Sand vs Brand

by | Aug 1, 2016 | Opinion


mag1Will Swartland sand also gain the same cult following and premium price its wine has enjoyed over the past decade?

In the famous article How to Brand Sand authors Sam I Hill, Jack McGrath and Sandeep Dayal say that with the right branding even commodities such as sand or bricks can command a premium price.

Their argument recently gained literal meaning in the Swartland, where the uprooting of old vines unleashes emotions akin to the fury over rhino poaching. Ironically sand seems to have trumped brand, with short-term gains from sand-mining being favoured over retaining old vines, despite the latter increasingly gaining value through branding of the quality wines they often produce.

It’s tough to sell concepts such as heritage and superior flavour concentration to grape producers who are struggling to stay afloat and would sacrifice the soil they’ve toiled for generations to send the next generation to Stellenbosch University. There are also viticulturists who say mining sand is not all shock and horror and may even improve the soil once organic matter has been returned through cover crops.

On the other hand, geologist-turned-winemaker Gary Jordan has again added his voice to the winelands mining debate, questioning whether proper procedures are being followed and landowners have licences to mine sand.

Old-vine activist Rosa Kruger has strengthened her pursuit of sustainably protecting old vines, with former Wosa communications manager André Morgenthal and former Boland Cellars viticulturist Jaco Engelbrecht now formally tasked with driving the project. Their hand has been strengthened with fresh funding from Remgro chairman Dr Johann Rupert.

In the long run, for old vines – or any vines for that matter – to remain in their original ancient soil they need to be economically viable so sand-mining is not even a consideration. And while small batches of truly remarkable wine – made from grapes that “used to disappear into big blends” – have done wonders to showcase the value of old vines, bigger quality brands are the real industry game changers.

Kanonkop proprietor Johann Krige says it it’s non-negotiable that South Africa should have a one million bottle quality Pinotage export brand and new investment at this estate suggests he’s putting his money where his mouth is.

We’ve received a few comments about WineLand content shifting away from primary production and more towards business and marketing, but it’s becoming increasingly impossible to separate the two. This issue of WineLand has a particular marketing focus, but is equally relevant to grape producers and marketing executives. In the first instalment of a new series, Winetrepreneurs, Opstal’s Attie Louw says too many producers see wine grapes instead of bottled wine brands as the final product.

Yes, it’s possible to brand sand and to make a quick buck. But it’s also possible to create a product that’s a flag bearer for South Africa, makes people happy and employs many throughout the value chain.


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