Shae Frichette, co-founder of Frichette Winery, is a native South Carolina girl who had dreams of pursuing acting. After graduating from her South Carolina high school, she embarked on a solo cross-country journey to Los Angeles, where she found work as an actress in the theater. She later worked “in corporate America” as a trainer in leadership development, she says. During this time, she met her future husband and co-founder, Greg. Together, they began to plot a new career and life in wine. After marrying, they decided to let fate determine where they would raise a family. A coin toss determined they would relocate to Washington State and enter into the wine business.
In 2011, Shae and Greg launched Frichette Winery in Benton City, Wash., in the Red Mountain AVA. In 2013, the couple opened a tasting room with 605 cases of 2011 vintage wine for sale. Today, Frichette is a 2,000-case, independent boutique winery offering seven different varietals including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sémillon. Its wines are available in the tasting room, at events for wine club members, and in various Pacific Northwest restaurants and shops.
Soon after launching the business, Frichette decided she wanted to work on a wine label separate from the established Frichette Winery brand. After a bit of soul searching and a renewed sense of purpose, she launched the Sashay Wines label under the Frichette Winery portfolio. VinePair sat down with Shae Frichette to talk about her journey in wine thus far, and her personal vision for her woman-focused brand, Sashay.
1. You have had a very eventful journey to wine. Can you tell us a little about how you came to live in Washington?
Yes, It’s been quite a journey! I had dreams of being an actress and making it in L.A. Back home in South Carolina, I attended Winthrop University. I started telling my friends that I was moving to L.A. to pursue acting. Looking back, I don’t think I really meant it but because I had declared it, I had to see it all the way through.
So, I packed my car and drove across the country from South Carolina to Los Angeles with $200 in my pocket for living expenses. I found work as a theatrical actress and I worked in the corporate leadership development sector of corporate America as well. I met my husband and became engaged to my husband during this time. After we were married, we wanted to start a family and be close to our extended family. It was a toss up between my home state of South Carolina and Washington State where my husband is from. After literally tossing up a coin, Benton City, Wash., was to be our new home.
2.Why did you choose to start a wine label?
When we arrived in Benton City, I didn’t really know much about the area. My plan was to start looking for a job as systems and leadership trainer for businesses in corporate America. But I started to think to myself: This is a very special place to be in life. How many times will you get a chance to wipe the slate clean and try something new? How many times in life will you be in a place where you can do something that you truly believe in and gives you goosebumps? We both were pretty familiar with farming techniques because our families were farmers in North Carolina and Washington. Because Washington is such a great agricultural state, we had a lot of options. Ultimately though, we decided to grow wine grapes and make wine.
3. That’s a big project for newlyweds to take on! How did you decide on roles and responsibilities?
We split the duties! Greg completed an enology certificate program at WSU and I earned a WSET Level 2. I took a part-time job at a wine bar in order to learn all I could about wine education, pairings, and some aspects of service. Soon after, I began hosting wine tastings and kept strengthening my wine knowledge. After Greg was done with his program, we met with a wine grower. He introduced us to Red Mountain AVA. It’s an area with a dry climate that only gets about 6 inches of rain a year, which is perfect for growing grapes. Eventually, we found 5 and a half acres of land perfect for growing grapes and got started making wine.
4. How did you raise the capital to start growing grapes and making wine?
We tapped into our savings and 401k to purchase the land and start the brand.
5. What is your role at Frichette Winery?
I’m the assistant winemaker and co-owner of Frichette Vineyards. Although my husband Greg is the head winemaker for that label, together we make all decisions regarding the business and the wine. We make decisions together regarding which vineyards to source from, which barrels we use for vinification, and together we both make the final decision regarding blending. I also run our tasting room, handle the business management and marketing for both Frichette and Sashay Wines.
6. How has your experience been as an African American woman in the wine industry?
It can be tough. Being disregarded, not recognized as the winemaker for Frichette Winery because my husband may fit the profile of what a winemaker looks like a bit more [Greg is white man and Shae is a Black woman]. Using super-technical terms in an attempt “winesplain” to me or not being invited to events for winemakers even though I make wine. It hasn’t stopped or deterred me, though. It just makes it a bit more difficult for women to get as far as men.
