All it took was one trip to South Africa for Ingrid Best to realize her life had been forever changed. “It was my birthday weekend. One of my girlfriends actually had gotten a job there, and I said, ‘Listen, I'm going,” Best recalls of that pivotal decision.
The marketing powerhouse well known for her work with the spirits division of Combs Enterprises and her management of Jay Z’s partnership with Bacardi, spent some time during her first trip to the mother continent to explore South Africa’s breathtaking wine region. “I was blown away, especially because I grew up in the Bay Area not far from Napa,” Best tells EBONY by phone last week. “I’ve spent tons of time in California’s wine region, in France, because of my work on cognac for many, many years, but I really just had no idea that there was the wine country in Africa that is equally as majestic.”
Best left that trip emotionally charged, thinking more people should be talking about the great wines grown in the country. Though she had contemplated launching her own brand for quite some time, her trip made her realize that South Africa was the place she wanted to represent.
After owning a street promotion company, Ingrid found her way to spirits through an unconventional path. After changes in the music industry left her feeling lackluster about her future in the business, a friend who was working for Anheuser-Busch suggested she give spirits a try. With little knowledge of the business, Best first landed a role as a brand ambassador. “It happened to be a role that allowed me to connect with a number of folks throughout the supply chain, so innovation, sales, marketing, promotions,” Best shares. “Not all Ambassador brands give you that level of exposure, but this launch did and I fell in love with it.”
Before long, Best was running point on major brand deals and contemplating what her legacy would be in the spirits industry. “I think it's amazing that up until this point, my legacy is that I've been a good professional and I've worked at great companies and I've extended my hand back and hired folks,” Best says. “But I had to really answer for myself, what is the legacy that I really want to leave?”
The burgeoning entrepreneur admits that her time at Combs Enterprises was a defining moment. She looked around at the team of Black women she had built and instinctively knew that the team she had curated and the tremendous work she had done on these major brands was all in preparation for her to step into ownership, or what Best refers to as “the legacy side of the work,” to create her own business. She is now the CEO & Wine Negociant at iBest Wines, a wine venture that she's launching this spring.
“My goal with iBest Wines is to spotlight the underrepresented beauty and variety of South African wines which compete with new and old world wines that often get more recognition and shelf space than South African wines,” says Best. In her ideal world, wine consumers will have access to large varieties of South African wines at restaurants, shops, and local spirits stores.
As a wine negociant, Best works with the producers of wines to bottle the blends under the brand name. “We are the folks that don't necessarily own a winery, but have an interest in being merchants and who actually purchase the wine from many of these wineries that have extra liquids,” Best explains. Though she’s not starting the brand as a wine maker, the spirits expert does have ambitions to be one, and is confident that one day she will be able to say from start to finish, “I did this.”
For now her goal, after 20 years working on the supplier side, is to make sure that iBest Wines brings more Black and Brown owners visibility in the industry by holding larger companies accountable for the pledges they made to diversify the corporate landscape. In doing so, they are rethinking, challenging and expanding what the face of the wine and spirits industry looks like and who the gatekeepers are. Best is making sure of that by building out a dynamic team of Black women, in both the United States and South Africa, to help her launch the business.
“Like my good friend Donae Burston, founder of La Fête Rosé said, it’s crucial for us to put the onus on the larger wine companies and suppliers of the world to support Black and Brown entrepreneurs looking to break into an industry that has historically not included us— this includes the Constellations, the Moët Hennessys, the Gallos, etc. It’s time for us to work together to make institutional and generational change.”