Shaking off the cheap and cheerful image

by | May 3, 2016 | Opinion

“Chenin Blanc can be great and yet is largely forgotten by the world’s fine-wine lovers. Who cellars it? Do you? Is its time finally arriving? Good question. It may take South Africa, which no one previously could have imagined upstaging the likes of France, to remind us all of what we’ve been missing.” – Matt Kramer, Wine Spectator

Why is it that no one can imagine South Africa upstaging the likes of France? Kanonkop’s Abrie Beeslaar was the IWSC’s Winemaker of the Year in 2015. Kleine Zalze’s Vineyard Selection Chardonnay 2015 was among the international top 10 at Chardonnay du Monde this year. Tim Atkin recently said South Africa is closing the gap on untouchable Burgundy. Yet South Africa’s image doesn’t reflect this increasingly long list of achievements and accolades.

South Africa’s image is a recurring topic in the May issue of WineLand. Swedish alcohol monopoly Systembolaget CEO Magdelena Gerger says South Africa’s biggest challenge is shaking off its image of being solely a cheap and cheerful box wine producer.

De Wetshof’s Danie de Wet emphasises there’s serious work to be done to improve the image of South Africa in the global market, adding that bottom-of-the-barrel prices can be likened to South Africa competing against itself.

He argues that since South Africa’s wine prices have been significantly lower than its competitors’ for a number of years, South African cellars are responsible for driving their own prices down and that good neighbourliness is also an issue.

I recently met up with a South African winemaker who’s now a wine buyer in Copenhagen, giving her a unique perspective of both sides of the coin. “South Africa is generally the go-to category for a braai wine, which in Denmark is basically the equivalent of a pork wine,” she quipped. “This would probably offend most many winemakers, but at least there isn’t resistance to South Africa!”

She supported Danie’s sentiment that buyers expect low prices from South Africa. In most cases buyers benefit more from the exchange rate than producers do, with prices remaining stagnant despite the weak rand. The low-yielding 2016 vintage may have stemmed the tide, with low supply and increased demand driving up the prices of, among others, ever-popular Sauvignon Blanc.

Cyclical shifts have also seen more citrus and pecan nuts being planted in conventional wine-producing areas. The reality is that trends follow money and that more profitable crops can be expected while the price of grapes and wine don’t match their worth.

Top South African wineries are already producing wines that can upstage the likes of France. International opinion leaders have noticed this. The challenge is to change the cheap and cheerful, or to put it bluntly, the unsustainable pork wine image and prices. Perhaps the low-yielding 2016 vintage is part of the long-term solution …


This year’s WineLand Seminar focuses on “disruptive innovation”. What will be the Uber of the wine world, the real game-changing innovations? See the June issue of WineLand for more info.


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