Today, as part of our “21 faces of summer” campaign, we get up, close and personal with Koni Maliehe who broke the stigma on black-owned wineries. Maliehe was born in Soweto and her parents lived and worked in Carletonville, although the magic of wine kicked in when she relocated to the Mother City.
So, Koni, how did you get started in wine?
As the founder of Koni Wines I started the wine brand in 2015. My wines are from the coastal regions. I come from a financial services sector background where I worked at a senior, managerial level, but opted to resign and start a new venture as a wine entrepreneur. I am the first in my family to pursue this type of business.
Fortunately, I believe in learning and developing myself, so my journey of wine is full of learning each day. In 2019, I completed the “Business of wine” qualification at the
University of Cape Town’s Business School. I hope to study further to also become a sommelier as my vision is to be a global ambassador for South African wines. I want to grow the Koni brand and make younger generation fall in love with the diverse and inclusive wine industry.
And has there been anything about being a winemaker that was unexpected?
I was shocked to realise what goes on behind the scenes of winemaking. The perception is that wine industry is glamorous, and people forget that behind the glamour and good wines are a harsh environment and culture of hard work. Wine business is the same as any other business. It has to be profitable. So, growing a brand from inception to date has been rough and challenging, but also an exciting path.
What are your most memorable moments in this industry?
I started traveling outside South Africa before joining the wine industry, but obviously this industry isn’t about traveling. Instead, it’s about traveling with purpose to make business. I remember my first international event in Ghana. It was breath-taking as I observed the pumped-up, energetic Ghanaians who were making the best of their world.
Another achievement was to host this year’s Miss SA top 10 finalists. Spending time with the ladies over dinner and wine tasting was such a beautiful thing. Lastly, four of my wines were awarded with gold medals. Oh, and there’s some other great news that I cannot yet disclose, but watch this space…
Wow! Do you have any winemaking goals left?
I want to study further and continue to grow the Koni brand locally and internationally. My wish is to serve others, to add value to South Africa and its economy.
In the world of wine, who do you most admire and why?
I admire most women in the industry who continue to make waves despite stereotypes around us – especially black women who are fighting both gender and racial stereotypes. I admire the courage and vulnerability they demonstrate each day. I also have the greatest respect for my current business partner, Johan Cronjé. He is a selfless person who believed in me and has been instrumental in my growth and success this year.
What is your favourite wine to pair with your favourite meal?
My favourite grape or wine is Shiraz, maybe because of its solid backbone of rounded tannins, earthy and lively flavours. Koni Shiraz 2017 come from a ten-year-old Shiraz block planted in decomposed sandstone and granite soil. My favourite dish to pair this with is duck and roasted vegetables and sometimes roasted lamb with loads of natural herbs and spices.
Is everything smooth sailing, or have you survived big challenges?
In my case it is not wine making, but the actual running of a wine business. How to stay relevant, to grow your target market in order to make good revenue for profitability and at the same time a balance of offering consistent, good quality wines for my customers.
Speaking about good quality wines… How do you know that you have a good vintage?
The success of any given vintage will depend on the ripeness of the grapes, how the tannins and acidities have ripened, as unripe tannins will make a bitter and very usual sharpness. So, my current wines are smoother and have a good finish, suitable for both my local and international markets.
Do you have any “guilty pleasures” when it comes to wine?
Often sweet wines are perceived as low-level wines, but our natural sweet wines have a good balance and I always pair them with my favourite desserts or use them as dessert wines.
Any funny wine memories?
Wine tasting with some family members is hilarious, and pronouncing wine varietals is still a challenge, even to me. So, instead of saying the name of a wine they will rather use the colour of the bottle, for example “that pink bottle” or “blue bottle”. I stopped stressing about it. It is a learning curve for them.
More about Koni Wines
On the Koni Wines website you can find their ranges of red, white and sweet wines to satisfy any of your cravings. Here’s our three favourite picks, one from each selection:
The grapes for this Cabernet Sauvignon are harvested at optimum ripeness to ensure good fruit, a dark red colour and good structure. Cold maceration is applied for two days before fermentation to extract as much colour and flavour as possible. The wine matured for 14 months in second fill French oak Barrels providing a full bodied, deep red wine that is bold and concentrated on the palate with a lingering dark berry aftertaste. Get your hands on a case of 6 bottles of this lovely, full-bodied red wine for just R624.45.
This Sauvignon Blanc has full gooseberry, pear and litchi flavours, and is slightly on the green side with the distinctive asparagus nose that carries through to the palate. Sauvignon Blanc grapes are harvested at low, early morning temperatures and brought directly to the cellar. The grapes are pressed for juice extraction, and the free-run juice kept separate. After fermentation, the Wine is allowed to undergo prolonged lees contact to ensure fullness and complexity on the palate. At just R596,85 per case of six bottles, you cannot choose a better deal.
The grapes for this wine come from an 11 year old Chenin Blanc block planted in rich well drained soil. Harvested at low early morning temperatures, they are brought directly to the cellar, de-stemmed and crushed, and skin contact is allowed for a few hours.
After fermentation, the wine is allowed to undergo prolonged lees contact to ensure fullness and complexity on the palate. The high residual sugar is attained by using natural concentrated grape juice. This process allows the Natural Sweet Wine to develop a crisp and clean taste with a distinct pineapple bouquet and a perfect fruit/acid balance. And all this for just R596,85 per case of six bottles.