The world of wine will get a lot more dramatic when OWN premieres its newest series, “Kings of Napa,” on Tuesday, Jan. 11.
The show follows the Kings, a fictional Black winemaking family in Napa Valley whose wealth, prestige, and rivalries land them on the pages of magazines just as often as the high-scoring wines they make. The tension between relatives reaches a catastrophic high when the family’s patriarch and founder of House of King wine abruptly exits the business, leaving his three children to battle it out for the top position.
“Family comes first, but family is full of love and hate relationships at the same time. Expect drama, competition, and plenty of backstabbing,” says Karen LeBlanc, who stars as the King family matriarch, Vanessa.
Bottles and betrayal? How’s that for a wine pairing?
Of course, all the palate-quenching excitement and turmoil that comes with portraying a family behind an incredibly successful wine estate doesn’t come without some real preparation.
Diving into the world of wine
Canadian actor LeBlanc says she was thrilled to land the role of Vanessa, but playing a working mother involved in the wine business wasn’t a cakewalk. For starters, LeBlanc, whose only actual wine know-how revolved around drinking it, had to learn about making wine. The whole cast did.
Filmed in Ontario, Canada, the winery Château des Charmes served as the set of the King family’s massive vineyards. It was also where the cast got a crash course in enology and viticulture.
“The Kings — the luxurious, 15,000-square-foot-home-living, messy people that they are — have their own tasting room, and some of the sets were just fantastic,” LeBlanc says. “Being there and playing this role was an educational experience in understanding exactly how much detail goes into nurturing grapes and the soil, harvest and the fermentation process, what the temperature in the cellar should be, and things like that. We all had a bit of an eye-opener through the course.”
Understanding the diligence, patience, and sacrifice required of winemaking helped LeBlanc dive even deeper into the role of Vanessa, a woman willing to do whatever is needed to ensure the wine empire she helped build remains intact — even if it means crossing the very people that matter the most.
“Vanessa comes with some emotional deep, confrontational stuff, and that was very exciting to tap into. She’s very much a ‘by any means necessary’ kind of person. As an ex-journalist coming from that era of the ’80s when it wasn’t easy for women to work in news, I think you have to be a pretty strong-minded and strong-willed person to get through the man’s world of it all. It’s certainly helped her navigate the wine industry,” LeBlanc explains. “She’s always having to operate two steps ahead when it comes to her success, even in the winery.”
“Yes, we are vineyard owners and grape growers. Yes, we make wine — good wine. We are successful and wealthy. It’s lovely to see the extent of the type of businesses that Black people can own and be a part of.”
A case for advancing representation
The show premieres at a time when calls for more representation and opportunity for Black people across industries have become louder. According to LeBlanc, “Kings of Napa” aims to depict a renowned Black family excelling at their craft as winemakers.
“The word ‘rich’ comes to mind when I think about how it feels to be a part of this show, and I don’t mean rich in dollars. I mean the richness in the opportunity to be able to show the world the magnitude of what Black people can be and do,” says LeBlanc. “Yes, we are vineyard owners and grape growers. Yes, we make wine — good wine. We are successful and wealthy. It’s lovely to see the extent of the type of businesses that Black people can own and be a part of.”
Creator and showrunner Janine Sherman Barrois sought the help of actual Black winemaking families to advise the show. Sherman Barrois tapped LeQuintiss Taylor, who handles marketing for Tilford Winery in Georgia, to serve as a series consultant.
Since joining the cast, LeBlanc, an admitted sparkling and red wine enthusiast, has begun her own journey into discovering more wines made by Black producers.
3 Black-owned wine brands worth seeking:
Located in Kathleen, Georgia, Tilford Winery & Farms has remained a family-operated business since winemaker Robert Taylor released the label’s first bottle of wine in 2004. The winery’s organically made Noble Muscadine comes in dry and sweet styles. However, it’s the full-bodied yet semi-sweet Muscadine, with its floral and nutty characteristics, that has made the label a hit with locals and wine drinkers like LeBlanc.
Though winemaking sisters Robin and Andrea McBride make a range of California and New Zealand wines under their McBride Sisters Collection label, the bright and fresh rosé made from Pinot Noir is the one LeBlanc says is a “must-try.” The soft pink wine features aromas and flavors of delicate florals and red berries, zinging minerality, and stone fruit on the palate.
Iris Rideau became the first Black woman to own a winery in the U.S. with the launch of Rideau Vineyard in California’s Santa Ynez Valley in 1997. The winery has remained Black-owned since Rideau sold it in 2016. In fact, Rideau served as the inspiration behind “Kings of Napa,” according to LeBlanc. “Our creator Janine Sherman Barrios is a friend of the vineyard’s owner. It was during one of her visits there when she was inspired to write the show,” LeBlanc says. While Rideau produces a variety of wines, its Viognier is a consistent fan favorite thanks to its rich tropical flavors of dried plantains, toasted coconuts, and luscious mouthfeel.