When House of Mandela wines were launched in 2013, the highly patterned labels of the “Thembu” collection echoed South African icon Nelson Mandela’s colorful batik shirts and ensured this was a memorable brand.
The House of Mandela was founded in 2010 by Dr. Makaziwe Mandela and her daughter, Tukwini Mandela. The two are respectively the daughter and granddaughter of the late anti-apartheid activist who became president of South Africa and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The House of Mandela consists of three parts–wine, minting (e.g. medallions and gold bars) and lifestyle products. Tukwini, as marketing director and co-owner, focuses on wine, while her mother looks after the rest.
As a négociant, House of Mandela does not maintain its own vineyards, but purchases grapes and juice from small farms and markets them under its label.
The wines of South Africa, the eighth-largest wine producer in the world, have been growing in popularity in the United States. Sales were up 14 percent by volume for the 52-week period ending July 16, 2016.
“Really Good Relationships” Are Key to Mandela’s Success
What takes up most of your time on a daily basis?
“Emails! Emails take up much of my time. We work with different markets as well, so you constantly have to put yourself in the shoes of your clients. We deal with Chinese clients and they are completely different from American clients. The Chinese really take their time, they really do their homework, they do their research so the process is a little bit slower. Whereas, in the U.S., the process is 10 times faster.”
Do you negotiate with suppliers yourself?
“We have a wine consultant and winemaker who assists us with the negotiations with suppliers.”
How are you dealing with maintaining quality?
“If you are a négociant…You have to make sure you have really good relationships with your partners…We’ve also said that if the vintage for one year is not good, we are not going to sell sub-standard wine. So if we sell less wine in one year, and the quality is high, that’s fine by us.”
Isn’t Mandela a brand that sells itself?
“The name gets you a foot in the door. You can’t just sit back and assume the wine will move itself off the shelf. While people know the name Mandela, they don’t necessarily know the name ‘House of Mandela,’ it’s sitting on the shelf amongst many, many other brands. Yes, the name opens doors for you but you have to make sure that you keep those doors open.”
What’s keeping you busy right now, other than the daily grind?
“We’ve sold about 170,000 cases (since sales began), that’s a great accomplishment. But now we are where the business has to grow. Stepping up to the big time requires a cash injection, more people, more staff. Because of the addition of the other two businesses, we need a space where people can experience the brand in its entirety.”
What kind of investment are you looking for?
“It doesn’t matter where it comes from in the globe. What we want are people that we have synergies with, who will be as passionate about the brand as we are, who are in it for the long haul. It’s how you market the brand, how you manage the brand that will determine its success. We are investigating different avenues. It’s not cash injection only. If it is a joint venture as I said, we would look for someone who has experience in managing international brands and has the same passion for our business that we do.”
Is there a wine you would like to have shared with your grandfather?
“It would be our Phumla Chenin Blanc. He had a preference for white wine… In our traditional home in the Eastern Cape…that’s where you really, really could connect with him. He told us his wonderful stories about when he was growing up and what he experienced. It would have been great to taste that bottle of wine with him in those circumstances. Around this time of day, sunset is my favorite time of the day. That would have been perfect.”
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