Swipe right – what does SA wine have to do to make the world love it?

This year’s theme Cape Winethe flagship trade showcase for the South African wine industry presented by the generic export body Wines of South Africa (WOSA) in October, is “Sustainability 360”, the three pillars being “People, Place and Prosperity”, l he idea being to demonstrate to delegates how a ‘brighter and better future’ is being created for ‘those who are directly involved and invested in South African wine, the surrounding communities, the flora and fauna that live there. ‘envelop and long-term growth and improvement of the industry’.

This is all very valid but surely the major challenge for the industry is that it is still not seen as a major player in the world of good wine. In 2021, 51% of wine sales by volume were for export, of which approximately 60% was in bulk. However, these bulk exports only accounted for about 25% of the value.

When it comes to packaged wine, the country is still identified with its big brands that sell in the affordable price segments rather than the luxury price segments – the easy-drinking Kumala owned by Accolade Wines South Africa, for example. , remains massively potent in the UK. , which is the country’s main export market.

South Africa’s immediate challenge is to persuade discerning consumers that its best wines are worth the kind of money many are willing to shell out for French or Italian appellations.

To a large extent, the market takes care of the problem of unbranded wine at the low end. As has been repeatedly noted, the national vineyard peaked at 102,146 ha in 2006 and has declined every year since – total plantings at the end of 2021 were 90,512 ha.

When it comes to packaged wine, it’s hard to see where SA’s next mega-brands will come from – the acquisition of producer-wholesaler Distell by Heineken still needs confirmation while DGB and KWV don’t seem ready to produce a Yellow Tail (Australia) or Blossom Hill (USA) for now.

It would seem that SA wine’s only hope is to convince the world of its fine wine credentials. What determines good wine? Essentially, it’s two-pronged – the terroir and the cult of the winemaker’s personality. It’s debatable which is more important – the site or the charismatic creator – but after a certain point it doesn’t matter because both are needed to capture the imagination of the highly engaged wine consumer.

Readers of this website could be forgiven for thinking that small independent winery credentials are now taken for granted. I suspect, however, that Alheit, Sadie and even Kanonkop are far less well known in Paris, Sydney or New York than some local actors might assume.

When it comes to SA wine, small is beautiful. The country has both the wealth of terroir and winemaking staff to take on the world – 224 of the 536 wineries operating at the end of 2021 crushed 100 tonnes or less per year, which is roughly how the industry is structured in any event. Many of these producers cannot supply the supermarkets because they do not have the necessary volumes, but do not want to either, because they do not want to get involved in the sordid world of promotion. and discount.

It could be argued that if these small wineries were willing to invest not only financially, but emotionally, in the local market, they wouldn’t need to export – door-to-door sales and direct sales via databases offer the highest margins and the most control. It seems, however, that smaller wineries like to travel to export markets, regardless of the ultimate profitability – as a producer, checking your list at the best restaurant in Copenhagen probably makes the 2am punches less intolerable.

When everything is taken into consideration, specialty stores, wine bars and wine-conscious restaurants remain the main channels for reaching the right consumer. The Internet has killed specialty music stores and the Internet seems to be killing movie theaters, but when it comes to wine, consumers are still looking for information, variety and even, dare I say, the kind of fellowship that only a face-to-face interaction can offer. Sustainability, whether social, environmental or economic, is obviously of vital importance, but above all we must be relevant and attractive to the world.