Is House of Mandela a gimmick wine? Let’s weigh the evidence. The connection between South Africa’s great liberator, the late President Nelson Mandela and a modestly priced Sauvignon Blanc seems tenuous. The wine is made by a company founded by Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe, from his first marriage to Evelyn Maze, and her daughter Tukwini. Are they simply using their last name as a marketing ploy? The imagery on the bottle is derived from the colourful shirts President Mandela was wont to wear, and the bee imagery is similarly meant to associate the wine with the swarm of bees that was said to have followed Madiba on his first journey to his ancestral home after his release from prison.
On the other hand, Tukwini Mandela, who was in Toronto recently to launch the 2014 House of Mandela Sauvignon Blanc ($12.85 – LCBO# 407882) the decision to launch the House of Mandela wines was one that was deliberated by the members of her branch of the Mandela family who chose to enter the wine business stategically. Wine is a big and growing business in South Africa, but more than 20 years since the end of apartheid, most wine businesses are still characterized by white ownership employing black labour. House of Mandela wines are sourced solely from fair trade vineyards. And while Tukwini freely admitted her family “didn’t know anything about wine” before they started, they caught up quickly by employing Master of Wine Lynne Sherriff as their initial consultant, who would be unlikely to put her name on a gimmicky wine of any kind.
Of course the real test is whether the wine is any good, and for under $13 the 2014 House of Mandela Sauvignon Blanc is great. It’s in the style of the New Zealand Savignon Blancs, with lots of passion fruit and maybe a touch of lime. Certainly worth a try for the price, a portion of which is used to fund South African charities that help remote communities reliably access fresh water.