Quitting your day job is easier said than done, but for Ashanti Middleton, Tyshemia Ladson and Jasmine Dunn, it was the key to taking their Black-owned wine label to the next level. On the Discovery Channel's new reality series I Quit, the three entrepreneurs are part of a group of like-minded self-starters who ditch their 9-to-5s to pursue their dreams of launching a business. The entrepreneurs, who range from dessert chefs to barbecue sauce makers to clothing designers, are mentored throughout the season, over the course of a year, by once-small business owners who made it big. One group's concept will be rewarded with $100,000, and the winemakers have already made a splash in the first three episodes.
Middleton, Ladson and Dunn launched their wine label, called Esrever ("reverse" spelled backward) in Queens, N.Y., in 2018, as a way to introduce new wines to the Black community and join the growing movement of Black wine-biz ownership in the U.S.
The name was coined by Middleton in college as a reminder to "reverse" back to the good times between the three childhood friends and always to keep that positive mindset. It's been a necessary reminder at times: The Esrever concept started in 2011, but a lack of funding kept the business plans corked for years. "Any endeavor we did before didn't work," Dunn said. "But we picked ourselves up and kept going to the next venture, and what led us to the wine world was that we all found something that we loved to do."
The debut bottling was a blend of Moscato and Pinot Grigio from California, partly inspired by Dunn's mother, who was always a big fan of the latter Italian grape when Dunn was growing up. Although the blend had its skeptics at the beginning, Dunn says that's the point.
"We're trying to be as untraditional as possible and trying to break and change the narrative of what's always been done in the wine world," she told us. A second bottling from Esrever followed, a sparkler made from California Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.
As the show unfolds, viewers get to see what goes into creating a business and how mistakes can be avoided. In the second episode, "Grind Mode," Middleton, Ladson and Dunn sit down with mentor Tricia Clarke-Stone, CEO of tech agency WP Narrative_. "Tricia's main thing was to think outside the box and to take a risk and don't be afraid," Ladson told Unfiltered. "It's the biggest concept of the show: to focus on your dream and make it come to life."
Middleton, Ladson and Dunn are certainly used to the obstacles and setbacks, but as Black women in the wine industry, they see a window for success. "It's just recently that the Black community is starting to open up and become more interested and involved in wine, so there's a lot of room for growth for us and we want to be a part of that growth," Middleton told us.
As the episodes of I Quit unfold, Ladson now has advice of her own for those watching and dreaming. "Do your research and stay very well-focused and know what you're going after," she said. "Don't be afraid. It's OK to be different, just stay strong."
We don't know yet how the Esrever story plays out on TV, but you can tune in to the Discovery Channel on Saturdays at 10 p.m. to follow along; the season finale airs Oct. 3. As for the Esrever wine story, Middleton told us to watch that space as well: The trio plans to make a 100 percent Moscato and rosé wine next.
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