Virginia native strikes a balance between flavorful food and fine wine.
When Kindra Dionne, owner of Leesburg, Virginia-based wine company Fifty Leven, noticed how guests at professional networking events she attended interacted with the food and wine presented, one point became very clear—the wines and the accompanying bites were mostly mismatched. This usually resulted in much of the wine being left unconsumed.
Mentioning this to an acquaintance then, now her mentor, led to establishing Fifty Leven in 2019 and officially launching the company this year in October as an online retail business offering five socially sophisticated wines that have become the talk of the town in the Loudoun County area and beyond. She now ships to four states and is in the process of expanding to other markets across the United States. She is grateful for her connections, community, and the confidence to move ahead through it all.
“What started out to be a small online boutique wine shop for me has turned into a cultural necessity, a community bridge and a good excuse to throw a party coming off of a time when we were all practicing social distancing,” says Dionne. “People needed a reason to come together, so I started offering occasional private home tasting events to my core circle, and they would invite a few of their friends, then those friends would book me for private events.”
And slowly but surely, Dionne’s wines have made a mark. Most of the fruit for the wines is grown in Virginia. The wine is produced through a custom crush process at Fabbioli Cellars Winery, Leesburg, owned by her mentor Doug Fabbioli, also affectionately called The Godfather of Loudoun County wines. “The way that he has taken me under his wing and guided me through this scary process has been nothing short of amazing,” she says.
With a background in business development consulting and having previously worked in economic development, Dionne has worked with many of the local farms and wineries, vineyards and breweries. Through her work, she was introduced to Fabbioli, who she shared her observations with about the many networking mixers she’d been privy to. His urging and encouragement gave Dionne the confidence to explore the wine business.
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She admits the learning curve was steep, given she did not study viticulture and is not a sommelier. “I’m a city girl with country girl tendencies, who likes making friends with farmers and I can talk the talk, I can walk the walk, but I did not know the technical side. So I’m so grateful for the mentorship of an experienced winemaker who was willing to take me under his wing, allowing me to create a product that is valued and appreciated.”
Conversations began two years ago with the process of creating the blends and obtaining the license for the business taking place in December 2019. Fifty Leven offers two reds, two whites and a port-style wine. And Dionne will be the first to share the choice of wines was nowhere near scientific at all.
“One of my college degrees is in psychology, so I was watching and observing the way people interact with wine and food. I was paying attention to palates and behaviors, cultural norms, how my target demographic, which is entrepreneurs, individuals in the business environment, behave and interact in social environments with wine and food,” says Dionne. “I knew that what was being presented was according to the budget of the host organization and not the interest or the palate or the enjoyment of the people.”
Dionne’s research included looking at different cultures and the most common dishes served at their table. She observed that while cheese and crackers or local bread are commonly served at a vineyard for a wine tasting, it’s not what you eat at home while drinking wine. And that played a role in the wines she produced.
The Stride Pear pairs well with Asian cuisine and anything with popular spices. The Petit Manseng gives you tropical notes, which are ideal for African, Caribbean and Latin foods. The Dulce Zaiya, a sweeter Chambourcin wine, goes well with salty and spicy flavors. At the same time, the Bordeaux-style Heritage, blended with cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and merlot, aligns with hearty meats and comfort food. Lastly, the port wine Vibranium has aged brandy in it. And goes well with rich red meats or desserts with chocolate, caramel and dark cherries or berries.
Dionne designed the graphics for the bottles herself, but the story behind the brand name and each of the bottles dedicated is unique. The company’s name, Fifty Leven, is a nod to her southern roots and upbringing—she was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, and went to school at Winston-Salem State University, an HBCU in North Carolina.
Fifty Leven means a lot of something, and Dionne wanted the brand to represent the abundance of varieties in the wine industry. At the back of each bottle, you will find an interesting twist—Dionne dedicated each of her offerings to different people or times in her life. The Petit Manseng is dedicated to entrepreneurs who deal with the highs and lows of business. The Stride Pear is dedicated to her mother, who passed away 20 years ago, and took everything in stride despite her hardships.
The Heritage is dedicated to her grandmother, who Dionne says was the original entrepreneur in the family in the way she helped everyone around her, even while she took on one too many side jobs to take care of her own family. The Dulce Zaiya, the crowd favorite, is dedicated to Dionne’s daughter, whom Dionne had when she was 17 years old and is now a sophomore in college. And the Vibranium is dedicated to all the strong, powerful men in Dionne’s life.
Next, Dionne is considering expanding into a tasting room to offer regular in-person tastings. For now, her primary goal is putting the products in front of people and building the business and online presence organically and exponentially. She is planning on releasing possibly two new wines in 2022, and discussions are on about putting together some varietals for 2023. She is also launching her wine club in 2022.
As an African American female business owner in the wine industry in the area, she says, “I’ve received so much love and support. I have not met a competitor yet. I’ve met colleagues, friends, champions, people who operate in the same exact space who have opened their doors and invited me in to serve their guests and to give me guidance and offer me support and resources and it has been phenomenal, like one big family. We have had great conversations, and everyone has been incredibly welcoming.”