Brand Mandela: Tukwini Mandela Talks Wine and Family Heritage

Nelson Mandela's granddaughter hopes to expand the family's reputation and raise the profile of South African wines.

Posted: 03/29/2013 10:57 AM EDT
Tukwini Mandela and Dr. Makaziwe Mandela

Tukwini Mandela and Makaziwe Mandela (Photo: Courtesy House of Mandela)

The Mandelas we know today are proud of their long, Thembu lineage, they’re proud of their globally recognized patriarch, Nelson Mandela, and they’re also proud of their 2008 vintage cabernet sauvignon.

Tukwini Mandela, granddaughter of Nelson Mandela, told BET.com that her family’s latest venture, House of Mandela Wines, is all about pairing one of the country’s most famous exports with the family’s distinctive history.

“My family, we are farmers and one of the interesting things that we found was that the [grape] vine doesn’t grow in a straight line, it sort of weaves and bobs,” Tukwini said. “And so it really matched our family story in terms of who we are and where we come from because, you know, we’ve had interesting experiences as a family.”

Interesting is putting it modestly. Although Mandela’s grandfather is best known as South Africa’s first Black president and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, he was also imprisoned for 27 years for his efforts in trying to topple South Africa’s racist apartheid regime. But success didn’t come until 1994, when Nelson Mandela was 75 years old. Tukwini was just 19.

Tukwini is heading up the wine business alongside her mother, daughter of Nelson Mandela, Makaziwe Mandela. The two serve as wine negociants; meaning that rather than owning their own vineyard, the wines are sourced from various vineyards chosen by the Mandelas.

But to get the Mandela stamp of approval, the vineyards needed to match the family’s spirit of respect for the land and the people who work on its soil.

“We wanted to work with family-owned wineries, number one. We wanted to work with wineries that treated their employees with dignity and respect. We wanted wineries that respected the biodiversity of South Africa and worked to maintain the biodiversity for our future generations. And we wanted to make sure that the wines were sustainably sourced as well,” she said.

Wine production is big business in South Africa. However, because of generations of discrimination and racism, very few Black South Africans have access to the business. The issue has been a hot-button one in South Africa for some time as many took issue with government affirmative action programs designed to help jump-start their wine enterprises.

While Tukwini says she doesn’t expect House of Mandela wine to change things overnight, she hopes that her family venture and their corresponding charity will begin to help change the face of South Africa’s wine industry and get more African wine on the table.

“There aren’t very many Black-owned wineries in South Africa, and you know there aren’t many Black wine makers either,” she said.

Mentioning the forthcoming foundation from the House of Mandela, she said, “We hope that we encourage more Black people to set up their own wine businesses because ultimately that’s where the real impact is made, and that’s how they’ll be able to determine their own futures and their own destinies,” she said.

Although Tukwini was clear that the brand wasn’t just about Nelson Mandela, the company’s humanitarian aims show that his legacy is part of the package.

When asked about her grandfather’s health in light of his recent hospitalization, Tukwini seemed positive the 94-year-old icon still had some steam left in his engine.

“He’s a tough old man. I think he will be OK,” she said.

We’ll drink to that.

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