As a white man, my husband’s experience in this business is the opposite of mine. He hasn’t had to worry about the things women do in this industry such as being respected and having access to the support and resources that exist in the business.
7. Let’s talk about the Sashay brand. How did this brand come to life?
I went through a period where I didn’t feel like I was being as creative as I wanted or needed to be. I wasn’t driven or motivated and my day to day just became all about the business. I knew I needed to shake things up and recharge in order to be more on top of things and have the ability to think outside the box and look more strategically.
I attended a retreat for Black women in wine [International Women in Wine Celebration in 2018] and found my inspiration again. At this event, I met Black women who were winemakers and who own wine brands such as Chrishon Lampley and Paula Harrell. I was so inspired and motivated by the event and I just thought, “Wow, these women are doing it. Why not me?” I had always been in the background of Frichette Wines, working running the salesroom or working in the cellar. Sashay was my shot at creating something where I could express my creativity and build a wine brand from my vision alone.
On the flight home, I conceptualized the brand, the message, and the label. I decided which varieties I wanted to work with and what vinification style I would use during the winemaking process. When I landed home, I hit the ground running. I was on fire with creativity and inspiration with the full support of my husband. He saw my excitement and only wanted to know how he could help me push my vision forward. So in 2018, I successfully launched the Sashay Wine brand.
8. Why did you choose to make a rosé wine?
I wanted to create wine with varieties that may not necessarily fit in the Frichette portfolio of bolder, full-bodied wines. I’m from South Carolina, where it’s hot and humid in the summers. I wanted to make a wine that would be great to drink during this weather, yet still have body and some weight. A rosé was the perfect selection, so that’s where I decided to start. The early vintages were more of a sweeter-style rosé and they actually sold out completely. Since my preference was off-dry rosé, I started making the rosé to complement this style I envisioned.
9. The artwork for Sashay is gorgeous! What is the message behind the brand?
I found the artist Chance Watts at a community art show where his artwork was on display. I told him I wanted a curvy, confident woman of color that is walking in a style my mom would define as “sashay.” Hence the name Sashay Wines. I wanted her face to be one where the features weren’t clear because I wanted any woman to see herself in the artwork. I wanted the label to be beautiful and bold because that’s exactly the feeling I wanted to recapture and give to women.
Also, never let go of the wonder inside of you or the ability to dream big and make [those dreams] a reality — that you are beautiful, bold, and your presence is meaningful!
10. Talk to us about winemaking in Washington. What makes Red Mountain AVA a great place for wine growing?
The first wine grapes were planted in the area back in the 1970s. Washington has 16 AVAs, including notable appellations such as the Columbia Valley. You also have all these sub-appellations such as Walla Walla Valley. These AVAs all produce fruit that is just so different from other terroirs like Napa or Sonoma.
Washington AVAs can give you great, structured tannins and a good minerality. But if it’s bold, juicy fruit you want we can give you that, too. It comes down to the weather and the soil. We have these big basalts and huge rocks everywhere and about a dozen different soil types, like sand. There are some vineyards that have this amazing crevice visible if you look at a slice of the land — it’s just layers and layers of all these different soil types. It’s awesome to learn the history of this area when you consider the influence of the Missoula floods, volcanoes, and all the different layers of earth. All of these greatly impact our terroir, vines, and, ultimately, the wine.
11. If you could go anywhere in the world to study and enjoy wine, with money being no object at all, where would you go?
It would definitely be France! I would journey through the entire Rhône Valley and spend some time in Bordeaux as well. This would be perfect for me because at Frichette, we focus on growing Bordeaux varieties. I would love to learn some of the growing practices there and just get to experience Bordeaux- and Rhône Valley-style winemaking. Now, if I had more money and time, I’d go to New Zealand. I’ve always been intrigued by the lifestyle and wine of New Zealand and a bonus would be seeing the beauty of the country.
12. Who would you love to share a glass of wine with or make a bottle of wine for?
Michelle Obama! I’d love to open a couple of bottles with her and get her to open up about her time in the White House. I’d want to know all about the things we didn’t see and how in the world she kept her cool with some of the ridiculousness she dealt with as first lady. I think she carries herself with such grace, and she’s beautiful. It would be a delight to share Frichette and Sashay Wines with her.