A friend to remember – Ernie of Sheba Tej dies

Sheba Tej Tasting Session at Tsiona Gallery in Harlem, New York. (Photo: TADIAS)

Tadias Magazine

By Liben Eabisa & Tseday Alehegn

Published: December 13th, 2007

New York (TADIAS) — Ernest McCaleb, founder and CEO of Sheba, Inc., the company that produced the Ethiopian honey wine Sheba Tej, has died after a long struggle with cancer, according to family friends.

The African American entrepreneur initiated a joint collaboration with Cesar Baeza, an internationally-renowned Chilean winemaster and the owner of Brotherhood Winery, a national historic landmark and America’s oldest winery (established in 1837 in Washingtonville, New York), to produce an Ethiopian wine called Tej , made from pure organic honey.

Eventually the new dessert wine became part of the winery’s premium wine list.

Ernest McCaleb, Founder & CEO of Sheba, Inc. (Photo: TADIAS)

McCaleb (Ernie – as he is known by his friends), enjoyed telling audiences during his fun tasting sessions that his unique wine recipe contains no sulfites nor grapes, just pure honey.

His eyes would light up when he told the legend that Tej was one of the many gifts carried by Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, to Jerusalem’s King Solomon.

During an interview with Tadias Magazine in 2005, he talked about his passion for his business and the history and culture behind it.

“Since I’ve begun doing this,” McCaleb said, “I’ve learned more about this rich history, and as I give tasting sessions I have become even more inspired. This is beyond the commercial success. It’s about pride and heritage…”

Ernie was a friend to the Ethiopian-American community and a great spirit.

A memorial for McCaleb will be held at noon on Saturday, December 15, at The Ethiopian Restaurant. The Upper East Side eatry is one of Sheba Tej’s several Ethiopian customers in the city.

It is also the location where Ernie introduced us to his dear friend Bobbi Humphrey (“First Lady of Flute”), the first female signed to Blue Note Records.

As she noted in her latest post on the Tadias comment section: “Rest in Peace, my dear Ernie. You sweetened the times with your smile, and your Honey wine.”

A memorial for Ernie will be held on Saturday, December 15, at The Ethiopian Restaurant (1582 York Avenue – b/n 83rd and 84th Street – New York, NY 10028


Sheba Tej: America’s Favorite Ethiopian Honey Wine

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3 Responses to “A friend to remember – Ernie of Sheba Tej dies”

  1. 1 Brandon V. Ray Mar 2nd, 2008 at 11:35 am

    I did not have the chance to meet Ernie but he helped me out to have his wine displayed at my fraternity’s wine tasting. A great man we lost and he will be missed.


    Brandon V. Ray, MPA

  2. 2 Hyacinth Harrison Aug 14th, 2008 at 10:46 am

    I was a friend of Ernie. I tried for a long time to get the wine into Jamaica, WI. Ernie was so passionate about going into the Caribbean and sharing this wine. We tried so hard but because of so much red tape, could not get it in. I did some wine tasting sessions with Ernie and truly tried to promote the wine among my Caribbean friends here. In the end I lost touch of Ernie and did not get a chance to say “Goodbye”. I am at a loss to know how he went and I juist found out. I enjoy that wine.

    If Cesar reads this email, please be in touch with me.

    Ernie – you were the light that shone in people’s lives and MAY YOUR SOUL REST IN PEACE.


    Hyacinth Harrison

  3. 3 kenan McCaleb Mar 3rd, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    For those who don’t now ernest mcCaleb was my father. Although we did not have a true father n son relationship. I miss him dearly. I just happened. to come across this website n wanted 2 leave a comment. Although my father is gone his legacy lives on through me. Kenan McCaleb

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