The Chenin Blanc Association has followed an evidence-based approach to developing the cultivar’s potential. Its research has continued to bear fruit – most recently with a style indicator that simplifies the decision-making process for consumers.
The Chenin Blanc Association (CBA) has been on a relentless drive to turn the trusty South African workhorse, Chenin Blanc, into not only a racehorse, but also a prized show horse with an irresistible appeal.
The CBA had decided early on to pave the way to premiumisation with solid research – an evidence-led approach that has been paying increasing dividends.
The familiar Chenin Blanc aroma wheel, originally developed in 2005, was revised and updated in 2016 using real-world sensory and tasting data under the direction of senior researcher Dr Hélène Nieuwoudt aided by research funding from Winetech.
Chenin Blanc and Stellenbosch University has historically enjoyed a close relationship, dating back to 1963, when Professor Chris Orffer, then head of the Department of Viticulture, settled identified the local grape variety known as ‘Steen’ as Chenin Blanc.
Earlier this year the Chenin Blanc aroma wheel was also being reimagined. During a series of workshops held in January, Shona, Zulu and Xhosa speakers began the task of translating its terminology into their native language using indigenous taste references.
The new Chenin Blanc style indicator has been built on the same foundations of data-driven research and forward-thinking innovation.
In 2018 and 2019 the CBA, in collaboration with the South African Grape and Wine Research Institute (SAGWRI) (previously Institute for Wine Biotechnology) at Stellenbosch University, conducted a number of research projects to investigate the apparent sales barriers to Chenin Blanc from a wine consumer’s perspective.
A varietal-specific approach to investigate wine risk perception in South Africa (Nadia Van der Colff; Chris Pentz and Hélène Nieuwoudt); Listening to the consumer’s voice: Opportunties for Chenin Blanc (Andiswa Mapheleba, Chris Pentz, Nina Muller, Ivan Oertle and Hélène Nieuwoudt); Consumers’ relationship with wine purchasing unpacked (Carla Weightman, Nic Terblanche, Dominique Valentin, Florian Bauer and Hélène Nieuwoudt).
Based on this research, the CBA designed a consumer survey was in consultation with Dr Nieuwoudt using the profiles that were included in the Chenin Aroma Wheel.
The survey was completed by consumers at the Chenin Picnic in April 2021 and the Stoepfees in May 2021.
Consumers indicated several aspects that would reduce friction when buying Chenin Blanc: in-store tastings (53%), promotions at restaurants (45%), discount price promotions (37%), food pairing events (35%), and information about how Chenin Blanc is different from other varietals (33%).
“These findings stressed the importance of sensory exposure and experience ahead of information and advertising without tastings,” explains Christina Harvett, Administrative Officer: Accounts & Special projects at the CBA.
“As South Africa does not have an established wine drinking culture, many consumers are inexperienced wine consumers. Locally, bottled still wine is mostly marketed using the varietal name as differentiator on the front label,” she says.
The research revealed that a lack of experience (indicated by subjective knowledge and low purchase frequency), quality variations and drinking occasions were ‘varietal risk’ drivers during instore purchase decision-making.
“Chenin Blanc was identified as a high-risk varietal. Most South African wine drinkers buy their wine from a general supermarket, and being time-pressed, they don’t want to spend too much time in the wine aisle faced with uncertainty about styles’ sensory profiles.”
Reducing the risk
Chenin Blanc is well known for its rich stylistic diversity, ranging from fresh and easy-drinking to full and rich with oak-barrel fermentation that makes for complex, powerful wines.
“It also ranges from still to sparkling, from dry to dessert-style sweet wines,” says Christina. “This diversity makes for food-friendly delicious wines, but does pose a challenge for the consumer standing in front of a shelf of Chenin wines – how can you be sure you buy the wine in the style you love?”
In-store tastings aren’t a scalable activity, but a back label style indicator could address these risk factors and provide consumers with the crucial sensory information they needed for decision-making.
There are already some good examples of such a system on the international wine market.
A stylistic indicator was introduced by the International Riesling Foundation (IRF) in 2010, and the Riesling Taste Profile has since been featured on more than 30 million Riesling bottles as well as winery brochures and other marketing materials in the United States. Its goal was to “have a common, simple, consumer-friendly system for identifying Riesling tastes.”
Testing the style indicator
The style indicator will be tested in real-world conditions, with many producers already lined up for the trial. The challenge will be coordinating the timing on redesigning all the back labels, Christina says.
The consumer research phase will examine whether the addition of the style indicator increased sales and had an impact on the consumer’s perceived risk.
“Any member of the CBA can start using the indicator immediately. We asked that they share their back label designs with us, if they’re not using it as a sticker, so we can start creating a library of options,” says Christina.
“Use of the style indicator is not a reflection of chemical composition of the wine, but rather the sensory perceptions when tasting the wine,” she adds. “It aims to directly address the risks that consumers associate with buying Chenin Blanc.”
Brand owners will decide for themselves where their wine’s fits on the scale. “The guidelines state that the brand owners should strive for a consistent application of the device with respect to their wine and it must be a true reflection of the style of wine.”
The style indicator will help consumers know what to expect when tasting the wine – a fresh style, with green apple and lime flavours, a more complex fruity wine with stone- and tropical fruit flavours, or a rich wine with baked pineapple and marmalade notes with creamy undertones.
About the Chenin Blanc Association (CBA)