Where the tough got going

The going is certainly going to get tough ahead, but an event like Wosa’s third round of its biennial Cape Wine promotion, will help a long way for the tough to get going in the ever more challenging world wine export arena.

The strong rand and unfavourable exchange rates, international wine surpluses and increased competition are great stumbling blocks ahead, but the South African effort is gaining momentum, coherence and professionalism. This is the overwhelming message from the four day event which involved more than 1 200 foreign media, trade and other representatives and virtually all the country’s role players in export.

“If you take South African wine seriously, you had to be there, irrespective of whether you realised new deals or sales,” said Neil Ellis afterwards in an interview. This sentiment was echoed by other leading exhibitors when approached for comment by WineLand.

Perhaps the outspoken and often controversial Michael Fridjhon summed it up best when saying, “The general feeling is that this has been a world class show, well managed and successful in delivering the right audience to the industry.

At this stage of South Africa’s development as a wine producer in the global context, we need to bring trade buyers and opinion formers to the country to expose them to the wines here, where they are made, he added.”

More than one sigh of relief was probably uttered when Fridjhon, as convener of a seminar panel, did not expose the visitors to touchy ‘household’ matters like the additives issue, when the spotlight fell on “South Africa, the next five years”.

In his seminar, a particularly diplomatic Fridjhon urged local producers to focus on expressing the origin of their wines, selling a taste of place. He also stressed that South Africa was not doomed to follow the Australian model, where big brand uniformity was beginning to limit growth.

With reference to Cape Wine 2004, he added that “at this stage of South Africa’s development as a wine producer in the global context, the country needs to bring trade buyers and opinion formers to expose them to the wines here where they are made”.

Meanwhile, even the weather played along as Cape Wine 2004, South Africa’s biggest ever wine trade exhibition, covered 5 000 square metres and showcased 4 000 wines from 268 exhibitors to about 2 500 visitors with a specialist interest in wine – comprising 1 200 visitors from overseas, with 150 foreign and 100 local media.

Said Wosa CEO Su Birch: “Cape Wine 2004 provided an outstanding opportunity to show international trade and media the scope and depth of our industry. And right here in the Cape. It’s important to remember we are not only selling wine on the international market but also its provenance. For international wine buyers and journalists to experience the Cape firsthand gives far greater substance to their exposure,” said Birch.

She felt, though, that the four day format was a bit too long and three days, with at least one exclusive day for the trade, would be more ideal. That would also eliminate the problem of poorer attendance of the last day’s seminars.

Delegates were also treated by individual producers to boat trips, beach parties, helicopter rides to wineries and sumptuous dinners in many of the Cape winelands’ historic manor houses.

Birch says many of the major wineries reported doing “serious business”. The biggest contingent of foreign buyers came from the UK, numbering 130 – to be expected, since Britain is the biggest export destination for the country’s wines.

“But we had significant numbers from other major markets like the US, Germany and The Netherlands, which in each case amounted to close on 100 delegates. And also large groups from countries like Canada and Sweden.”

Foreign visitors came not only from well-established export wine markets, but also from emergent markets like India, Singapore, Korea, Hungary, the Ukraine, the Czech Republic and even countries like Cyprus and Angola – 20 countries were represented in all. The last two days of the show, which ended on April 2, were open to the South African trade and public – the first time they have been included in the exhibition, which was targeted principally at the export market. This drew more than 1 000 visitors. In addition to the exhibition, held at the Cape Town Convention Centre, Wosa also hosted an evening of local food and wine at The Castle of Good Hope. Entitled “Celebrating Cape Cuisine” and featuring 20 of the region’s top chefs, it drew the majority of delegates.

Delegates attended a charity wine auction that raised over R40 000 in aid of Dopstop and the Makukhanye Gospel Choir of Nkquebela in Robertson.

Selling a ‘taste of place’

Producers should focus on expressing the origin of their wines – selling “a taste of place”. This was the appeal from Michael Fridjhon, Johannesburg-based industry commentator.

