Over the years some of the most famous personalities in the wine world have graced Nederburg’s podium in this capacity and taken back with them memories not only of the Cape’s finest wines, but of what is said to be the most efficiently organised wine auction anywhere.
HARD TIMES, TRADITION AND INNOVATION AROUND THE BUSINESS MODEL OF WINE
It will come as no surprise to anyone here that South Africa’s wine-producing regions are, without exception, presented as beautiful, lush, fertile and prosperous. Wine and the landscapes that produce them have a timeless aura about them that only the most hardened cynic can resist.
But scratch a little below the surface, and you’ll find a grim reality.
Only 14% of South African wine producers are sustainably profitable. Half struggle by with very low or no profit, at the mercy of every shock in the weather, the vines or the market. Almost four in ten wine producers run at an outright loss.
Against prices that have been declining in real terms, wine production costs have soared relentlessly, and there appears to be no end in sight.
The area of land under wine grape vineyards in South Africa has declined by 7% over the last ten years, and that decline has accelerated since 2015.
South Africa has lost almost a quarter of its primary grape producers, and the number of cellars has also been trending downwards.
Because of the severe drought in the Western Cape, there was a sharp decline in South Africa’s production for 2018. According to VinPro, production was down 15% year-on-year.
And globally, wine production is also at its lowest ebb this century.
So far, the state of the wine industry, both in South Africa and overseas, looks pretty dismal.
On the upside, however, worldwide wine consumption has remained stable, and South African consumption has been on a steep rise.
We drank 21.6% more wine last year than we did five years ago. Don’t tell Aaron Motsoaledi, but sin taxes don’t work. In fact, they just encourage us.
While drought has slashed production, it has also increased grape quality, which makes for less, but better wine.
According to Nicolò Pudel of Port2Port, almost all the future growth in the South African wine industry will come from the premium segment, that is, wines that retail above R65 a bottle.
Although about 60% of South Africa’s exports still consist of bulk wine, the quality of the country’s wines has risen steadily since 1994. The premium wine segment is ripe for exploitation by local winemakers.
Wine is a complicated thing. And to be fair, I’m just an ordinary wine enthusiast so this is a very daunting audience for me. You are far better qualified in all aspects of wine from production to taste to marketing.
When I sniff a glass of wine, I’m likely to say, “Mmm, do I detect a hint of grapes?”
Show me a wine stopper, and I think, “Why would you want to stop the wine?”
But not only are you better qualified than I am, you also all have strong and widely varying views on wine and what should be happening in the SA wine industry.
To give you just a few examples of the advice offered to me by a few wine fundis who’ve crossed my path in the last few days:
Jan-Boland Coetzee from Vriesenhof told me that optimal wine production is all about understanding the light intensity on every block of the vineyard. The idea is to plant the right varietals according to sunshine and then treating blocks, and even vines, in each vineyard individually.
Amanda Barnes, a leading wine journalist, told me that South African reds are still harvested too early and we should not worry about higher alcohol levels, but rather get the slight green taste to go away.
Johan Olivier from Beau Constantia says the problem with our wines is the same problem that most people have, namely that they are trying to hard to be someone else. We should stop trying to be like say the French wines and produce our own style of wine.
My wife Rosemary – from Bartinney – tells me many things all the time: mostly to do more stuff at home. But she too has strong views on everything from women in wine to making gin out of wine grapes infused with seasonal fynbos.
Nicolò Pudel makes the point that the future is all about data and that wine producers have very little data about who exactly bought their wine, what did they pay, how it is stored, when and where it was drunk, whether it was paired with food and which food, and how consumers felt about the wine.
I respect all these opinions, as well as those that I am likely to hear later today. I think this diversity of viewpoints is exactly what makes us strong, together. And I know better than to take you on.
So instead of talking about wine directly, I’m going to talk about innovation. Innovation is all about challenging the status quo, sometimes disruptively so, in order to achieve not only high revenue growth, but more importantly, profit growth. This is an area that I know a bit better than wine on its own.
There are complex ways in which innovation interacts with tradition, and that is especially true in a grand old industry like viniculture.
Innovation is easy to do, in principle. Just change something. Anything. Come up with ideas, even if they look ridiculous at first.
The computer pioneer Howard Aiken used to say, “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”
Some people would say if you understand it, it isn’t innovation. It’s very fashionable to say if you’re not failing, and failing often, you’re not innovating.
Innovation has become a necessity for good business, but it has also become a bit of a cult, even spawning gurus that claim to be able to teach you how to innovate, just like maharishis will teach you how to meditate.
