Written by Victoria Clark

Rachel Taulelei’s passion for the wines she markets through her role as CEO of Kono, runs deep.

The Kono range of wines, Aronui, Tohu and Kono, are produced on land close to where Rachel’s whanau settled many years ago. Her ancestors migrated to ‘the top of the South’ (Te Tau Ihu) from Kawhia in the 1820s and 1830s.

“Our wines are drawn from land that is ancestral to our people,” she explains. “That sense of place, that sense of home is our Turangawaewae.

“We view our wines as a carrier for the stories that celebrate Māori excellence.” she says. “We even have a reserve range named after our kaumatua (elders), which recognises the people who have been important on this journey.”

Rachel says she sees “a real beauty” in her career path having taken her, in her former role as Trade Commissioner for New Zealand, to the launch of Tohu Wines.

“That was 20 years ago when Tohu Wines was launched, and now, I’m here leading Kono.”

Rachel’s whanau is a shareholder family of Wakatu Incorporation and, for two years, she was involved in Wakatū’s Associate Director Programme.

In 2015, Kono, which is one of the country’s largest food and beverage exporters, acquired the young entrepreneur’s company and made her Kono’s first female CEO.

“I love that our food and wine tell the story of who we are. It tells the stories of our provenance – the fishermen, farmers, orchardists and wine-makers,” Rachel says. “I have always had a love of food. My mother was a great role model, so I have wonderful food-related memories.  

“I also value the proximity of our food and wine; that it’s produced here, drawn from land that is ancestral to our people.”

In recognition of her significant career success, Rachel was named Māori Woman Business Leader for 2018 at the prestigious University of Auckland Aotearoa Māori Business Leaders Awards. She is also a Director of New Zealand Winegrowers.