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Patti LaBelle and the McBride Sisters Talk Wine, Food and Tradition

Patti LaBelle with the McBride Sisters, Andréa (left) and Robin (right) / Photo by Jared Soares

Robin McBride and Andréa McBride John are known for their story, two sisters raised half a world apart who met in adulthood and bonded over wine. They’re equally well known for the fruits of that connection: wines under the labels of McBride Sisters Collection, Black Girl Magic, She Can and the newly launched Reserve Wines.

Earlier this year, they partnered with Simon & Schuster for a wine and book club, which brought them to the home of music icon Patti LaBelle, whose 20th anniversary edition of LaBelle Cuisine was released in July. Wine Enthusiast got to tag along to talk music, wine, food and celebration.

What brought you three together?

Patti LaBelle: Well, I have a cookbook, and I cook-cook-cook, and they wine-wine-wine. And they do it so well. I’m so proud to be a part of their Black Girl Magic Wine and Book Club. Because I’m a wine-drinker too, and I’ve had theirs, and it’s as good as anything I can think of, or better. I’m just proud of them.

Andréa McBride John: We feel like our history is a gift. What we’re doing right now is built on a foundation of the past. What we’re doing today is going to be a foundation for the future. Black Girl Magic is about celebrating the beauty, power, resilience of all the women that came before us, all the women doing it today and all the women that are going to be doing it in the future… Ms. Patti’s cookbook is the perfect synergy of all the things that we love when we gather and spend time together.

Robin McBride: We started this Black Girl Magic Wine and Book Club, and we found out that Ms. Patti was releasing this cookbook. We were partnered with Simon & Schuster, and we were just sort of like “That would be a dream come true.”

Wine, food and music go together so naturally. When it’s holiday time, how do those come together for you?

LaBelle: When I cook, I cook from the bottom of my heart, with all the love and cleanliness possible. I’m a clean cook. When I go on the road, I take my food trunk with my pots, pans and spices, and then when we get to the farmers market, I buy my fish, my chicken, my veggies. And I know that it’s clean, because I’m going to prepare it for me, my crew and my band. So after each show, when I take my pots, everyone gets a good clean meal, and that’s what I’ve been doing most of my life—cooking for entertainers, just cooking for anybody.

For Christmas, it’s always extra special because you have about 40 items on the table—ham, chicken, turkey, brisket, all the veggies, all the macaroni and cheese, all the potato salad, all the kale greens… Of course it’s music, it’s playing cards, it’s dancing.

McBride John: We really created our own tradition. A really key piece of that around the holidays is sweet potato pie.

When we first met, one of our uncles… would talk to us and share with us a sweet potato pie recipe that our Aunt Annie Mae made. He would get out all of her soul classic records that he had… We would start baking, and he would tell us our history, our ancestry from Alabama, our family’s place in agriculture.

“Black Girl Magic is about celebrating the beauty, power, resilience of all the women that came before us, all the women doing it today and all the women that are going to do it.” —Andréa McBride John

LaBelle: Can I ask you a question? How old were you when you met?

McBride: She was 16 and I was 25.

McBride John: So we’re celebrating 20 years that we’ve known each other, and you’re celebrating 20 years of your cookbook.

LaBelle: See? We need to be here. That’s beautiful.

Do you feel a connection between winemaking and your family’s agricultural past?

McBride: It’s sort of a reclamation for us, because of the history of Black people in America, which is very much rooted in agriculture. And then there were a couple of generations that wanted nothing to do with that past, right?

They wanted nothing to do with the roots that were very much tied to slavery. But for Andréa and I, the places that we grew up, separately, that were rooted in agriculture, we could very much see that tie in our family’s history, as well as the future in our and other industries.

A big effort that we have right now is through the HBCUs—the historically Black colleges and universities—to bring modern-day students who might be interested in winemaking—

McBride John: And not see themselves in the wine industry. We want to be able to show them there’s a space for them here, and we need fresh ideas. And to answer your question about finding that link, our family really, really were experts. One of the things that Robin and I are really philosophically grounded in is that everything starts in the vineyard… If there’s a tie, I think it would be that, being really philosophically grounded in being a steward.

Ms. Patti, do you feel that same sense of stewardship with your recipes?

LaBelle: Always. I’ve been cooking all my life. I started at maybe 10, and I’d watch my mother and father. I was too short to touch the top of the stove, so I’d watch everything… I’m 77, and it’s been in my life all these years. I love bringing people in. That tradition is going to keep going with my son Zuri, who cooks just like I do. And his little four- year-old sings like Grandma and cooks like Grandma, so cooking will stay in this family.