But there is plenty innovation that isn’t worth a damn, because the innovator did not understand what they were doing, or why they were doing it. My background is in banking. In my business, innovation that goes wrong can literally break the bank.
The same is true for the wine industry. Innovation for the sake of innovation can be a bigger risk to the business than not innovating at all.
Digital disruption is happening in many industries.
The world’s largest taxi company owns no taxis.
The world’s largest accommodation provider owns no real estate.
The world’s largest phone companies own no telecommunications networks.
The world’s most valuable retailer owns no inventory.
The world’s largest media company creates no media.
The world’s largest movie house owns no cinemas.
The world’s largest software vendors don’t write the apps.
According to Tim Atkins, the master wine critic from the UK, a similar thing is already happening in South African winemaking. In the current depressed economic circumstances, barriers to entry for new winemakers are very low, and some of South Africa’s best winemaking talents, such as Duncan Savage, Donovan Rall, David & Nadia Sadie, Ginny Povall, Hannes and Ernst Storm, Pieter Walser and Stompie Meyer, don’t own any vineyards at all.
So, let’s consider some innovations that do and don’t make sense in this environment. As a wine consumer, I see an awful lot of fads pop up. Most disappear overnight. A lot of effort goes into marketing to a younger, poorer sort of customer. Most of these ideas are gimmicks, at best, and some are quite off-putting to the more sophisticated and more traditional wine consumer.
In 2013, William Fèvre released a Limited Edition Hipster Chablis, which lit up under ultra-violet light. Aimed at the clubbing market, it came complete with a QR code that would launch a 360° animation, and a level indicator to monitor how much of the wine had been drunk.
This is straight out of the book of trying too hard. Most millennials look upon hipsters with disdain, and would only use the term ironically to describe themselves. When you’re clubbing, you don’t exactly need 360° animations of anything. And who needs a level indicator to tell them how much wine is left in a bottle?
The McCann advertising agency in Lithuania thought it might be a cool idea to package wine in a paint tin. On the back, it had a colour swatch showing how stained your teeth would get, depending on how many glasses of wine you drink.
Because that’s why people drink red wine. To stain their teeth.
According to Forbes, it has become a bit of a thing, in highly fashionable circles on both sides of the Atlantic, to pair wines with insects such as mealworms and fried scorpions. Apparently, hosting a bug and wine pairing is perfect for team building, sustainability programmes, classrooms, wellness centres, foodies and promotions.
Except, of course, it isn’t perfect for these events at all. Youtry to feed your staff insects. I can assure you, you’ll quickly become a very unattractive employer, which will be a problem, because most of your staff won’t come back to work.
Then there’s this wine. The label comes off, and serves as a paper cup. Let’s be generous and assume that a paper cup is better than swigging straight from the bottle, as debatable as that might be.
Would you really want a tiny paper cup that you cannot even put down? This idea won a design competition. I’ll bet none of the judges were wine drinkers.
Here’s another one from the “I didn’t know I needed that. Wait, I really don’t,” department.
And before you say USB sticks are great for putting promotional material on, they aren’t. People who get USB sticks delete the marketing junk as soon as they get them. And then they’re going to want to use the USB stick. Ever tried to squeeze an entire cork into the space available for USB sticks on your computer?
From the crazy-rich neighbourhoods of Los Angeles comes the idea of yoga-and-wine retreats. The New York Times even ran an article about it. Write this up as an appeal to people who take neither yoga nor wine seriously. A few of the yogis the New York Times spoke to said, “well, whatever floats your boat”. But most were appalled that people would do yoga drunk, because alcohol totally messes with the vibrations of your astral being.
Shock labels were pioneered 20 years ago by French winemaker Thierry Boudinaud and British wine importer Guy Anderson. The concept was a roaring marketing success, and has been widely copied. Traditional labels almost seem a rarity, these days.
Even in the early days, however, they caused controversy. Advertising leaflets for Fat Bastard were banned in Iceland, because they were considered inappropriate for children. The brand was banned in Texas, because despite their boastful talk about liberty, they’re actually quite narrow-minded under their ten-gallon hats.
Of course, if you want to continue to shock, you have to keep pushing the envelope. And soon, instead of growing your potential market, you risk offending it.
Until you get to ideas that seemed funny at the time, perhaps because you sampled a little too much of your own tipple. This label drew so much public outrage that it had to be withdrawn from the market altogether.
