Photo Credit: Courtesy of Xona Wines
Meet The 21-Year-Old St. Lucian Woman Behind Xona Wines
A ubiquitous and earwormy jingle in St. Lucia touts a very popular rum as the ‘spirit’ — both literally and figuratively — of the island. You’re never more than a stone’s throw away from a ‘Kabawé’ or rum shop.
Rum is king on the eastern Caribbean island. But 21-year-old Jada Whitney Francis is ready to flip the narrative with Xona Wines, a collection with inherently West Indian flavors and vibes. It is named after the Amazona Versicolor, a parrot endemic to Saint Lucia and the country’s national bird.
Francis is a singer who became enamored by another West Indian songstress, Rihanna, at the age of six. She is also a student working on a Bachelor’s degree in International Development in Toronto. And she’s a self-proclaimed daddy’s girl which is what led her into wine production.
“Growing up, my family has always been very big on dinners,” she shared with Travel Noire. “My dad would always want to try a new wine with what we were eating or a new drink. He taught me to read the back labels in terms of where is this from? What region? What’s the sugar content? What’s the alcohol content, and the acidity?”
As part of her studies, Francis is particularly focused on youth and cultural development with an eye towards creating a product integrating both areas. Initially, she considered starting a brunch club but then the idea to create her own wine began percolating. However, there were challenges. The biggest of which was St. Lucia’s climate being unfavorable for wine production. But she wouldn’t be deterred.
Francis began her research, speaking to vintners in Canada, Argentina, and Chile. She eventually found a vineyard in Niagara using fruit-forward flavors that would be ideal for the Caribbean palate.
“If you’re coming from the Caribbean, you want something tropical that represents the people, because you can’t tell somebody it’s a Caribbean wine on top of the fact that it doesn’t even come from here. There’s going to be a disconnect.”
Xona wines currently offers four flavors: Pineapple Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mango Gewürztraminer. According to Francis, she would love to branch out into more varieties, but she wanted to start out with something safe.
“If you ask the typical Lucian, ‘what type of wine do you like?’, they’ll tell you, I like sweet wine, or I like Pierre Marcel,” she said. I said [Xona Wines] needs to be something that is almost like a transitional wine that can put you in the middle. So then you can start saying, maybe I can go a little drier, or maybe I can go a bit sweeter because now you have a more enhanced palate.
“My Sauvignon Blanc is not cutthroat dry. It’s a nice middle place. Same as the red. It is not a full-bodied red. My red is a medium. And I think that has started its own little debate because I call it a Cabernet Sauvignon, and most are very full and dry. Mine is very light, extremely light, which I think is good for the typical Lucian. But if you are a wine connoisseur you’d be like, this is not a Cab because it’s really light. I’ll branch out into the others. I’m getting fuller as long as I feel like people are growing with me.”
Francis admits that one of the highlights of her entrepreneurship has been getting positive reviews and support for the burgeoning brand. She even ran into a Nigerian student who unwittingly raved about the wines and urged Francis to try them herself. The wines were recently presented to Cuban dignitaries at the culmination of a regional trip.
The support is made that much sweeter by the fact that Xona Wines are not readily available on store shelves. This is by design to avoid direct competition with the sea of already established brands.
“I’m not going to put it on shelves to compete with any of the international wines. I’m not going to put it there and just sell it like a bottle on the shelf. I think in St. Lucia that’s almost what all the wines are because nobody is invested in the actual brand behind it.”
What she has done is use social media, especially Twitter and Instagram, to created brand affinity and build a loyal following. The Xona Wines lifestyle is all-inclusive, meaning that it is as much for upscale clientele as it is for the blue-collar worker. The concept is simple: regardless of status, we’re all part of the Caribbean fabric.
When it is safe to socialize again, Francis has plans for Wine Wednesdays and pop-up shops on the beaches. She wants everyone in on the action.
“I’m also looking to branch out regionally, so I’m hoping to get ambassadors from different islands,” she explained. “We can probably even have a nice little island hopping vibe going on, but definitely what comes next is events. I have not been able to do that because of COVID-19. So now I’m just focusing on pure sales and social media interaction. Hopefully by next year we can start with the larger scale events.”