IBest Wines Is Bridging The Gap Between Black-Owned Luxury & Art

By Bianca Gracie | March 22, 2024

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Founder and Wine Negociant of IBest Wines. Photo by Grace Bukunmi

IBest Wines is seamlessly pairing wine with culture. Officially launched in 2023 with two distinct blends (through a partnership with Stellenbosch Vineyards in South Africa), the team includes all Black women, each holding equity in the company: founder and CEO Ingrid Best, vice president of brand strategy Anna Miya, finance director Chanel Floyd, certified sommelier Grace Mahary, head of partnerships and sponsorships Ashley Elysee, and brand manager Rachel McKinnie.

Ingrid, I know you have such a connection with South Africa and Cape Town. What was it about that initial trip that inspired you to want to launch this company?

IB: I was so excited when one of my best friends, Angela Yee, got a gig in South Africa. And she invited me: ‘It's the week of your birthday. Can you go?’ I booked a ticket and we went and it was amazing. One of the things I quickly noticed that we get to South Africa, and I'm like, ‘There's all this wine.’ Every restaurant has a wine list and it’s incredible. I remember thinking, ‘I didn't even know there was wine coming from South Africa.’ And at the time, I had been in the industry a long time. And so it quickly turned into this girl's trip that turned into me wanting to research more about the South African wine region. Then I had an opportunity to launch a brand that I was working on at the time, D’usse, in the global markets. One of the first things I remember doing is saying, ‘Let's research the opportunity in Africa’ and South Africa kept coming up. So I took a trip back to South Africa and I tacked on a visit to the wine region, before activating the launch of D’usse at Global Citizen. For me it was the discovery of a region that I didn't know existed, even though I thought I knew all there was to know about wine. And that's really what landed me there. That's really what I think sparked this love story that I call IBest Wines.

I would love to know how you all came together.

IB: Well, my role is I work for these ladies. I report to them. But I am the founder, CEO and wine negotiator of IBest Wines. I mean it when I say that I work for these ladies. I've had an opportunity to have an incredible career with lots of experience. As they talk about how we know each other, many of them consider me as their mentor. So I wouldn't rather be doing anything else than building an incredible company side by side with them that eventually will go on to be one of the biggest brands and be acquired one day and everyone's going to celebrate what we did. So I really do work for them.

AM: Ingrid and I have known each other for 10 years at this point. And Ingrid was a mentor. But she always talks about this mentor-mentee cyclical thing. But we met at LVMH. When we both were working there on different brands. And then, you approached me and this was already an idea. She always joked and said, ‘Anna is like the architect who helps build stuff and bring different team members along.’ I love that, so I'm sticking with that title. Thanks, Ingrid.

Just being able to hear Ingrid's vision, and then figure out how are we going to do it? And who are really the people, right? Because the team is just as important as the idea. How are you going to actually get this off the ground, and who are the people that need to help push this and bring this idea to life? So Ingrid had her network and I had my network. And it was just really great, because we have similar tastes in a lot of things, from music, especially food and wine, and fashion. Ingrid just inspired me. I believed in this journey from the beginning, and then reached out to Chanel who I knew from college and university days in North Carolina, and then I reached out to Grace who I met through a few different friends. And we just started putting the pieces together based on this dream that Ingrid had. It's all now happening and it's beautiful to see.

We all do a little bit of everything. We're all very team-oriented and pick up where somebody else may lack or jump in and play to our strengths depending on the week. But right now I’m really focusing on PR and comms and just trying to make sure we're telling our story to the right people in the right way on a global and local scale. So it's been a lot of fun. Every week is different especially when you're building a brand from the ground up.

CF: Like Anna mentioned, we went to college together. I spent most of my career in corporate finance. Maybe three or four years ago, I got more into fashion and entertainment here. When Ingrid started IBest Wines, she really needed that business aspect to help with fundraising and investors and just manage all this. So that is what I do still now when it comes to financial projection, profitability, pricing, Investor Relations, and putting those types of fundraising presentations together, closing some of those fundraising relationships. And it's just been really exciting.

