Behind the scenes with Zaine Pritchard

by | Jan 3, 2022 | Article, Business and Marketing

Zaine Pritchard, founder of Wine Theatre

Bellville-born wine consultant Zaine Pritchard learned the ropes of the wine trade at the feet of legends. Today he invests his enthusiasm for and knowledge of the wine industry for select clients through his consultancy business, Wine Theatre.

Zaine Pritchard grew up spending weekends and holidays at his uncle’s wine farm in Stellenbosch, Clos Malverne. It’s therefore no surprise he pursued a career in the food and beverage industry. From Clos Malverne, he was soon pulled into the service of the Pinotage Association. This offered him a front seat marketing Pinotage all over the world at the feet of wine legends such as Johann Krige and Beyers Naudé. “Instead of sightseeing between events, Johann would put on his suit and tie and get to work. He enjoyed doing business. At each of the countless ProWine shows I attended, Johann would be the first to arrive and last to pack up.”

Influences

This impeccable business ethic made a lasting impression on Zaine. “South Africa’s most successful wine brands are the ones that have put in the time,” he says. “Many an iconic brand that took its feet of the pedal have been left behind and is now playing catch-up.”

Zaine was quickly able to discover his niche as Clos Malverne grew exponentially in the 90s. “Arno Gelderblom at Smollen merchandising, which represented Clos Malverne, took me under his wing and introduced me to all their big buyers.” It was a different way of doing business from the days of KWV and cooperatives. “I learnt that a buyer is a buyer whether you’re in South Africa or in Holland.”

Big and small

While cruising on a barge in the UK Midlands in 2007, the world economy suddenly came crashing down all around him. In an instant, Zaine lost half of all his business and turnover. It spurred some radical changes, and Zaine soon began marketing wine for Ridgeback Wines in Paarl. “I really had to hustle to win buyers; it was an unbelievably rewarding experience. But I was on the road a lot, and eventually moved to Rooiberg to help set up their marketing.”

At Rooiberg, Zaine came to appreciate the important role of bulk wine producers in the industry. “It was an eye-opener. These wineries have to manage cash flow while looking after scores of growers and their families and labourers. It’s a fibrous root system rather than a taproot system. These producers are responsible for most of the industry’s levy payments.”

Here Zaine had to navigate the perpetual tension between bottled and bulk wine. He was able to leverage a few key accounts at different hotels for great exposure. “We started with three lines at Woolworths and ended with fourteen. If there’s even a slight opportunity, I’ll make the most of it.”

When Zaine moved on to Lammershoek and later Avondale after twelve years in the industry, he became acquainted with the biodynamic and organic philosophies. Once he and Johnathan had found their stride, they were able to increase Avondale’s export market from about 20% to more than 90% of production.

Setting the stage

The lockdowns in 2020 forced Zaine to take stock of everything he’d learned over decades in the industry. He had gained extensive experience doing business at all levels. “I’ve gone from co-op to family business to boutique winery, and have worked with embassies and foreign investors,” he says. “I can tell you everything about co-ops, bottle costs, exports, and routes to market.”

In short, Zaine wanted to put the authenticity and professionalism of his mentors into practice. He set about drawing up a business plan to take on four or five farms that he could serve as marketing and sales manager, supplementing their existing capabilities and offering a combined service at a fraction of what a full appointment would cost. Wine Theatre signed with Benguela Cove and Opstal. Avondale was on board, as well as Kleinood and Wellington Wines. “You have to leave room to grow and develop in every direction, so I’ve set my limit at five clients. It’s the perfect portfolio. I don’t take producers from the same area, and most have a strong focus on Chenin.”

His message can be summarised as ‘authenticity’. “Stick to what you and your terroir can do well, and do it well. The market can change fast and easily. Longevity is in authenticity.” His advice of sticking to your guns also goes for SA wine in general, especially bulk. “Brand New Zealand never dilutes its wine offering with discounts. Their brand is premium wines and they stick to it, which means if you want a New Zealand wine, you have to pay that.”

Zaine knows the real magic happens behind the scenes. Authenticity, tenacity, and professionalism carries the day, even when there’s a charismatic personality at the helm, in the end it’s the brand that has to appear on stage. Wine Theatre is about making sure it puts on its best performance.

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