Itumeleng Akinola.
Itumeleng Akinola.
Image: Supplied

The investment-banker-turned one-woman-wine- business has set her sights on taking South African wine to the rest of the continent and beyond. We talk past, present and future with this dynamic woman in wine.

Tell us a bit about Isivini.

Isivini — meaning vineyard in isiZulu — is my wine distribution, private client, cellaring/cellar management, advisory, and consultancy business. The name is also a double entendre, referencing viniculture: the cultivation of grapevines for winemaking.

What do you hope to achieve with the business?

My dream of being the number-one purveyor of quality South African wine on the continent with the cornerstone of wine knowledge at the forefront of that. I want to be an advocate for the fact that we have great wines that are able to compete with all the world’s regions. I’ll start on the continent and then I hope to grow beyond that.

Why did you start Isivini?

I was tired of the investment-banking field. I had little motivation and decided it was time for something new. I wanted it to be something I was passionate about — my three options were food, wine, and travel. I dabbled a bit in food, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I started looking into wine and, while I’ve always been an avid wine drinker, it was not something that I had academically invested in. I started exploring wine-education possibilities and have since completed the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level 3 qualification. I began hosting private-client tastings — among an audience I was familiar with from my banking days — and repping and distributing for Erika Obermeyer Wines. Since then, I’ve picked up another brand, Holden Manz, to represent and distribute while growing my private-client tastings and exploring the export market. I travelled the continent quite a bit but felt we weren’t very well represented in terms of our fine South African wines — French and Chilean wines are dominating those markets. I’m taking the opportunity to do something about that.

What got you into wine?

Wine was not part of my heritage. It’s not something with which we sat down at the table. It’s not something we drank with dinner. However, every time we accomplished something — whether it was getting an A for a test or coming first in a race — my grandmother would celebrate with a bottle of sparkling wine. My love of wine comes from this tradition of marking an occasion or achievement with sparkling wine.

Your next step on the continent is in West Africa. Tell us about your plans.

I’m setting up shop in Lagos. I’m excited to go out there and teach the regions that don’t currently have a wine culture about our wines, it’s so important to me.

What advice would you give other young people of colour going into the industry?

I think the most important thing is knowledge; it will always set you apart. Your skin colour has nothing to do with it. Don’t victimise yourself on that level. If you’re passionate about something, educate yourself about it, research all you can — that’ll give you an innate confidence that no one can take away. Once you have the knowledge, be rigorous and aggressive in getting yourself into the right circles. Be loud and speak. Don’t be meek in environments in which you don’t see yourself represented. If you are knowledgeable, it becomes very easy to step into a room, own your space, and be confident about it. Remember, you are what the industry needs. 

Akinola at Vinexpo Bordeaux.
Akinola at Vinexpo Bordeaux.
Image: Supplied

QUICK QUESTIONS

1. Top tips for cellaring wine at home? 

SteinfeldStore wines in a dark area without fluctuating temperatures. In your cellar, keep drinkable wines at eye level. Always have some approachable wines and wines you’re enthusiastic about sharing with people. Most importantly, your cellar should represent your tastebuds because it’s what you should enjoy drinking and sharing.

2.Top tips for collecting or investing in wine? 

In terms of collectibles, make sure you’re buying wines you enjoy. Price is not always the reason to buy. If you are buying to invest, speak to experts, do your homework, and get guidance.

3. What wines are you drinking right now? 

Meticulous Sauvignon Blanc by Erika O, Kumusha Cabernet Sauvignon & Cinsault, and Holden Manz Rothko Rosé.

4. Who do you think is one to watch in the wine industry? 

Jolandie Fouche, a Swartland winemaker. Her label is Wolf & Woman. She makes low-alcohol-volume wines, but they’re exceptional. I don’t think she’s even started to make tracks — a truly phenomenal winemaker.

5. How do we get hold of you?

@Isivini_ on Instagram and tumi@isiviniwines.co.za

 From the July edition of Wanted, 2021.

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