Janine Sherman Barrois‘ visit to Rideau Vineyard yielded more than just delectable wines and the mesmerizing scenery of the Santa Ynez Valley. After learning the owner, Iris Rideau, was the first Black woman to own a vineyard in the US, Janine found inspiration for OWN’s The Kings of Napa. She imagined what it would be like to watch Iris walk out of her house into the stunning views of her vineyard, and the rest is history.
Janine launched The Kings of Napa under her new banner Folding Chair Productions, named after the famous Shirley Chisholm quote, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
I recently had the privilege of chatting with Janine about The Kings of Napa‘s inception, what new viewers can expect, where a potential Season 2 might take us and telling diverse stories.
Disclaimer: Spoilers lie ahead if you haven’t watched The Kings of Napa Season 1 finale.
This interview is edited for length and clarity.
Melody McCune: We at GGA love a good origin story. What’s the origin story for The Kings of Napa? What inspired you to create the show?
Janine Sherman Barrois: A little over eight years ago, I went with some friends to Rideau Vineyard in Santa Ynez, near Santa Barbara. I was telling my mom I was going, and she said, “Oh, that’s a Black-owned vineyard.” She goes, “Our friend’s cousin owns it.” I said, “No, I don’t think it’s Black-owned.” I was blown away. I’ve never seen a Black-owned vineyard, and I hadn’t seen it on TV or read about it.
When I went there, Iris Rideau, the first Black female to own a vineyard in the US, wasn’t there. But as I sat on the picnic table, on a blanket, and saw these people from different walks of life, drinking wine and eating, I pictured what it would be like if she was there coming out of the house and thought, “This would be a great setting for a show.”
I worked hard to take family and friend stories and weave them into an original story about this family dealing with power. I put it on the backdrop of a vineyard from that event. I was going to call it The Kings of Santa Ynez. But I thought, “Well, maybe Napa would sound better because Napa’s what we think of as the heart of wine in this country.”
MM: If you were to describe this show to someone who hasn’t seen it using only three words, which ones would you use?
JSB: Bold, family, power.
MM: What has been your favorite story arc to write for this season?
JSB: I love writing about August King (Ebonée Noel), this powerful young woman thrust to the front and center of her family. She wasn’t expecting, or she might have fantasized about obtaining power, but she has this power. We’ve seen her navigate this season to balance her family, decisions and choices.
Some of her choices have been right. Some of them have been wrong. Sometimes she’s had to clean up stuff. But I often think women, when given power, shy away from it. I think you see her insecurity, but you also see her genuine leadership and drivability. I think she’s a great role model for young women rising to the top of whatever their field is.
MM: What can audiences expect for the season finale?
JSB: I think audiences will expect a lot of twists and turns. We will finally find out who has been extorting this family. It’s a big deal, and it will surprise everyone. The family will have to reconcile with that. We’ll see another layer peel back as a consequence. The relationship between August and Bridgette (Yaani King Mondschein) will be new and turn in a different direction.
We’ll see a new dynamic form when we look at the relationship between Vanessa (Karen LeBlanc) and her step-sister, Melanie (Devika Parikh). We’ll see a new threat looming large for Season 2 in the last beat of the season. That’ll be a challenge August and her mother will have to tackle.
I think when you look at the dynamic between Dana (Rance Nix) and his wife, Rose (Samantha Walkes), and the triangle activated between him, Rose and Bridgette, you’ll see that it will spin in a different direction. All of those relationships will be up in the air.
Christian (Ashlee Brian), who’s laid in the cut as the youngest son — we haven’t been paying attention to everything. He’s wanted to do this bourbon business. He’s tried to do it. It’s called “Show Stopper.” He’s tried to be the outlier in his family and not be into wine. But by the end of the season, he’ll get an investor for Show Stopper, a storyline that will propel us into Season 2. It’s not going to be what he suspects it is.
