For much of March, Tukwini Mandela has travelled throughout the U.S. to spread the word about the House of Mandela wine brand. Lucky for us, we were able to catch up with the well-spoken and dignified granddaughter of Nelson Mandela during her brief stop in Baltimore for a taste of a few of the brand’s varietals and some spirited conversation about her family and the wine business.
The Mandela family’s venture into the world of winemaking began in 2010 when Tukwini and her mother, Makaziwe, initially turned down the concept of creating a wine brand to avoid commercialization of the family name. However, in short time, curiosity grew and the two ventured out to over 30 vineyards in South Africa to sample wine and explore the possibility of becoming involved in the industry.
“We fell in love with the passion of the winemakers,” said Tukwini while she shared how she and her mother changed their minds about creating the House of Mandela brand.
Approximately 3% of the GDP of South Africa is attributed to wine and over 350,000 people are employed by the industry. But with a minimum wage of only $12 per day for many who are involved in some part of the process, there are a large majority who are struggling. Tukwini and her mother saw a way to get involved and give back to the farms and farm workers through Fair Trade sales of wine under the family name.
By creating sustainable Fair Trade wine through the brand and combining grapes from various vineyards, sales of the wine are able to positively impact the country’s workers that contribute to the production of wine by providing funds for education, healthcare, housing and other needs.
“Our family’s strong values are connected with those of Fair Trade,” explained Tukwini, as she discussed empathy for the community and the desire to create positive change.
The first three types of wine produced by the label were Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, all sourced from various vineyards. Varietals have expanded since the initial production to also include Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinotage, Merlot and Rose. Tukwini and her mother, as well as others involved with the brand, sample the wine from each vineyard before making the decision of what will be bottled under the brand name each year.
So, beyond the positive impact of the brand, the question is: Do you want to drink this wine? The answer is resounding: Absolutely.
House of Mandela’s Sauvignon Blanc is smooth with balanced acidity that pairs well with Chesapeake-inspired dishes like scallops and crab. The Chenin Blanc (an 80% Chenin Blanc/20% Chardonnay blend) is fruity and flowery and perfect on its own (we could envision many spring and summer nights sipping this outside) or with lighter fare. Slightly lighter than many Cabernets we’ve had, House of Mandela’s is 80% Cab/20% Merlot and has a touch of complexity that makes it ideal as a top-notch table wine or to pair with heartier meats and bold flavors. Tukwini recommends the Royal Reserve Shiraz to pair with dessert; we could definitely see sipping it alongside a rich chocolate cake.
We had to admit after trying a few glasses of the reds and whites and acknowledging the Fair Trade label, we didn’t expect these bottles to be budget-friendly, but we were dead wrong. House of Mandela has two labels - The Thembu Collection and Royal Reserve. The Thembu Collection (which encompasses the majority of the wine in the brand and are the Fair Trade varietals) clocks in at an easy-to-manage $12.99 - $15.99 a bottle, while the Royal Reserve might be a more special-occasion choice that will still only set you back anywhere from $24.99 - $47.99.
Want to impress your friends by schooling them with a little House of Mandela knowledge when hosting your next wine tasting or ordering a bottle at a restaurant? Try these tidbits:
-Each of the wine labels is inspired by Nelson Mandela’s shirts. He didn’t like suits and always wore casual shirts. All labels are designs on shirts he actually owned.
-The bee is considered a symbol of good luck and is featured on House of Mandela wine bottles. This belief stems from the true story about a swarm of bees that followed Nelson Mandela all the way from the airport to his ancestral home directly after his release from prison.
Want to get bottles of your own? We found a few online sellers (if you’re lucky enough to live in a state that allows you to buy online). Keep on the lookout as we expect to start seeing the brand pop up on restaurant menus and in stores. Of course, if your local shops are as accommodating as ours, try asking your favorite seller to start stocking the shelves with House of Mandela as well.
Photos via House of Mandela
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