Before he became a Master Sommelier, an entrepreneur, a triathlete and an eventual partner with the USA Triathlon Foundation, Malek Amrani first left his home in Morocco to get on a plane headed to New York City.
With just $150 in his pocket, he stepped into the city with no place to call home. First learning which subway routes were the safest, Amrani spent most evenings riding three and a half hours in one direction, only to turn around and come back just to have a place to sleep.
Determined to make a life for himself, Amrani worked 14-16 hours per day in restaurants seven days a week and saved all of his earnings outside of one small investment: a $50 per month gym membership. Investing in his health and having a place to shower was a priority that helped Amrani focus on his goal of getting his own place.
Within 10 months, he achieved that goal by saving $10,000. From there, Amrani continued thriving both personally and professionally. He rose up through the restaurant industry working every position from bus boy to bartender and eventually the highest role as a Level 3 – Master Sommelier, an elite wine steward role. By the age of 21 — though he lied about his age in fear that people wouldn’t take him seriously in business — Amrani was a beverage director buying $30M of alcohol for three high end properties. It wasn’t long before he was leading sales for the two largest liquor suppliers in the world; Moet Hennessy & Diageo. Amrani also began distributing alcohol on his own, leaving wine making as the only thing he had not done in the industry.
Not one to leave anything on the table, Amrani started making trips to Napa Valley, California. At first, his intentions were only to meet people and learn more about the winemaking process, but it wasn’t long before he was fully committed to turning his passion project into a business, and he created The Vice Wines.
Flashing back to Amrani’s childhood, it’s easy to see his pattern of never settling. He was swimming, biking and learning Taekwondo before the age of three. In 1999, he became the youngest African to earn a black belt in Taekwondo at the age of 12. He graduated school by the time he was 16.
He then spent the year after graduation studying medicine in West Africa, where an accident on his bike led to surgery on his leg. The surgery left Amrani with an impaired walk, so he shifted his focus more heavily on weight training by the time he moved to New York City.
As Amrani flourished, he continued exercising though he never really had a goal. In 2011, when he overheard a co-worker talking about participating in a triathlon, he decided it was something he should do, so he entered, too. Every year, he entered the race though he never really trained in preparation for it. It wasn’t until his wife told him he should reconsider his approach and actually train for the event. Knowing that he finished each time in a decent place, she recognized he might do well if he put effort into his preparation.
Amrani listened to his wife and in 2017 he competed in a triathlon at West Point Academy, earning second place in his age group. A couple of months later he received an email from USA Triathlon announcing his qualification for the Age Group National Championship. Thinking it was spam mail at first, Amrani initially deleted the email, but quickly realized this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. He committed to competing in the Toyota USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in August 2018 and began training with a purpose.
Through his commitment to preparing for Nationals, Amrani shifted from being a self-proclaimed “gym rat” to a true triathlete. His entire lifestyle changed. Between 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls to conquering seemingly impossible run workouts, Amrani immersed himself in the triathlete lifestyle. And while he’d already mastered success off the course, triathlon helped him to higher levels than he had before.
As he continued growing his wine business, The Vice Wines, Amrani transferred many of the lessons he learned while training for triathlon.
“Triathlon helped me thrive in my entrepreneurial life. Previously, I always multi-tasked. Triathlon helped me focus and accomplish my goals," Amrani said.
He also learned that cutting corners wouldn’t get him where he wants to be — in business or in sport.
“You can’t wing workouts and perform well in a race,” said Amrani. “Just as you can’t produce a sub-par product for consumers looking for quality wine.”
Amrani’s theories paid off at work and triathlon. He currently races on behalf of Team USA and as an ambassador for The USA Triathlon Foundation. The Vice Wines earned an elite designation of being in the top 15% of wine producers in Napa Valley.
Looking for ways for further combine his passions — wine and triathlon, Amrani recently committed The Vice Wines to a partnership with the USA Triathlon Foundation. He developed “The Tri Blend” specifically with triathlon in mind, with the blend of three grapes. “The Tri” is a blend of 16% Petite Sirah, 54% Malbec and 30% Cabernet Franc with the inspiration behind the precise blending being the time percentage of the American Elite female winner of 2019 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Proceeds from The Tri Blend batch of The Vice wines will be donated to the USA Triathlon Foundation.
“It was easy to create this partnership because I believe in the mission of the Foundation. I really wanted to give back to the sport I love and this came from the heart," Amrani said.
For more information on the USA Triathlon Foundation, visit usatriathlonfoundation.org.
Read here for more information on The Vice wines Tri Blend.
*Note: Advertising for The Vice Wine will not be included in materials or content targeted to USA Triathlon’s youth or under-21 audience.