As introduction to the seminar on the next five years in the South African wine industry, Fridjhon said, “Wineries are discovering that the Rand is much stronger than a couple of years ago and that it’s hard to make a living with current exchange rates. In the past, we did our marketing on the basis of devaluation of the currency”.

“The ever smiling price of the rand made it easy to put stock on shelves at a discount, but that’s not marketing at all. It’s simply discounting wine off the shelf.

“Now that the rand has stabilised – and stabilised at a position of strength for some time – the wine industry has to accept that the currency is not going to do its marketing for it and that we have to produce wines that can compete, and that at a higher price points in order to be profitable for the producer.

“We have to take the concept of discount out of product and then make sure as an industry we over-deliver in terms of the expectations of consumers. This obviously also requires communication and is very much a part of the message of brand South Africa.

” … with those things we can certainly also take advantage of many of the other benefits that are part of what is to be South African. We have, as you can see, the great price, and we have ample supplies of labour, which means that we can do things like organic and handcrafted wines more cost-efficiently than most other countries.

“We certainly have dedication, commitment and an extraordinary enthusiasm for the future. These are really key elements in the way that the South African industry should present itself going forward.”

Fridjhon stressed the importance of authenticity in wine marketing and ensuring the consumers understand what they’re getting at what price.

” If you’re going to talk about the authenticity of the trade, you need to have an industry which has the structure to police this properly and also to give consumer confidence worldwide.”

“South Africa was at the crossroads of the brand authenticity debate -one of the challenges facing the Cape wine industry is the road forward”, he said.

Great opportunity, but it’s what you make of it …

Interviews with various participants revealed an overall spirit of satisfaction with the great networking opportunity and the professional arrangements. But clearly, you had to do homework to make the most of it. KIM MAXWELL filed this feedback.

  • Jacques Roux, marketing director of Graham Beck Wines – The weather really played along. Everyone had a good time and we certainly succeeded in selling the Cape as a destination.
  • Don Gallow, general manager of international operations for South Africa’s biggest wine producer Distell – The majority of the company’s key agents world-wide attended the event. Their feedback was very positive in terms of our wines and the South African category as a whole. We certainly expect to be doing more business as a result of the show.
  • For winemaker Peter Finlayson of Bouchard-Finlayson in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near Hermanus – Cape Wine 2004 provided an excellent opportunity to network among influential members of the international wine trade.
  • Johann Laubser of Dominion Wine Company – While major UK multiple buyers were noticeable in their absence – I spotted only two – the show and related Wosa events offered marketing and promotional value for the industry. In terms of using the show to make deals, most companies already have their agents. They don’t need Cape Wine 2004 as they’ll come in their own time. But I thought the event at the castle was great.
  • Tim Hutchinson of DGB Ltd also commented favourably on the value of ‘brand wine South Africa’ – We’ve obviously also done a lot from our own budget, but you’ve got to if you’re competing with the wine world internationally. One questions the returns for smaller producers. You’ve got to have a specific niche. You can’t be just another wine label. The big players want to deal with four or five big brands from a country, plus a few boutique brands. The first thing American companies ask is whether a winery has the production capacity. The UK multiples are also looking for a pyramid range of brands.
  • DP Burger of boutique newcomer GlenWood took a stand in the hope of finding overseas distribution – For a young winery with no agents abroad, it’s like fishing in a very big sea with a very small hook. I’ve made a few contacts, but it was more due to luck that people ended up at our stand than because agents were actively seeking us out. Newcomers should get more prominent demarcation in show catalogues or on websites, in future shows. And next time let’s have it in June so I can finish harvest first!
  • Like some other smaller companies looking for overseas representation, Burger was disappointed. Frustration was expressed at the fact that overseas buyers could search the web for producers selling specific varieties in specific regions or price points, but the process wasn’t as direct for producers looking for overseas representation.
  • Meyer Joubert of Joubert-Tradouw in Barrydale had a different experience -For us, being so isolated in Barrydale, it’s been good for exposure. It’s difficult to become known because our farm is not part of an established wine route. Joubert-Tradouw is a lone ranger punting super-premium wines in the Barrydale area. Buyers from Canada and Sweden expressed interest, and made follow-up appointments for the following week.
  • Linda-Louise Roosenschoon of Winecorp – I had good business from existing and new clients. Interest from Germany has been enormous, as well as Canada. Huge things are happening for us in the UK, using existing agents. We’ve also had a lot of media visits at the estate, so we’re very happy. It was a fantastic venue and well organised. We’re so proud that South Africans can create this level of professionalism!
  • At Cape Wine 2004, Newton Johnson showed both their Walker Bay namesake boutique range and their joint venture FirstCape brand, a collaboration between Surrey-based Brand Phoenix, Newton Johnson, Worcester’s De Wet Co-op Winery and Rawsonville’s Goudini Wines. An instant success, this volume brand, established in 2002, is one of the fastest growing South African brands in the UK and was placed in the top five in the multiple grocer category (Nielsen). Adding to the excitement this brand is generating, FirstCape’s listing with multiple retailer Tesco was recently secured.

