Koni Maliehe, MD of Koni Wines, says she has always had a passion for the wine industry. She comes from a corporate background and a couple years ago she saw an opportunity. “I thought it’s time to do it.” She says the business was born out of passion. “I always loved it and felt it was something that I would love to do.”

After some research, Maliehe discovered it was possible to enter the industry without owning a vineyard, provided she could find a supplier. She managed to secure a boutique farm in Stellenbosch, invested her savings and launched her wine range last year. She collaborates with winemakers in Cape Town to put together her range, which includes Merlot and Shiraz.

“You have to choose who you want to work with in terms of quality,” says Maliehe.

The range is based on Maliehe’s research of the demands within the market. She says the theme for the range is storytelling and she wants her wines to be drunk both by wine drinkers and people who have never tasted wine before. “I grew up in a storytelling environment,” she says. “This range is celebrating my heritage and grandparents.”

Maliehe shares these values with others by giving talks at schools and leadership groups for women. “It’s all about taking a leap of faith,” she says. Starting her own business, she has faced challenges and been discouraged, but learned to pick herself up and motivate herself once more.

Two years after going into business, Maliehe says she has just reached breakeven point.

Currently Koni Wines is a 100% black-woman-owned company completely self-funded by Maliehe, in what has tended to be a white-male-dominated industry. The stories her grandparents told her taught her values including never giving up, believing in herself as well as keep dream and keep pushing, she says.

The company has wine buyers in Johannesburg and Cape Town as well as a partnership with a corporate in the asset management sector. Each time they host their key clients, Koni wines are served during dinner and they will also give Koni wines as a gift. Maliehe views the corporate market as key because securing one corporate buyer brings in significant sales, while she also has existing relationships.

Maliehe is in negotiations to get a retail footprint for the brand and has also set her sights on boutique hotels and restaurants and is hoping to export her wines soon too.

This article is part of a series where Tourism Update highlights small, medium and micro-sized enterprises in the tourism sector. This series is brought to you courtesy of South African Tourism.