Q&A with Dr Jonathan Steyn: Adding value to the value chain

by | Jun 1, 2022 | Newsletter Subscribers, VIP Only


At a workshop held by the Old Vine Project on 31 May, Dr Jonathan Steyn, convenor of the Business of Wine course at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB), talked about market research on Chenin Blanc, old vines, and about quantifying the value of visual cues on wine labels.

WineLand caught up with him after the event for a few questions.


Jonathan Steyn

Jonathan Steyn, convenor of the Business of Wine course at UCT GSB.

What are your academic interests and specialisations at the UCT GSB?

I’ve got two research specialisations – obviously wine business, but in terms of research it’s really consumer behaviour. And then on the other side, it’s management and organisational studies.

My PhD was on meta-organisations, which are organisations of organisations, that formed in the South African wine field.

While I was completing my PhD, I embarked on a research project, which was prompted by discussions with people in industry – with Rosa Kruger and André Morgenthal – and Edo Heyns [former editor of WineLand] suggested I write a paper on old vines.

We approached Winetech for funding and they helped to partially fund a three-year programme with three separate projects related to the old vineyard wine market.

Is the research on old vines and Chenin still ongoing?

Yes, Associate Professor David Priilaid [at the School of Management Studies UCT] and myself published a paper in 2019 on the worth of old vine label cues for South African wines.

We have subsequently collected a lot more data, so there’ll likely be a follow-up paper on that. We have two more papers forthcoming, focusing on the consumer perceptions of old vine wines.

Our Chenin paper was accepted for the Academy of Wine Business Research conference 2020, but due to Covid was postponed. We used that time to collect additional netnographic data, that is data from online communities, to improve the richness of the study and have made some surprising discoveries.

I think Pinotage is worthwhile looking at as well, since both Chenin and Pinotage are regarded as emblematic grape varieties.

This brought us to embarking on our new research programme, focusing on premiumising the South African country brand, i.e. raising status and value. We’re comparing South Africa’s position to other mainstream wine producing countries in the Global South.


Jonathan Steyn

Jonathan Steyn. (Photo Credit: Collectivantage.com)

What is the importance of research like this for the wine industry?

Well, it’s really, really important. When designing a wine brand, you need to know what cues are important to signal, and how much value they can add to a bottle of wine. Sometimes practitioners find it difficult to engage with academic research.

There’s certainly a need for more engaged and applied research and  today was great, because we got to have a dialogue with producers. This [workshop] is a nice way of demystifying research and making it more relatable.

The research is important on a number of levels. It’s obviously helped  the Old Vine Project and its members to understand the market and inform their strategic direction. It’s really important for the industry, as it confronts economic sustainability, especially for growers.

The real importance of this is growth and sustainability.

If we can also unlock value, that would be great. If there was no value to be unlocked, we would have stopped studying this phenomenon. But there is, as we discovered in our recent paper.

So we’re going to work back down to the value chain and see if that value being created for producers is also passed down to the grower. If producers are charging a premium for old vines, it’s really important that that value is passed on to the grower.

You mentioned some research that you were looking forward to. Can you tell us more about that?

We will be focusing on the production economy surrounding old vines and looking price variability and vineyard retention rates. Economic sustainability is really what’s underpinning our research at this stage.

My final question is on a more personal level. What’s your favourite wine experience?

I can’t really pick out a favourite, there are so many! Recently, I had the privilege of having lunch with Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell, talking to Chris Alheit, spending the morning in the Swartland and Porseleinberg, and spending the afternoon with Stellenbosch Wine Routes talking about the terroir.

South African wine is so diverse and rich. The experience of each particular region is remarkably different that it’s difficult to isolate one encounter as the most memorable.

I think that’s the story that we need to tell – the wine story of each region.

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WATCH: Jonathan Steyn on the Business of Wine Short Course


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