This is not the sort of innovation that will help South Africa’s wine industry. Innovation is not about creating the most ridiculous new fad. In fact, in wine, innovation often means going back to traditional roots, while solving modern problems with innovative production methods, new distribution channels, and marketing that targets broad audiences instead of niche markets. And there’s little point to innovation if it cannot find ways to address the economic challenges of operating in the wine industry.
The challenges for the South African industry include a lack of profitability, a global perception as a value-priced bulk wine exporter, and an over-complicated supply chain that largely fails to create a connection between consumers and wineries.
An innovator would look at what would seem like relentless bad news, such as the critical production shortage caused by the weather in 2018, or the fact that the rand is circling the proverbial drain, and consider how they might present opportunities.
With lower volumes and a weaker rand, winemakers now have an excuse to focus on higher-quality wine, and to raise their wholesale prices. Even as the quality of South African wine continues to improve, they are still inexpensive by global standards, and the weak rand will mitigate higher prices in export markets. And even a small increase in prices can make a large difference in income at the farm gate.
After years of stagnant prices, VinPro is now anticipating sustained price increases. These projections were made before taking into account the production shortage of 2018, so the future might well be even brighter.
South Africa was a pioneer in producing sustainable wines. Two decades ago, the industry established the Integrated Production of Wine scheme, a world first, administered by the Wine and Spirit Board.
IPW certification complies with international sustainability standards, and builds on the older Wine of Origin certification process. Almost all South African producers are IPW certified.
Local winemakers have also been pro-active in developing fair labour practices and obtaining certification for doing so. According to VinPro, 66% of wine by volume in 2017 was accredited by organisations such as Fair Trade or the Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trade Association. This is up from only 20% in 2015, which deserves congratulations. At this rate, the target of 100% ethical wine will be achieved long before the target date of 2025.
But at the high end, sustainability and ethical labour practices aren’t enough anymore. Premium wine consumers are increasingly attracted by organic and biodynamic wines. Just in the last three years, the number of organic and biodynamic wines entered into the Concourse Mondial de Bruxelles has grown by 80%.
Organic wines are produced without any synthetic chemicals, fertilisers or additives. Biodynamic wines are often organic, but go further, by considering the vineyard as a complete ecosystem, and farming within that ecosystem’s physical and natural limits.
Producing organic wine is difficult, as this leaves grapes more vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather, and wine quality can be hit and miss. You have to be a good winemaker to produce decent organic wine.
Only the best winemakers are able to pull off the production of biodynamic wines. The restrictions these disciplines impose on the winemaking process are daunting, and can dramatically influence quality and consistency.
Only a small number of South African wine producers have taken the bold and innovative step into organic or biodynamic winemaking. There are only 17 certified organic producers in South Africa, and a mere two certified biodynamic producers.
So this is an unexploited potential growth area in which to create and market higher-value products for both the domestic and international market.
Another area in which innovative thinking is required is transformation. Although there has been a little growth in the last few years, the number of hectares of vineyard under at least 25% black ownership is a measly 2.5% of the industry total. The tonnage produced by farms with at least 25% black ownership is only 1.9% of the total tonnage.
There is huge political pressure on land ownership, right now, with outright expropriation looming very large on the horizon. Finding ways to introduce black partners into both viticulture and viniculture, not just as owners but as active participants, is a crucial matter of self-preservation for the wine industry.
The wine distribution chain, especially for export wines, is largely old-fashioned and opaque. Winemakers cannot see their customers. They don’t know what their customers like, which wines are being recommended to them, what food it is being paired with, on what occasions it is being drunk, and even at what price the wine is being sold.
Conversely, consumers are often presented with a wall of labels and brands, without getting much of a feel for who the winemaker is, what goes into a particular wine, or why they should select one brand over another, even if the price is higher.
Companies like Port2Port use technology to try to bridge this gap. It enables wineries to market directly to consumers, enables consumers to buy directly from wineries, and delegates shipping and logistics to dedicated courier companies.
It provides a single, integrated online platform that brings together premium wineries, importers, retailers, restaurants and private buyers, facilitating not only physical trade, but also online sales.
The rise of the internet has caused disintermediation in many industries, and it is happening in the wine industry too. Innovators won’t fight this trend. Innovative business models will take advantage of the power of technology to carve unnecessary cost overheads out of the supply chain and enhance the winemaker’s relationship with customers.