Pinotage – ‘The future lies in definition and difference’

Introducing a seminar on Pinotage and Cape Blends, the Pinotage Association set out to prove that great Pinotage can age. Beyers Truter challenged tasters to defy the Lanzerac ’64 and Simonsig ’78 as great examples of aged wines.

Tasted against the vibrancy of L’Avenir 2000 and CWB Kanonkop 2001, they certainly reflected a piece of Pinotage history, but the audience wasn’t uniformly positive about the older wine quality. Catharine Lowe, editor of Wine International, UK, questioned whether slightly younger wines – say from the 80s – wouldn’t have been more relevant.

The association could do a lot better following Anthony Hamilton Russell’s lead, which is to concentrate on making the best wine possible, which then just happens to be Pinotage. “Having a unique selling point (USP) isn’t enough reason to sell Pinotage. The wines have to be really good,” he urged.

“If we just treat Pinotage like a red wine, we’d probably have more marketing success. The variety itself is capable of greatness in a different way to an Australian Shiraz or Californian Cab.”

True to his philosophy, a sneak preview of the Bastenburg 2001 wowed tasters – a single vineyard 100% Pinotage wine, it will form the basis of Southern Right’s future Cape Blend flagship.

Michelle Rolland also made a stand for Pinotage in the “Wines of the Warm South” seminar. Rolland’s collaboration with Remhoogte Estate produced a Merlot-dominated blend, Bonne Nouvelle 2002, with 25% Pinotage and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon. It received a mixed response, with Frank Prial of New York Times noting he’d like less Pinotage. But Rolland believes South Africa’s future lies in defining a difference.

“Cabernet is among a lot of Cabernets in the world, Merlot is among a lot of Merlots. I want to use Pinotage to be different to the others. The normal consumer likes something different,” he says.

– Kim Maxwell

Shiraz shines in seminars

SA Shiraz got a universally favourable review in the ‘warm south’ seminar, with tasters noting the diverse wine styles of examples such as Vergelegen Syrah, Thelema Syrah or The Foundry. In fact, SA Shiraz/Syrah seemed to shine in most seminars featuring reds, and was the variety that attracted most favourable comments from international buyers and media.

Defining SA style accurately – as opposed to Australia and Rh“ne – preoccupied some trade members though. The response: that SA Shiraz/Syrah is usually a style in transition, fitting somewhere in between.

Tim Atkin MW, columnist for The Observer and Off Licence News, introduced a ‘Shiraz and Syrah – the future for South Africa’ seminar. “There was a question mark at the end of this title originally, but I’ve removed it,” Atkin began.

Using input from Cathy Marshall of BWC and Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof, Atkin said South African wines appear to be divided into Australian-style Shiraz, and more serious, classic flagship styles following a French mould, titled Syrah. He described common winemaking variations employed in these countries. Kent noted positive Syrah-style developments in SA, such as less use of American oak, more French oak, and less new oak. “Personally I try to use oak as a vehicle for slow oxidation, not to add an extra element to a wine,” he said.

