Wine Enthusiast: How did the Mandela family first get into the wine business?
MM: When we started, we didn’t know anything about wine. We are not wine connoisseurs, but we drink wine at home and socially, and we decided that this is something we should try. When we did our research, we were surprised to find that winemaking is such a major industry in South Africa. It employs over 350,000 people and it contributes 3 billion rand ($2.9 billion) into the GDP of South Africa. At first we just thought, ‘Wow,’ and then we realized there are very few black people in the wine industry in South Africa, and even fewer women… We want to help to change the perception of Africa around the world. It is not just the ‘Dark Continent.’ It is a positive place. We want to reflect the warmth and resilience of the African people. That’s the spirit that we entered into this with.
WE: What is the significance of the bee on the Royal Reserve labels?
TM: The bee is the literal translation of my grandfather’s name, Rolihlahla, which means one who is brave enough to fetch the honey from the honeycomb. Colloquially, it means one who challenges the status quo. When my grandfather was released from prison and he was going back to his ancestral home, he was followed by a swarm of bees all the way from the airport to the house. In our culture that means that the ancestors were welcoming him home and were giving him good tidings, but you can also see that the bee has tree branches as wings. That represents the many branches of our family tree, because we are quite a large family.
WE: Can you explain the relationship between your wines and the values of the Mandela family?
TM: The Thembu Collection bottles have very elaborate labels, which were inspired by my grandfather’s Madiba shirts. He didn’t like wearing a suit because he felt constricted in them, and he wanted to wear clothing that made him more accessible as a leader, so he found these shirts. These had a very laid-back connotation, and as a family, we are also laid back. So because these wines are very easy-drinking, everyday wines, they mirror that.
We told our winemaker that he had to make sure the wines reflect who we are as a family. We called it the Thembu Collection because one of our ancestors was the king of the Thembu people. During the time he ruled, he brought all the close-speaking nations into one group, called the Thembu, who by their nature were hospitable, warm, welcoming and relaxed. All of those characteristics are found in the actual styles of the wines themselves.
WE: Can you tell us about the Fair Trade initiative and the social programs that are supported by House of Mandela?
MM: Fair Trade is very good for us as a family and also as a brand because it is really about ensuring that the farms use good practices, that they respect the diversity of the soils, and that they are giving back to the communities and to their employees. The Fair Trade Premium that is paid goes to the communities for building schools and day care centers, which we call crèches, for the children of employees. It goes into the salaries of the employees, who are shareholders of the farm. Besides that, we are also supporting other charities, including one that works with homeless children in South Africa. That’s what we are about.