Posted on | April 1, 2013
Written by | Kristen Wolfe Bieler
House of Mandela Wines Hit the U.S. Market
The House of Mandela wines may be new, but they are steeped in a long history that is as rich as the African soil. Long before Nelson Mandela became an international icon—and the first democratically-elected president of South Africa in 1994—the House of Mandela was born in the Western Cape the early 1800s, a royal branch of the ancient Thembu tribe.
“The whole concept of House of Mandela Wines is honoring our ancestors,” says Dr. Makaziwe Mandela (known as Maki), Nelson Mandela’s daughter, who is spearheading the family’s wine project, along with her daughter, Tukwini Mandela. “Our ancestors fought for the rights of the African people. My father was motivated to go into politics because of his ancestors. We are treading on a path that great men have tread on before us in order to create a great society. These wines are part of that path.”
Righting the Past
South Africa has the eighth largest wine industry in the world. Yet the industry’s troubled past still haunts it today. South Africa has only a few black-owned vineyards or black winemakers, and unfair labor practices still persist, particularly in rural parts of the Western Cape. “South Africa has a history of inequality, and the wine industry has not been exonerated,” says Maki. “But the wine community is making progress and we felt that we could help with that.”
Operating as a negociant, the House of Mandela worked with Master of Wine Lynne Sherriff to select wineries that maintain the highest possible standards of fairness for their workers, with equitable wages and benefits. The Mandelas also insisted on partnering with family-owned wineries that had track records of quality. Of the 30+ wineries interviewed, three made the cut: Fairview, Thelema and Hartenberg. From these esteemed estates, the Mandelas source grapes and then create their own blends. A portion of the wines’ proceeds goes to the House of Mandela Foundation, dedicated to causes the family is passionate about—education, poverty alleviation and energy generation.
While the Mandelas have always been wine drinkers, most South Africans generally favor beer and whisky. Tukwini sees this changing as well: “Wine consumption is increasing in South Africa, particularly as the younger generation becomes more interested. It’s about a lifestyle; wine is a very social and aspirational drink.”
A Taste of South Africa’s Future
The Mandelas launched their wines in South Africa in 2010. “We wanted to get our stamp of approval at home first,” says Maki. They have since partnered with U.S. importer Heritage Link Brands, run by president & CEO Selena Cuffe, as well as Southern Wine & Spirits.
The House of Mandela range includes the Thembu Collection—a Cabernet, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay ($12.99–$14.99)—and the Reserve Tier, including Chardonnay ($24.99) and Cabernet ($49.99). “The Thembu Collection is all about warmth, sunshine, nature and community,” says Maki. The colorful patterns on the label are inspired by the dashiki shirts that South African men wear—most famously Nelson Mandela.
Reserve bottlings are adorned with a stylized bee, symbolic of the family patriarch, whose African name translates to: one who is brave enough to steal honey from the beehive. All the wines share a ripe, luscious and balanced taste profile. “As a family we are pretty easy-going, and that is the style of wine we like,” says Tukwini.
Maki also reminds of another old African saying that translates to: it is rare to see a person alone. “The importance for us, of course, is when people buy House of Mandela wines, they will want to share it with others.”