Winemaker Malek Amrani is a competitor in life, in business and on the track. His new role with the Napa Valley Vintners will take it to a new level.
By Sedale McCall
Malek Amrani’s story is anything but typical. There aren’t many people of color at all in wine, let alone immigrant-born winemakers. But for the Moroccan winemaker, typical is boring. Like the triathlons he runs, Malek is running at his own pace and focusing on his own goals. That led him to the United States, to Napa Valley and ultimately to his role as the newest board member of Napa Valley Vintners. It also led him to starting and owning one of Napa’s successful wine brands, The Vice Wine.
The Vice Wine is a small-batch production in Napa Valley focused on single-varietal bottles. Amrani himself, along with his team, are the engines behind the entire process, from getting the fruit to bottling and selling the wine. One of his main goals with the brand is to make exceptional wine from Napa Valley accessible to everyone. His wines range from their $29 rosé up to their premium Napa Cab which was awarded 91 points by Wine Spectator. The estate is in St. Helena, California where they host tastings in person and virtually. The Vice Wine is a story of Amrani’s own journey in resilience and discipline.
However, that journey came with plenty of twists and turns along the way.
Sights Set on Success
Amrani came to the US as a teenager, using forged documents to land jobs in the alcohol space early on, before he was 21 years of age. He came to the country after pursuing medicine, but quickly realized his passions were not in the medical field, he wanted something a bit more personable.
“I realized I was miserable and wanted to do something fun,” says Amrani, who was in medical school in Senegal as part of a program where he worked, but did not have to pay for school. He continues, “I can’t see myself surrounded by sick people for the rest of my life. The wine industry is more fun.”
Wine has been a part of Amrani’s life for as long as he could remember. He grew up with wine in Morocco, so when we first landed in New York, he was drawn to wine and spirits. He always found it fun as an industry, and financially viable as it does well in both good and bad times.
Once Amrani found the industry he wanted to pursue, he chased it with the same work ethic that helped him during his medical school days. Amrani’s discipline and tenacity shows up in many different ways. It makes his success make so much sense, whether in the vineyard, or his latest pursuit, triathlons.
Trained to Meet the Challenge
Amrani recently started triathlons. Much like in business or in life, these races can really throw curveballs at you.
In early October, Amrani did an Iron Man race, which includes a bike ride, run and swim. He drove 13 hours to Arizona so that he would be able to bring his bike and keep it together in one piece. However, halfway through the 50 mile bike ride, the base of his handlebar broke. Amrani soldiered on, finished the ride by holding on to the bar with his hand, and ultimately finishing the entire race.
That moment he says was the best thing that happened to him that month. It also gave him a powerful reminder about business and life.
“If I had stopped at any moment, I would’ve been done. But, I didn’t stop. I was literally one step at a time, one step at a time. Even while I was depleted and in pain.” Amrani recalls. He continues, “I learned from that, this is what I do every single day. Just take on the temporary pain and it will pass.”
That lesson brings Amrani to not only being a successful winemaker, but now sitting on the board of the top wine regions in the country. And he’s already preparing for the next challenge.
Joining the Board of Napa Valley Vintners
At the beginning of 2024, Malek Amrani will join 10 other winemakers on the board of the Napa Valley Vintners. That group includes industry titans like Jamie Araujo of Trois Noix, Ed Matovcik of Robert Mondavi Winery and Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy of Heitz Cellars.
Amrani is well aware of the gravity of his new role, who says he’s still processing the news. In addition to joining the board itself, he will chair the committee that will be responsible for the NVV Barrel Auction. This event is one of the most famous auctions in the US and all eyes will be on Amrani and the organization in June. However, he is ready to take on the challenge and use it to build the narrative around the place he calls home.
“Because of the opportunity Napa gave me, I see it as my duty to serve Napa as a community,” he says. Amrani continues, “I also see it as my duty to inspire other people to believe. To inspire people who are from here and didn’t have to immigrate to hop into the industry and find their calling.”
What’s Next for Malek Amrani
Amrani is constantly putting one foot in front of the other for his business, his races and now the NVV board. The board’s auction will be in June of 2024 along with other events taking place throughout the year. He is also a member of the African American Association of Vintners. The AAAV will be having their annual symposium in the spring of 2024.
But overall, Amrani is focused on serving the Napa Valley community and making it a top place to visit.
“My goal is to have people discover Napa Valley, to expose Napa to people who haven’t been able to enjoy Napa wine, visit Napa and make it a destination to spend a weekend or a few days,” he says.
Follow Malek Amrani’s journey via his brand The Vice Wine at https://www.thevicewine.com/ or on Instagram @TheViceWine. The Vice Wine is also a member of our Sip Consciously Directory. Check it out for other wines and winemakers you should know about.