This summer, Makaziwe and Tukwini Mandela entered the wine business. Yes, that is the same Mandela as Nelson. These are his daughter and granddaughter respectively, and this is, of course, a significant event for the South African wine industry.
No other living being embodies the unwavering commitment to freedom and equitable advancement in the way of Nelson Mandela. On the surface, one may contend the Mandela foray into wine as a predictable and benign act to cash in on the family name. Yet, consider that until 1994, only 16 years ago, wine from South Africa was not even available in most of the world as part of an anti-apartheid embargo. The irony and timeline are astounding.
Initially, wines exported from South Africa were of poor quality. This was primarily a byproduct of well-established wine cooperatives having the capital and capacity to supply the world. In this context, cooperatives in South Africa were massive joint winemaking entities that focused primarily on volume and price control and reduction of both at each stage of production. Inexpensive wine production wasn’t so bad for Australia, for instance, where millions of market research dollars concluded that critter labels and sugar appeal to large audiences. Australia’s wine industry flooded the market with cheap wine, and is now paying dearly for gluttonous overproduction, induced by Yellow Tail and subsidized by the government. Eventually, people will tire of bad wine.
When wines from South Africa were introduced, they tasted unfamiliar and cheap. Brand “South Africa” faired poorly in public opinion, not only because of social stigma, but also because the wine exports were ultimately not very good. As always seems the case, nearly 20 years later, South Africa is still fighting against perceptions.
The Mandela name certainly gives South African wines the highest profile the industry has ever seen. Those who stayed away from South African wines in acts of economic or political posturing will now have to give serious consideration to the participation of the Mandela family.
Given the family legacy, the working assumption would link the brand to strong social and ethical platforms associated with the wine. I personally hope the Mandelas complete this circle, as they are better suited than any other South Africans to make end roads with impressionable and conscious American audiences. For consumers who want to support African wine, but aren’t sure which brands are “good,” a Mandela brand would become the easy default. If they purchased grapes from black-owned or managed wine cooperatives, or used proceeds to invest in the training and development of workers, these stories would resound with consumers. This behavior begets positive behavior, as buyers gain awareness and purchase with ethics in mind. It may seem like an uneven measuring stick, or it could be too much pressure for a new business. But being a Mandela is an extraordinary condition, with extraordinary benefits and expectations. Let’s hope the family uses its influence to continue in its legacy of promoting the advancement and equality of blacks in Southern Africa. To be continued.