Shakia Williams didn’t grow up with wine bottles on her family’s dinner table in Southwest Philadelphia. Even when they got together for holidays and special occasions, Williams remembers her relatives mostly breaking out boxed wine, or jugs of Taylor Port.
“That was my introduction,” said Williams. “When I was young, I didn’t know how big the world of wine was. But after my first time going to a wine tasting, I knew it was something I wanted to learn more about.”
Flash forward several years, and Williams is the proud owner of her own winery — and, she believes, the first Black woman in Pennsylvania to run a wine tasting room.
Located in Hatboro, Montgomery County, about an hour north of Center City, Cyrenity Sips specializes in small-batch traditional wines. They’re available online, or on site at the storefront, where customers can sample varieties and sit down to enjoy a glass.
Cyrenity opened in early 2022, but getting there was no easy feat. Williams gained most of her experience in Virginia Beach, where she lived with her husband and child for nearly a decade and worked at Virginia Beach Winery. There she learned the finer points of serving wine and the ins and outs of running a winery. She also occasionally helped with bottling.
She wasn’t tapped to make the actual wine, but the staff was always willing to pass along tips. “They were really helpful and always answered any questions I had about winemaking,” Williams said.
Using what she learned there and elsewhere, she started making wine at home.
Williams began with wine kits. After a successful tasting test run of several different wines with family and friends, she knew she was on to something. At first, Williams planned to sell her wines at a farmer’s market in Virgina. Then she decided to move.
Williams felt she could make a more significant impact near Philadelphia. Of more than 300 wineries across Pennsylvania’s five American Viticultural Areas, only a few are owned and operated by Black people. That includes husband-and-wife-owned Mitchell & Mitchell, in Elkins Park, right outside Philly.
Black-owned wineries make up fewer than 1% of the more than 10,000 wineries located in the United States, per a 2021 study.
“Representation is everything. When I was young I didn’t know that I could make wine,” Williams said. “Having young girls of color seeing me as a winemaker makes it something to aspire to.”
Regine Rousseau, a Chicago-based wine educator and consultant who has worked to raise awareness of Black-owned wines across the country, agrees.
“Winning in the case of diversifying the wine industry is not only about an individual group thriving. It’s a victory for the industry as a whole,” said Rousseau, who views more diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry as a way for wine to stop losing market share to other alcoholic beverages.
Williams also hopes her work will inspire the palates of drinkers from all backgrounds. Cyrenity’s first range of wines include some classic styles alongside more unique options like Shekhinah Jubilee, a strawberry-flavored wine, and California Sunset, which is made with natural blood orange flavors.
All of Cyrenity’s wines are manufactured, bottled, and labeled right in the winery in Hatboro, and some include fruit sourced from Pennsylvania. Williams said she likes using Catawba, a popular grape local grape variety, in Cyrenity’s Pink Jawn, a rosé-style wine.
“This one is like my ode to Philly. It is a very foxy grape with grapefruit undertones,” Williams said. “Whether you love or hate it, you’re going to respect it as the grape it is. And that’s how I feel about Philly. You may hate or love Philly, but you’re going to respect it.”