– Kim Maxwell

Charter and scorecard in pipeline

The first active steps to the drafting of a South African Wine Industry Charter and Scorecard have been taken after representatives from all sectors of the wine industry recently approved the industry’s transformation plan, its commitment to Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and the need for this Charter.

Speaking at the “Future” seminar, Dr Johan van Rooyen, chief executive of the South African Wine and Brandy Company (SAWB), said the Charter will have a major impact on all in the wine industry and could, if introduced correctly, play a profound role in increasing its competitiveness. The nuts and bolts of the Charter’s content still have to be thrashed out, but ensuring that all stakeholders in the wine industry have a voice in the process and that the process itself is transparent, are non-negotiable and will ensure a positive response.

“The purpose of the Wine Industry Charter and Scorecard is to align and focus all sectors of the wine industry into coherent strategic activities, to create synergies within the industry and to provide a measurement of progress,” he said.

Wynpassie omgesit in guts …

Agter die garagedeur, bekende wyngesigte – Eben Sadie, Bruwer Raats, maar ook heelwat minder bekende wynmakers – Suid-Afrika se eie garagiste.

Die Garagiste Beweging het vanjaar vir die eerste keer aan die Cape Wine 2004 wynskou deelgeneem. Te oordeel aan die samedromming voor hul stalletjie, die gesellige klap- en slurpgeluide en die vele instemmende kopknikke, is die terugvoering uit die bedryf, baie positief.

Suid-Afrika se Garagiste Beweging het in 1996 op ‘n maanligaand op Muizenberg se strand tot stand gekom. Cathy Marshall van The Barefoot Wine Company se slim plan om ‘n klomp vriende te nooi wat moes help trap aan drie vaatjies Shiraz. Dit het die lus by gefrustreerde wynmakers – die meeste met vaste agt tot vyf beroepe aangewakker en spog die Garagiste Beweging vandag met 20 geregistreerde lede.

Die maksimum volume om as garagiste te kwalifiseer, is 30 vaatjies. Tanja Beutler, segspersoon van die beweging, sorg dat alles volgens wet geskied vir garagiste wat hul bedrywighede by Sawis en SARS moet registreer.

Die Garagiste paneelbespreking en -wynproe by Cape Wine 2004, onder leiding van Lynne Sherriff, Wosa-konsultant in die Verenigde Koninkryk, het garagiste se voorkeur vir Shiraz wyne bevestig.

Volgens Eben Sadie (Sadie Family Wines), kan Shiraz, ‘n ou Mediterreense kultivar, juis die bedryf voorwaarts stuur, omdat dit so geskik is vir Suid-Afrikaanse omstandighede. “Shiraz maak nie wynmaak makliker nie, net die kans op suksesvolle wyne soveel groter,” sê hy.

“Die eerste jaar se passie omgesit in guts,” is Tanja se beskrywing van vasbyter garagiste. En danksy die guts, sluit die wynverskeidenheid al selfs ‘n Sauvignon Blanc (Usana) en ‘n Chardonnay (William Everson) in. Beide Bengt-Goran Kronstamm (Sweedse media) en Peter Sisseck (Pingus Spain), deel van die proepaneel, het ook die Raats Chenin Blanc 2003 as ‘n goeie Suid-Afrikaanse Chenin geprys.

Kronstamm het gevoel dat van die garagiste wyne nie altyd genoeg kultivareienskappe toon nie. Miskien so ‘n biejtie kunstenaarsvryheid; Wynplesier gewis, dit is juis hierdie eerlike aanbieding van die druif wat garagiste wyne so uniek maak. Tog behoort die wyne steeds aan die verbruiker se verwagting van die kulitvar, soos op die bottel aangedui, te voldoen. Die balans tussen vrug en hout en die gebrek aan ‘n vaste terroir adres het ook vir lekker saamgesels gesorg.

Garagiste kom en gaan, party verloor gou belangstelling, ander raak so gewild dat hulle hulself uit die garagiste kriteria uitpars. Die nuutjie dalk ‘n kortstondige foefie – Hopelik nie, maar eerder ‘n vars briesie wat bly waai.

– Jacoline Haasbroek

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