This is the first business that I've supported from ideation to reality. So it's been a really incredible experience and something I really value. I’m here peddling wine bottles around Paris. It's just really a blessing for me to be able to be working with these ladies and take beautiful creative concepts and making them or doing my best to make them profitable. There's something I really appreciate about Ingrid, that's always been it's not just about this flashy lights. We're gonna make this a valuable business, and it's gonna be financially impactful for all of us, which is something that I really appreciate as excited to be a part of.

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Grace, what do you think makes South African wine so unique?

GM: I immediately thought about the ability to ripen grapes and create these tropical, robust, rich flavors [in South Africa], but yet still maintain elegance and delicacy. And these fine, elegant flavors... are the beauty of South African wine to me. You have this duality; you have this versatility that I keep talking with the girls about our wine because they’re both red and white wine blends. But in general, South Africa has the capability to create a really wide-ranging profile for their wines. When you look at the soil structure and composition in South Africa and parts of Stellenbosch, for example, where we’re creating our wines, it resembles parts of Napa or Bordeaux. So there’s this reflection across the world that I find fascinating, and it speaks to why this is one of the No. 1 winemaking regions in the world.

You're one of the few Black women sommeliers, which is impressive. But how do you think the industry could work towards being more inclusive?

GM: The answer to that question applies to every industry. What we're doing it's to support Black professionals in every space and also offer these opportunities that we don't even know exist. I keep telling Ingrid I wish I had met her 10 years ago, because I didn't know that this space could exist. To work with a group of Black women in an industry that's dominated by old white men. Just the representation in itself is one way supporting each other. The other way is just creating these opportunities for us to be in these spaces because sometimes wine culture has that snootiness and it needs to be debunked and demystified. That is how we will get more of ourselves in the space because you don't need to have a certain pedigree to enjoy a good glass of wine or have a great gastro experience.

Rachel_McKinnie_Ingrid_Best_Grace_Mahary_photo_credit_Grace_Bukunmi.JPGRachel McKinnie, Ingrid Best and Grace Mahary of IBest Wines. Photo by Grace Bukunmi

Nice. Ashley and Rachel, I would love to know more about your roles as well.

AE: I handle all partnerships and cultural events. And I actually met Ingrid, also during my time at LVMH, where I also met Anna. During my time there, I asked Ingrid to be my mentor, and she's basically been guiding me throughout my career. So whenever this opportunity came on, I was super excited to be part of the team and to be working with all these amazing women. I essentially handle all the events, the partnerships and fostering those relationships that come through and making sure that everything looks and feels the way that we want it to look and feel. It's just really exciting to be a part of an all-Black woman team. Because the level of confidence that you feel when you're in a room and being able to be heard and not spoken over or feeling intimidated because you're wondering if you're saying something that's ‘too Black’ or just not appropriate for the workspace. I really just love working with this group of women.

RM: I'm the brand manager. I have my hands in a lot of everything. Not finance, definitely not finance. I met Ingrid doing promo modeling for D’usee years ago, when she came back to LA. I was just sitting there serving little cocktails at her welcome-back party. And then I worked the Roc Nation brunch. And the person who brought me into that said, ‘Hey, Ingrid has an opening for another position. Would you like to go for that?’ I was interviewing for some other spirits companies, but when I talked to Ingrid, it was just like, ‘Do you want to be the person of the token Black person at a company dealing with all the stuff regarding Black people? Or do you want to be a part of a situation and it's about us?’ So I met with her. From there, we created a bond. And I've just been learning so much because my background is not spirits or marketing. But Ingrid [tells me] I’m a natural-born marketer. I'm super excited to be a part of such a dynamic team with dynamic women.

Ingrid, you mentioned in the beginning that you were on a girls’ trip when you first went to South Africa. I think that's a great parallel because wine has become a great symbol of togetherness for Black women. Whether it's Olivia Pope and her wine and popcorn or one of your best friends just broke up with her partner and we say, ‘Okay, I'm going to bring a bottle of wine will will have a good cry about it.’

