The Ilembe Economic Development Agency is reaping the rewards of having its own locally produced wine, the Seventeen 87, a wine in honour of King Shaka, who was born that year.
After years of growing Villard Blanc grapes in the Ndwendwe, Maphumulo, Nyoni and Mandeni vineyards, the agency is ready to take the wine to market.
The vineyards were first planted six years ago, said the agency’s chief executive, Nathi Nkomzwayo.
He said the project had received the blessing of the Zulu Royal family.
“It’s the first wine that tells the story about the birth of King Shaka in 1787 and to the best of my knowledge when the project was conceived there were engagements with Isilo (King Zwelithini) which were facilitated by Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs,” said Nkomzwayo.
The project to produce the wine was funded by the Co-operative Governance Department in an effort to create economic opportunities for local people.
“We are the implementing agency for the project. The vineyards employ almost 40 people and the idea of these projects will accumulate and be owned by the communities and co-operatives. We have an ownership model that we have developed whereby we will form some co-operatives that will eventually own the vineyards,” said Nkomzwayo.
He said it took about three years to grow the grapes in the northern regions of the province.
“We started off with a trial which proved that Villard Blanc grows much better in the northern region.We have gone through the entire process of planting which took about three years to grow, we have been harvesting over the years and have been preparing the wine in our winery,” said Nkomzwayo.
He said the wine was not yet available in private retailers as it was in the promotional stage. However, he said it was available through distributors they had partnered with. He said the distributors were Sugar Rush and Just Imagine Concepts.
“We are currently promoting the wine and working on commercialising it. It’s the first time we are taking it to the market, although we have the distribution and retail licence. We are using technical partners to sell the products.”
Nkomzwayo said the idea of linking the history of King Shaka with the project was also a strategy of promoting tourism in the Ilembe region.
“We are selling the story of King Shaka; we are selling the package for economic development. We are linking it with our tourism strategy because our main aim is to leverage with the heroes of our district like King Shaka and Albert Luthuli, all of whom lived in this area.
“Our main aim is not necessarily to sell wine but to improve tourism in the district to ensure we improve local economic development,” said Nkomzwayo.
Contacted for comment on Thursday, the Royal Zulu House spokesperson, Prince Thulani Zulu, said he was not personally aware of engagements with the agency but would check with members of the Zulu royal family. He was unable to confirm details by the time of going to print.
By Siphelele Bbuthelezi