The challenge of August and her relationship with Kelvin (Curtis Hamilton), the love interest at the center for her, will be rechallenged and question where they wind up for the next season. When I pitched the show, I said, “This is a love story between two sisters.”
I think the love story of August and Bridgette by the last beat will be propelled differently. You have August and Bridgette as one faction; then you have Vanessa and her sister. We won’t know what will happen next year with them.
MM: Where do you see a potential Season 2 heading?
JSB: For next season, we will find out that Everett bought Sean & Sean. He bought Sean & Sean with his partner, threatening the King family. They want to turn it into a five-star hotel. They’re buying all these vineyards around the Kings, and the Kings will have to fight to stop that. I think we’ll see the relationship of Dana and Rose be challenged.
In the last scene with Rose and Bridgette, we’ll see they may join forces to take down the Kings themselves. We don’t know what Bridgette’s going to do. But Rose has thrown down the gauntlet and said, “This family has treated me wrong, and I want to go back in there and wreak havoc.” We know that’s going to be a compelling story.
Christian’s dealing with his bipolar disorder and struggling with mental illness the whole season. He does not know going into next season that he’s taken money from these new investors because his girlfriend, Sheila (Monique Jasmine Paul), hooked him up. He is unaware of Sheila playing him.
Then, Aunt Yvette (Heather Simms), our comedic heart of the show — she’s so unique and dynamic. She would’ve been proposed to by the end of the season. Is there a wedding? Like all things, is Jason Collins (Glen Michael Grant), her boyfriend, who we think is?
We will question what will happen with Melanie, with her sickness. What will happen with her relationship with Vanessa? Will Dana get his wife back? He betrayed her, you know?
MM: You run a diverse writers’ room under your production company, Folding Chair Productions. How did your experiences in writers’ rooms inspire the creation of this company?
JSB: I got mentored by people that knew inclusion was critical. Whether from Yvette Lee Bowser, Bentley Evans or John Wells, people always thought inclusion was necessary. As I’ve risen through the ranks, I wanted to have a banner that helped people get a seat at the table and rallied around diverse and inclusive voices. That can span the gauntlet of all different races, ages, gender.
But I want to do what I can to put female, Black and BIPOC stories at the center of them. Write these dynamic women. If you look at Claws with Niecy Nash‘s character and all of the women on Claws, Madam C.J. Walker, and August and the women running The Kings of Napa, you see this dynamism behind women. Often, women of color are challenging how they’ve been perceived and depicted on television.
MM: What do you hope audiences glean from The Kings of Napa?
JSB: I hope everybody enjoys the ride. It’s an aspirational all-show. It’s fun and challenging, but it’s about family. As we go through the pandemic and come out on the other side, as we see the challenges around the world, the one thing that’s constant in our lives is family. It may be the family you’re born into or the family you’ve created. No matter how dramatic things get, family will be there for you and have your back, for better or worse.
It’s a fun show about family — a dramatic and dynamic show. Many people who enjoyed the plot twist started connecting to the characters and what the characters wanted. But I think it’s centered and grounded in its way about family. No matter how much drama you have with them, they’re still going to be there picking up the pieces and cheering you on in life. That’s what I want people to know.
MM: What advice would you give aspiring creatives looking to break into the industry?
JSB: You should network. I would say you should write. Embrace this time. It’s a fantastic time for people to tell their stories. There are more networks, more streaming services and more platforms. There are so many people galvanizing together to make the business better and more equal. I think if you have a story to tell, you can’t listen to any little voice inside of you that says, “This isn’t worthy.”
I think now’s the time to do what you want and tell your stories because it’s your life. You can’t listen to a parent, professor or a teacher who’s like, “You can’t make money writing or being in the business.” Art will reflect the good, the bad and everything we’re experiencing right now. It will be through artists holding up a mirror to society. I can’t wait to see the other voices that emerge.
MM: Janine, thank you so much for chatting with me! Congratulations on everything!
JSB: Thank you, Melody!
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