Q&A: The Women Behind House of Mandela Wines

—LIANA LOZADA | March 4, 2013 | The Latest Homepage Latest

1 - Q&A: The Women Behind House of Mandela Wines
Tukwini and Makaziwe Mandela

Nelson Mandela’s daughter, Makaziwe, and granddaughter, Tukwini, have been making wine in South Africa since 2010. However, it was only at this past South Beach Wine & Food Festival that American consumers got a taste of House of Mandela Wines. The mother-daughter team hosted an intimate dinner and wine pairing at the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, followed by a showcase at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach and Wine Spectator's Best of the Best event to mark their official U.S. launch.

Though South Africa’s wine industry is booming, to find a wine label that’s actually run by black South Africans (let alone two black South African women) is exceedingly rare. “It was mind blowing to find how much the wine industry was contributing to South Africa’s agriculture and economy,” says Makaziwe. “It employs a great number of people in South Africa, and contributes almost $2 billion to the economy . . . We come from a very unequal society and the wineries were lagging behind in terms of transformation. Very few wineries had black people trained in winemaking.” The Mandela women are out to change these norms, employing South African family-owned wineries and using fair trade practices in many of their wines. Here, we speak with the two to learn more about their goals as businesswomen, as well as the spirit in which they hope to achieve those goals.

First, how have the wines been received in South Africa?
TUKWINI MANDELA: Wine drinking in South Africa is quite low—it is a brown spirits drinking country. But the wine movement in South Africa is growing. We have now have festivals in East London, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, all around. Ultimately, what we hope to accomplish is to get more people to drink wine. We want to make it accessible. When you go into a wine store it can be intimidating because people feel like they need all this knowledge about wine in order to enjoy it. We say drink what you like and what you are comfortable with.

Has it been difficult to build your brand in such a male-dominated industry?
TM: Sixty percent of the people that purchase wine are women. We are very key and confident in the story we are trying to tell, and in who we are. Yes, the business is being run by two women, but it hasn't been a consideration on our part because, ultimately, it is all about the story. It is all about House of Mandela.

MAKAZIWE MANDELA: Women have entered [the industry] to raise the glass ceiling. There is nothing that prohibits women from entering the wine industry. There are a couple of women, as well as black women, who are in the wine industry who own their own wine farms . . . Yes, it's challenging and maybe sometimes intimidating, but if you are passionate about what you do, the sky is the limit.

What influence has your father had on your business?
MM: The basic pillar of House of Mandela Wines is that we celebrate and honor those who come before us. One of the things my dad has always emphasized to us is to never forget who we are as Mandelas and Thembu people, and that [the Thembu] people were warm and compassionate people.

How does the label’s commitment to fair trade and philanthropy play into that?
TM: Number one, we wanted to work with family-owned wineries because we felt they would understand the value of legacy, but we also wanted wineries that had good practices and quality product. We wanted wineries that paid their workers fairly and treated them well, and who also maintained the land. The Thembu collection is fair trade. The premium goes to the wine farmers for education and housing, but also makes sure they have a decent salary. We felt very strongly about sustainably.

MM: We decided from the beginning that any commercial venture that we entered would give a percentage of our profits back to charity. We are working with education, health, culture, and alternative energy charities. My children have also opened funds [to support] Africa Rising. It is important to uplift the youth of Africa.

Why did you choose the South Beach Wine & Food Festival as your U.S. launchpad?
MM: Miami represents cultural diversity, much like South Africa. The kaleidoscope brings different tastes and foods that pair well with the wines. The South Beach Wine & Food Festival is also serving such a good cause through its relationship with Florida International University. It is promoting education and education is important for us, as it is one of the drivers of development.

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