“It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe that maybe this year
will be better than the last.”
The catchy 90s tune by Counting Crows, Long December, unavoidably starts ringing in my head annually as soon as Christmas lunch leftovers are a thing of the past. This year its lyrics are particularly relevant, with 2016 presenting more than a fair share of challenges – from the drought and heatwaves to black frost and labour concerns.
Will a new year stem the tide with the promise of a less bumpy ride? I am going to take a stab at a few predictions. For the sake of optimism, I’ll start with something positive …
From good to great
The top South African wines are bound to continue going from strength to strength. The mere fact that most red wine glasses will be filled with the superlative 2015 vintage is a reason to enthusiastically start the New Year’s Eve count-down. Expect even more awards, chuffed critics and happy consumers at the top end. These wines are going beyond the “value-for-money” burden and are now world class, irrespective of their price.
A different take on diversification
Don’t be surprised by more citrus plantings and perhaps a Wacky Wine and Lemonade Weekend. The boasting about remarkable profit from lemons in particular will inevitably prompt many to diversify or even bail out of wine production. Generally, I don’t think this is something to get too sour about. Citrus plantings are predominantly happening on the fertile, irrigated land that is more likely to produce high yields and cheap and cheerful wines than premium flag bearers of Brand Wine South Africa.
The marginal soils that deliver marvellous wines are not suitable for citrus and these vines are more likely to see another vintage, if their quality warrants a higher price. The profitable high-yielding wines will need to outdo citrus and will therefore be geared in terms of market access and specialist high-yield production. Yes, the industry is likely to continue getting smaller in terms of hectares, SKUs and number of producers, but those who stay put will be more profitable.
Former glory for sale
More consolidations and new acquisitions are bound to happen. It’s no secret that many once celebrated estates are in the market. The mere fact that they are up for the taking in many cases, suggests that their former glory has faded and some new investment, enthusiasm and business expertise should be embraced. This trend is not unique to South Africa.
I wonder how many in the industry picked up the tremendously significant line in the recent draft liquor bill, which suggests that a level 4 BEE rating could become a requirement to get a liquor licence. That’s right, partial black ownership could become compulsory for every single business that sells wine. Many already comply and they will be justly awarded. The rest, well, might consider hastening their transformation efforts.
The best way to really appreciate how far we’ve come in terms of our tourism offering is to travel to other wine regions. A recent trip to France and Germany really revealed this to me in a big way – not only because so many wine people I come across absolutely love travelling to South Africa, but because our facilities, stories and even our English are miles ahead!
There are still many reasons to believe that 2017 will indeed be a good year. Much like a vine, this industry is tough, adaptable, resilient, rewarding and increasingly admired and balanced with age. Its roots are deep, its soils complex, its sunshine abundant and its stories inspirational. May it rise above its challenges and guide its future with the long view in mind.