Against the Odds: Winemaker Jennifer McDonald
Being a winemaker is no easy task. Being a female in a field dominated by men compounds that difficulty—and being the only female person of color making wine in your state stacks the odds against you, yet again. Though, none of those things have stopped Jennifer McDonald from creating a burgeoning and award-winning line of wines under the banner Jenny Dawn Cellars.
From her first taste (upon reaching legal drinking age, of course), it didn't take long for McDonald to develop an affinity for wine beyond the mere casual appreciation. Her love of wine grew to the point that, in 2014, she began to toy with the idea of making her own.
Starting with home winemaking kits, Jennifer toiled and experimented, and the results were smashing. What had started as a somewhat novel concept—the thought of creating not just one but an entire line of wines, and releasing them under the Jenny Dawn Cellars name—became an actual business venture, and one Jennifer didn't take lightly.
Coupling her love of wine with a lifelong interest in agriculture, Jennifer took the logical next step by enrolling in Kansas State's Agribusiness program, where she earned her Masters Degree. In addition to her workforce experience outside the world of grapes and wine, she has gained the acumen to nurture a successful business from the ground up.
When asked how she manages to juggle a full-time 'day' job with the stresses of trying to grow Jenny Dawn Cellars, McDonald smiles with a look that conveys yes, it's difficult, but nothing she can't handle. Her family supports her fully, helping where they can, which helps make it a bit easier. Quarterly trips to Napa Valley also manage to serve as working vacations, you might say. She admits it can grow tiresome at times, but it's clear she's not intimidated in the least.
McDonald has already set things in motion to make even more progress, She is looking forward to participating in the area's premier event for winemakers, Midwest Winefest, happening April 26-28. They also have retail space about to open at historic Union Station, which also provides a beautiful space she hopes to use to host weddings and special events.
And in an attempt to educate people about wine and just plain have fun, Jennifer has set up a program called Winecation—a group that meets downtown on the third Thursday of each month. For a small fee to cover costs, attendees get to sample delicious food and pair it with wines from across the globe. It's a win-win for Jennifer, as it helps people find wines they like and at the same time helps her as she prepares to be an official sommelier, which would make her one of the only African American women to hold that title.
In addition to the ongoing releases of new grape wines, Jenny Dawn Cellars also has land near the WSU campus where an orchard is growing what will be the foundation for a line of wines borne of fruit grown right in the city.
Forward thinking and looking toward the future, Jenny Dawn Cellars is poised to take Wichita—and beyond—by storm.