Straight shooting, honest introspection and the promise of game-changing opportunities characterised this year’s Nedbank VinPro Information Day.
After kicking the day off with seriously depressing economic realities, it was hard not to be concerned about whether doom and gloom could dominate the programme. As the day progressed, however a golden thread of realities and opportunities emerged. The following were some of the highs and lows that stood out and often seem to be recurring topics.
1. The roof is leaking
When a storm approaches, it’s most concerning if there are holes in your roof. And, according to Nedbank’s Isaac Matshego, there are some significant – often self-inflicted leaks – in South Africa’s roof. He eloquently painted the picture of how bad political decisions, labour instability, power shortages, drought and crumbling investor confidence are hampering South Africa ahead of a year that is bound to be more than a light drizzle.
After three to four years of having a stagnant economy, Matshego strongly emphasised that it’s time to plug the holes and that the right pilot is required to navigate through difficult circumstances. The silver lining of the apparent thunderstorm was South Africa’s significant potential and the notion that small changes can radically improve the country’s outlook.
2. Producing more (wine) with less (vines and water)
Famed for his chicken analogies, seasoned Information Day presenter, VinPro’s head of consultation services Francois Viljoen, again gave an entertaining overview of the vintage, as well as the state of viticulture in South Africa.
He illustrated that South Africa is producing more wine with less vineyards – highlighting a trend that is not sustainable in terms of quality. The chicken of the year – a chillin’ chick in a bowl of water – related to the drought, with Francois giving a useful viticulture lesson about the effect of temperatures above 35 ͦC, which have been a common occurrence this season. Francois encouraged vinegrowers to consider planting more drought and heat resistant varieties.
3. Cracking land reform
Land reform is not disappearing. In fact it’s likely to be in the spotlight this year, with ‘little left for politicians to promise’. This according to Prof David Venter, who delivered an inspiring and often impassioned speech.
He emphasised that there does not seem to be a clear national vision for land reform and that the wine industry has a real opportunity to set the example through mentorships and shared, collaborative models.
“It’s time to move the frame. The emphasis should move from win-win to win more. Stop cutting cakes – start building bakeries!” emphasised the passionate prof. He concluded with the analogy that when an egg breaks from the outside, it is wasted, but when it breaks from the inside it gives life.
Venter urged producers to make the mind-shift to see land reform as both a necessity and opportunity and to start “thinking exponentially”.
4. Convincing Victoria
It was heart-breaking. At a barbeque in UK (which also looked quite heart-breaking) Accolade’s Jane Robertson served a bottle of premium South African Chenin, without mentioning what it is. After feedback, which comprised varied degrees of praise, she revealed the bottle. Her friend “Victoria” responded (in a posh accent, of course): “Oh, I don’t drink South African wine.”
As you can imagine, to an audience of wine producers that is probably even more tragic than Isaac’s economic outlook. Jane frankly stated that South African wines are simply not sexy enough and encouraged producers to drive unique South African wines – highlighting Pinotage and Chenin Blanc – instead of imitating successes of other New World regions, including Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc.
She particularly emphasised that the “ladder” of South Africa’s wine portfolio is missing a few steps and that our wine offering is shaped like an hourglass. In other words, although South Africa boasts significant entry level offerings, as well as impressive premium wines, the missing middle – moderately priced wines – is a void and key concern.
The challenge to convincing Victoria lies in brand building, piggybacking on South Africa’s success in the on-trade and, most importantly, making our wine sexy in a uniquely South African way.
5. From granny to grand
It’s not only Victoria that avoids South African wine. Most South Africans do too. Nicky van Hille (The Moss Group) and Craig Irving (Consumer Insight Agency) presented their research about the state of the domestic market, which indicates that to most South Africans, wine is boring and confusing.
One of the memorable quotes shown from interviews conducted by the Consumer Insight Agency, illustrated that wine is like a pie where you struggle to get to the meat. For the wine industry to get to the meat in the domestic market, the category needs to become more accessible and inviting to the majority of South Africans.
Van Hille emphasised that there are currently too many labels and few strong brands. With the majority of wines being sold in a supermarket retail environment, they advised that the way that wine is currently being presented is daunting and confusing and added that supermarket shelves should look significantly different in years to come.