IB: I remember my early years in the wine and spirits business, one of the companies I worked for, their slogan was ‘Celebrate every day’. That really stuck with me, because sometimes we get boxed into thinking you only celebrate when you celebrate. But really, every single day there's a reason to celebrate. So when I think about IBest wines, it should sit in that everyday celebration for people. To your point, also moments that are tough, or moments where you need to find ways to build and connect. And not only here in the U.S., but globally. For instance, we sent Rachel to South Africa last year. Here's this woman from Chicago who's going to South Africa to go work on wine. And I think it's just a global example of connectivity and celebration that can happen at any point at any time. Listen, we're a new brand. But you you can sense it, we're in this celebration about what we're doing. One of my personal missions in life that I realized is to influence, encourage and connect with other women. And I do think that wine stands for that. Even our early consumers, they're people who are just being introduced to IBest wines. I do hope that it does represent not Black women but for brown women as I’m half Latina. I hope that there is a place for us to have this level of ownership with our great glass of wine.

AM: And that community has gravitated towards this story too. Just the fact that the first group of investors are all Black women. It's just naturally happening. You can feel it when it's authentic.

IB: This idea had been in my head and my heart. My trip to South Africa ignited it. But these women that you see here, they're in the dream. How often do you find a situation where everyone can jump in the dream and fit so seamlessly? It's pretty special when that happens.

Ashley_Elysee_photo_credit_Jorge_Meza.JPGAshley Elysee of IBest Wines. Photo by Jorge Meza

What else are you doing to bring the brand to life?

IB: I'm an art collector so the art community is so excited about the wine. They're so excited to be celebrating and supporting a fellow advocate and collector. And so out the gate, we launched adjacent to some very cool, cool art moments. So our very first event was at the Basquiat exhibit in Los Angeles, which is huge. We had an event with Cristina Martinez, who's a part of the family. She's an incredible Black and Latina artist, which you don't often see celebrated the way that they should.

We launched in South Africa in February, which is a huge deal for this team. So we're very excited about that. In the center of a lot of what we're doing in South Africa will be moments of art. We were also a part of an opening of one of the first South African art galleries in Los Angeles in February, which is also huge. We had some things going for the Grammys, because music is also my first love. I started my marketing career as a street promoter. So I'm still very tied to my love for music. Swizz Beatz’ team reached out about us being a part of their exhibit that's at the Brooklyn Museum, which was be a huge moment for us.

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So again, art, fashion and music are things that are authentically something that we're connected to. The area that I want to do more in would be around food. The Ghetto Gastro guys inspire me so much. I love to cook. Rachel's been all over me about posting my Instagram cooking videos. So I started doing that last night. Anna loves to cook. That's one of the things we have in common. So we really want to figure out the fun ways to get closer to food, and just the experience of wine and food. There's a lot of wines for Napa, a lot of wines from France, we are truly the new kid on the block. And we're introducing folks to a whole region that they just have not been introduced to before.

Ingrid_Best_IBW_3_Jorge_Meza_Left_wall_Nelson_Makamo_Love_artist_Thokozani_Madonsela_right_wall_Hako_Hankson.jpgIngrid Best. Left wall: Nelson Makamo, "Love", Artist Thokozani Madonsela, Right wall: Hako Hankson. Photo by Jorge Meza

I'm so familiar with wines from Spain, Portugal, France. So it's nice to get out of that European mindset for a little bit and see what the Motherland has to offer.

IB: It’s about the quality of the wine, the craftsmanship, the fact that we took our time. This is not a marketing scheme. This is really about a great wine that we intend to submit for awards, and we intend to win. And this is also about the work of equity. The question sometimes I get a little bit squeamish ia the inclusion question. And to me, it's obvious, right? We know all the things. But I think the biggest thing that I want people to take away is that you build things with other people who are finding ways to be equitable with their teams is just a great way to work. Although I'm the founder, these women are founding members. And for some of them, it's the first time in their life that they will ever have ownership at this level. If we can adapt and adopt the mindset of creating things that we own, making them very valuable, and then winning right at the end of that, that is a mindset that I'm hoping that I can influence other founders to think that way.

Chanel_Floyd_Ingrid_Best_Anna_Miya_Rachel_McKinnie_photo_credit_IBest_Wines_copy.JPGChanel Floyd, Ingrid Best, Anna Miya and Rachel McKinnie of IBest Wines. Photo courtesy of IBest wines

Tags: Bianca Gracie,

Photography by: Grace Bukunmi; IBest Wines