Founded by wives Jeri and Amy Andrews, and Catherine and Brandi Carlile (yes, THE Brandi Carlile, multi-time Grammy Award-winner), the winery aims to combine inclusiveness with sipping your favorite variety.
On top of that mission, XOBC Cellars works to give back, partnering with charities like The Looking Out Foundation, which works to empower marginalized voices. They have also partnered in the past with War Child UK and Children In Conflict.
With a strong network of customers and “Collectors” (their term for wine club members), the winery has grown since its inception in June 2019. Of course it has! Brandi Carlile is undeniable and, together, the four founders know not simply what goes into a good glass, but what goes into a good conversation for a better tomorrow.
We caught up with co-founders Jeri and Amy Andrews to talk about XOBC’s origins, how it got off the ground and how it’s achieving new heights today.
How does the friendship of the four founders infuse your business and your winemaking?
Jeri Andrews: XOBC Cellars was born of a shared focus between four close friends: a love of extraordinary wine and a vehement, innate desire to give back and create change. The relationship between the four female founders inspires the core virtues of XOBC Cellars by making wine that can be enjoyed by everyone and by providing people with an incredible product. We simply strive to create an easy and approachable way for society to shop their values. Wine is not just for certain people; like music, it’s for all of us, and it brings people joy. The four of us recognized the simplicity and greatness of gathering around a table with an outstanding bottle of wine and set out to share that with the world.
Why is it important for you to incorporate charity into the efforts?
JA: Activism is at the epicenter of our friendship. We [Amy and her wife Jeri] met in 2012 when we returned from living in London as expats, and as Catherine was moving to the states to join Brandi in Washington state. Coming together as LGBTQIA+ activists for Marriage Equality here in the United States, we became fast friends and realized that there was so much we could accomplish together.
After an extensive dinner, the four of us decided to start with house parties. Brandi and the twins would come in and play in our living room for groups as small as 50. It was grassroots, and it was incredible. We were able to, year after year, raise a significant amount of money for the Looking Out Foundation and grow awareness for the causes most important to us, all while exposing people to the incredible connective tissue that music creates.
The establishment of our winery allowed us to continue to provide a way for people to experience this sense of community that believes in, strives for, and marries connectedness and inclusion. We were confident that creating great wines, representative of our unique Washington and Oregon terroirs, would be a new avenue by which to engage this community.
Championing for change has been at the core of our relationship since inception; therefore, it came natural to direct our business efforts into a philanthropic avenue when creating XOBC. Each and every purchase of XOBC Cellars wine directly gives to the Looking Out Foundation and supports those most in need.
I’m sure you could write a book on it, but just briefly: How did you go from having the idea to start a winemaking business to actually doing it day in and day out?
Amy Andrews: Indeed, we could!
We were on holiday together with Brandi and Catherine when the idea actually came to fruition. The four of us continually discussed ways in which we could expand on the connection that music creates, while remaining committed to honoring the overwhelming support received from fans, and likewise growing the spirit of community we felt in the presence of those at concerts and those who gathered in our living room.
So at sunset, on the water, over a glass of something fabulous, Jeri simply asked, “Why don’t we make wine?”
Brandi was immediately on board and likewise, immediately insistent that we only stick to incredible wine. We were right there with her. The four of us don’t tend to do anything halfway.
Within a couple months we had honed in on Walla Walla, Wallula and the Rocks District. All world-renowned wine growing regions that really resonated with us due to their true reflection of the unique terroir. Growing incredible fruit in soil comprised of large stones and galets, as in the Rocks District, where the vines have to struggle significantly to reach the low water table, creates a more robust, more flavorful experience when turned into wine.
Not only does the region share a latitudinal line with the Rhône region, our Rocks District produces much more interesting fruit, with more character and depth and funk that speaks to and showcases their adversity and struggle. We feel this isn’t all that different to humanity. Analogous to the most interesting people we know, often those who struggle the most also bear the most complex, beautiful fruit.
It was a unanimous decision to partner with our winemaker Sean Boyd. He is a friend and activist like us. He is sophisticated in his approach while simultaneously being hands-off, truly allowing the fruit to speak for itself. We all believe that great wine is made in the vineyard.
Then began the day in and day out. As anyone who’s built a business knows, it was, and still can be, incredibly unglamorous, hard work. The real magic occurred when we were met with immense support out of the gate. We received hundreds of emails about the brand, the mission, the solidarity and specialness of four gay women doing something spectacular together. And then people tried the wine.
Our community, almost overnight, grew to comprise oenophiles, sommeliers, wine shop owners and aficionados with really sophisticated palates that understood the specialness of something like our 100% Rocks Elijah Grenache. It was (and remains) heartwarming to see people from all walks of life really loving our wines and mission.
We felt incredibly grateful. And we were likewise insanely busy. We did not hire a single person for two-and-a-half years. As a reminder, we are activists at heart. So we personally responded to every single email. We processed each order with such care and love and attention. We talked to our Collectors on Zoom. We opened bottles with wine aficionados as often as possible. We had friends that opened their homes and invited their friends over to taste our wine. We had supporters that gifted XOBC Cellars to all of their friends and business associates and employees.
