty of our blends is that they capture our individual interests, showcase our shared tastes, and celebrate new experiences.
Was it difficult to agree on the name?
“We wanted to make sure we landed on a name that made sense. After floating around many different possibilities, the word Mela, short for melanin, quickly rose to the top because it honored our shades of brown and the stories and pride that come with it. We also learned that “mela” has such a beautiful and value-aligned meaning in other cultures. The Sanskrit definition of Mela resonated with us when we learned that it meant “to gather”. In Hebrew, it means “to fill; be full.’ Although it took us a while to come up with a name, once we landed on Mela we all immediately fell in love with it.
How do you find time for the wine business in addition to your other full-time jobs? (maybe one or two of you could provide a quote on strategies for finding time for everything.)
“Discipline, teamwork and a lot of grace. Given that there are four of us, we are able to balance the demands of starting a new business in a way that we found generally manageable. We schedule time to work on Mela together and individually, and we hold each other accountable to deadlines and goals.
On Tuesdays, we meet at 7:30 p.m. PST. Although it can sometimes be difficult to start a meeting at this time, we recognized that we had to work outside of our normal business hours in order to get our business off the ground. It’s not uncommon to see one of our children running around the zoom screen in his pajamas as he prepares for bed, while another parks in his driveway after leaving work. day, but we make it work. It is also extremely useful that there are four of us to help divide and conquer. While one of us is having a phone interview, two of us can work offline to update the website, allowing our fourth founder to be fully present at work. When all is said and done, it is the grace we give to each other and to ourselves that keeps us sane.
Erica“I place reservations on my calendar to make sure I block out dedicated time for my event planning business and book separate work time for Mela.”
Ryan“I’ve found the most success working through the tasks one at a time, making sure to complete the task so that I can end the day with more loops closed than open.”
What do you like in wine?
“What’s not to like about wine? It can be social, it can be personal. It can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be. He can open an event or be there to close the day. No matter where you are in the world, wine is used to bring people together. At Mela, we value connection, and with wine, that’s exactly what you can do. There is also so much to learn and discover about wine, as each wine has its own story. As newcomers to the wine industry, we often feel both humbled and inspired.
8. I loved reading that you all decided to put your friendship on the line before embarking on starting a business together. Were these links questioned during the development and launch of Mela?
To answer the question simply, no, Mela did not challenge our link. Instead, the challenges of starting a business made us stronger and pushed us to protect our friendship even more. In any relationship, you must have clear boundaries. For example, we decided to create a Slack group message to talk about business and keep the fun, life, and family conversation in our texts. Also, we want to be honest with each other. That’s not to say we haven’t had our share of disagreements along the way, however, in the toughest times, it’s the depth of our friendship that keeps us grounded.
Are there sommeliers, winemakers, business owners, etc. that you admire or with whom you like to work?
“We want to give two shouts. First, to Brandon Crump, COO of Michael Lavelle Wines, who encouraged and supported me. His words of wisdom and care were more than helpful. Another tribute to Mrs. Theodora Lee, founder of Theopolis Vineyards. We had the opportunity to meet her twice and continue to be inspired and grateful for how she paved the way for black women in the industry.
While the black and brown space in the wine industry is small, it is also powerful. We are excited about the opportunity to learn, partner and succeed alongside other Black/Brown owned brands. As we continue to earn our place at the table, we’ll be sure to bring another chair and a wine glass for the next Black/Brown owner-owned wine brand to come.