Advancing authenticity

by | Jun 1, 2016 | Opinion

Cover_thumbnail-7What would’ve happened if Chenin Blanc was still called Steen? Or if Méthode Cap Classique was labelled Vonkel or even Uvubelo (ferment in Xhosa)? Being authentically, proudly South African has its merits.

Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show judge and acclaimed French wine critic Michel Bettane is the latest international wine pundit to laud the leap in quality of South African wine over the past decade. But he cautions that while the wines are well made, they are in many cases too commercial, lacking in character and perhaps even soul. Other judges echo his sentiments about the impressive quality, but add that all too often wines “tasted international”.

I recently had a conversation with one of South Africa’s most prominent winemakers who embarked on a journey to showcase the best South Africa has to offer through one white wine and one red wine. A guessing game ensued, but it was surprisingly difficult to predict what these wines would be – particularly when it came to reds.

At the latest Rootstock Session, Hong Kong-based wine critic and buyer Simon Tam asked the audience of young winemakers, “Tell me, what are you about?” Quality South African wine has not yet been clearly defined or perhaps stereotyped and Simon views this as an opportunity, adding we have only one chance to get it right.

A recent report on exports to the UK indicates significant growth in premium wine sales by value, while bulk and entry-level wines are in a steady decline. A shift from plonk to premium is a tremendously exciting prospect for the industry as a whole, but should also be a warning to those who’ve prioritised quantity over quality as a long-term strategy, without considering the impact that this could have on Brand Wine South Africa.

This month’s Which Wine tasting suggests that white wines still outperform their red counterparts – the results for Chardonnays costing more than R400 were much better than the results for reds costing more than R1 000 tasted last year. It’s reassuring to see there’s an increase in the number of wineries that have the courage and confidence to command these prices for deserving wines – and that most of them sell out fairly quickly.

Success stories such as these need to be celebrated and embraced. And there are many of them! The mere fact that Delaire Graff Estate was the setting for the global launch of the Rolls-Royce Dawn in March is a case in point.

In a powerful piece by industrial psychologist DB Hauptfleisch he argues that a large section of the wine industry hides behind a negative attitude, while those who embrace the challenges through innovation, renewal and hard work are thriving.

It’s predicted 2016 will be the year of the wine industry shakeout. The recent sale of KWV is the latest in a string of events that are testing the change-fitness of the industry. DB asks if it has perhaps been too easy for too long to simply shiftlessly idle, but comfortably survive. Increasingly, that is no longer possible. Authenticity remains key – both in terms of wines and leadership.


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