We know that we are one of a few that are so lucky to have such a robust direct-to-consumer business. Some people start with a big, fancy tasting room. But we couldn’t do that. We didn’t do that. We did it the only way we know how, which is with community and activism.
Our Collectors were incredible. And that speaks to the immense power of our community. We don’t just feel like they support us, we know that we, the four of us, are part of something special because we get to witness their magic. And they are that — they gather together and raise a glass that means more. A person in New York will offer to accept a shipment for a fellow Collector in New Jersey (since we currently can’t ship to NJ) and they will meet, gather and raise a glass together that makes a difference.
Our Collectors make wine what it should be, what we wanted it to be: a vehicle for community and connection. Not something that is so sophisticated, so bourgeoisie, so unapproachable. They made XOBC something we knew they would. They made it activist, personified. They made it the ultimate vehicle for enjoying and giving back. So needless to say, it makes it an honor and a privilege to be overwhelmed when what we receive is unmatched support.
It’s obviously special to have your friend and multi-time Grammy-winner Brandi Carlile involved. Can you tell me what she and her celebrity bring to the process?
JA: Brandi is a force of nature. She’s a collaborator at heart. Building something special with us as friends that continuously gives back to the Looking Out Foundation is part of her legacy. As a self-proclaimed ‘misfit,’ she brings to our winery exactly what she brings to her music: unapologetic insight and talent. Breaking down the premise that great wine is only for fancy occasions or only for certain types of people is at the helm of our approach.
As a farmer herself, she has a deep appreciation of the enormous work that goes into managing vineyards year after year to create world class wines. She understands that, like music, wine is also an artistic endeavor and is driven by the depth and experiences of those creating it, those enjoying it, those who hear it. Brandi is truly a brilliant creative. Her grace and elegance is paired perfectly with a bit of rugged grit — exactly like our wine.
Tell me a little bit about your wine club members — you call them “Collectors.” How have your patrons gotten involved?
JA: Our Collectors are at the helm of everything we do at XOBC Cellars. Their support allows us to give back and make a true difference through LOF, and we are endlessly grateful to each and every Collector for making this possible. Our community of Collectors truly feels like a family; we love communicating with each person individually. Camp XOBC, our exclusive Collector-only VIP lounges that took place at select Brandi Carlile concerts in 2021 was amazing for all of us as we finally had the chance to meet face-to-face. Their support is unmatched and truly palpable.
What’s the most fun thing about what you do through XOBC?
AA: Historically, the wine industry has been pretty exclusive. I think the four of us, as gay women, are particularly sensitive to what it feels like to be on the outside. In our creation of XOBC Cellars, we aspired to design something that is antithetical to this concept. We believe that showcasing, growing and investing in LGBTQ winemakers, winery owners, women and people of color in the wine industry, is essential.
We are hearing more and more about these marginalized groups making their way into the conversation and lifestyle. It’s incredibly fun to witness and be a part of this long-needed shift which benefits everyone. Combining Brandi’s epic music with unique wines for good is an honor. Providing a space where everyone feels welcome, and continually asking ourselves how we can have more impact, drives us daily. We feel incredibly grateful.
2019 Brut Rose, Washington State
A celebratory bottle with just a pop of pink, this sold-out brut rose is an inviting blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache. Strawberry flirts with grapefruit rind on the nose but fully commits on the palate with juicy berry fruit, tingling acidity and sharp, tiny bubbles. Fruit-forward yet dry in the full-bodied finish.
$30 | 11.8% ABV
2019 Elijah Grenache, Walla Walla Valley
From XOBC’s estate vineyard in the Rocks District, this ripe and pronounced Grenache is like one of Carlile’s earlier-career ballads. An alluring melody of cranberry, raspberry, white pepper, crushed herbs, and a slight candied cherry tone entices you on the nose, while the hook is really on the full-bodied, earthy palate, in which marionberry, mineral and lifting acid bring the refrain home.
$40 | 13.6% ABV
2019 Catherine Syrah, Walla Walla Valley
This Syrah speaks to its stony-soiled site in the Rocks District with aromas of smoked meat, coffee, cocoa, gravel, crushed herbs and boysenberry. The bold palate brings forth notes of fig, dark berry, and mineral, plus just a lick of brine on the backend. The savory finish keeps acid at bay with juicy richness.
$40 | 13.8% ABV
2019 BC Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State
The winery steps outside of the Walla Walla Valley for this Cab to the Wallula Vineyard, perched just 700 feet above the Columbia River in the Tri-Cities. Youthful and a little green on the nose, the palate offers black fruits and cocoa notes, with a bold and well-structured mouthfeel leading to a silky, embracing finish.
$80 | 14.4% ABV
*Note – some of the wines featured in this article are currently sold out, new vintages are currently being bottled so be sure to check the XOBC Cellars website for future releases.