UPDATE: This interview was conducted just a few weeks before the passing of Nelson Mandela, who died December 5 at age 95.
It isn’t just anyone who can get away with saying that they founded their company based on love and integrity. But somehow, coming from Dr. Makaziwe Mandela, it’s not only believable, but completely inspiring. Dr. Maki, as she’s known, is the daughter of former South African president Nelson Mandela. She and her daughter Tukwini Mandela together have founded House of Mandela Wines, a wine label inspired by the values Dr. Maki’s famous father instilled in them. We had a chance to sit down with the mother-and-daughter team during a recent visit they paid to Bed-Vyne Wine in Brooklyn.
How did you come up with the idea for a wine label?
Dr. Maki: It actually came through my son. I initially said, “Wine? I’m not sure.” We drank wine socially, but we didn’t know a lot about it. But we did our research and found that wine is a great employer of a lot of people. It employs over 200,000 South Africans. It’s a major contributor to the GDP of South Africa. And when you study how wine is made, it’s really about tradition. It’s about culture. If you don’t tend the soil and you don’t tend the vine, you won’t get a good yield. It takes a lot of patience. We come from a family with very strong roots, we have persevered over time. We felt this resonated with us and was a good way to tell the story of South Africa and Africa as a whole.
How did Nelson Mandela inspire the brand’s core values?
Tukwini Mandela: The brand is based on certain family values: love and courage. Loving for your fellow man was important to my grandfather because otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to make the sacrifices he made. We espouse those values; it’s a way for us to continue our family’s legacy. Wine is a sophisticated drink, but it’s also a drink that’s shared among family and friends. We thought this was a great way to get people to tell their own family stories. Also, if you look at the labels of the Thembu Collection, they are inspired by the Madiba shirts he always wore.
How does a wine company show love?
TM: We wanted to work with wineries that respect the biodiversity of the land and wanted to see the sustainability of the flora and fauna that’s found in the Western Cape. So we’re working with Hartenberg, Thelema and Fairview. These are also fair trade-certified wineries. It means that the vineyard workers are benefiting, with education and housing. For us, fair trade was very, very important because it gives back to the people who actually produce these wines. We hope that in the near future all of our wines will be fair trade. That’s what we’re working towards.
FR: How has wine consumption shifted in South Africa?
MM: In South Africa, people drink sweet wines, whiskey and beer. But maybe over the last 16 years, there’s been a shift in wine drinking. It was drunk mostly by white people and the dregs of wine were given to the farm workers. It is now changing with a lot of the black middle class who are experimenting in getting a different palate and getting exposed to the wine industry.
What about on the production side? Are you seeing more black winemakers?
MM: It’s growing slowly, but it’s growing. There are more black winemakers now, as well as black female winemakers in South Africa, which I think is exciting. But only a handful. Less that 2% of winemakers in South Africa are black.
TM: With this project, what my mom and I would like to do, is encourage people to enter the wine industry. They don’t necessarily have to be winemakers. They can go into wine marketing or own their own wine store. For us, it’s more about creating a more robust and diverse wine industry. I think the winemakers that are coming up now are making far more interesting wines. They are more courageous in trying to find different styles. I’m really excited about the prospects of young black people in the wine industry. They’re the future of this community.
Was Madiba much of a wine drinker in his younger days?
MM: He used to drink sweet wines. But for health reasons he doesn’t any more.
Is he supportive of this project?
MM: Yes. My father always believed you have to do things with integrity and honesty. For him, as long as it promotes South Africa and it is done in a very dignified and professional manner, he is supportive.
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