Our changing climate also brings about a need for innovation in wine. South Africa’s wine growing regions are perilously close to the 20°C line, above which few, if any, wine grape varietals grow. For the foreseeable future, it is likely that the climate of the Western Cape will get a little warmer, and possibly a little drier.
One of the standout success stories of the South African wine industry has been the development of the Swartland and the region around the Olifants River even further north. Innovative winemakers like Charles Back, Eben Sadie, Donovan Rall, Adi Badenhorst, Andrea and Chris Mullineux, Callie Louw, David Sadie and Marc Kent have turned the region from a producer of rough, rustic wines suitable only for blending, to a producer of some of the most exciting new wines the country has seen.
The Swartland can be as much as 5°C warmer than Paarl or Stellenbosh, and it is also much drier, yet the region’s innovative winemakers are producing wines that critics describe as complex, flavourful and elegant.
According to the famous US wine critic Stephen Tanzer, Swartland vintners replaced most of the traditional stock with varieties from the south of France and the Mediterranean that were better suited to the climate.
Many of these winemakers are also pioneers in naturally produced wines, as members of the Swartland Independent Producers association. They also host events around the country to market the unique wines of the region, along with other local products and food pairings.
This is the kind of innovation that promises to lift South African wine to internationally competitive quality, while being resistant to the vagaries of both the climate and the economy that await us.
Innovation is not just about the latest marketing fad. True innovation is aimed at long-term success. It builds on economic realities, scientific knowledge, traditional values, and new market trends.
Innovation doesn’t just create a product that is briefly trendy. It meets market needs that are far broader than taste and price, to embrace ecological, social and economic sustainability. It creates a closer relationship between winemakers and customers, makes objectively better wines, and supports profitability for years to come.
That’s why innovation will decide who the winners are, even in the most traditional of arts.
TWO WINE INDUSTRIES
Keynote Address: Nederburg Auction, 16th September 2017
In June 2005 the proprietors of the estates which were rated and ranked in the famous 1855 classification of Bordeaux gathered to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its publication. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the party, which was hosted at Chateau d’Yquem. This was not a modest gathering: the Bordeaux Cru Classe estates were in the midst of a seemingly endless boom, with a string of decent vintages going back a decade, and nature delivering wines of legend just when they were required for the millennium. Primeur prices for these vinous treasures – which, by the way, represent only a tiny fraction of the region’s production – had increased roughly five fold since the mid 1990s. For much the same effort, and with assets which had long been amortised, revenues were sky-rocketing as a result of what seemed an insatiable international demand. The Global Financial Crisis lay hidden in the mists of an unimagined future several years ahead.
Four Three Star Michelin chefs had set up their restaurants at d’Yquem, so that instead of banquet fare, usually not so bad when a decent French traiteur gets called in, the very best of French fine dining would be available for the guests. As we were standing around at twilight, sipping on a full array of wines from the 1855 estates, and making the kind of small talk which precedes a dinner whose joys were easy to anticipate, one of my hosts – the proprietor of a venerable and much celebrated property – said, slightly apologetically “you must excuse these slightly muted celebrations, but down there (this with a airy wave from the heights of the d’Yquem Plateau to the lower lying ground which is home to the more generic Bordeaux vineyards), down there, people are starving.”
He explained that although we were standing on the high ground of Sauternes, some very ordinary Bordeaux appellations were located nearby. The very survival of many of these small growers had become increasingly precarious as the average price paid for their wine remained much the same as it had been ten years previously, whereas their input cost inflation was running at 2 – 3% annually. “They are under-recovering on their running costs, and because they are small business proprietors, they cannot really claim on the welfare state: they really are starving,” he said. “We are really not in the same wine business, though we farm in much the same place. The world sees the opulence of the 1855 estates, but it is wealth in the midst of poverty.”
This concept of two wine industries in the same country is the subject of my keynote address today. But it is not about the 60% plus of all South African producers whose businesses are marginal or losing money that I wish to focus this talk. VinPro has produced enough hard research on the subject that none of us can plead ignorance of the true economics of wine production. We South Africans are – or should be – acutely aware of the high Gini coefficient which is an embarrassing economic truth of our post political apartheid society. Accordingly, I want to talk about the parts of the “other” wine industry that we know vaguely about and choose to ignore: the other consumers, living in communities where hope for a better life has long ago faded into the gloom of despair, and where alcohol – cheap wine, and cheaper so-called ales – as well as tik and nyaope are used to block out the vista of desperation extending endlessly into the future. So part of what I have labelled our two wine industries is in fact two types of consumers: if we don’t acknowledge them, and act to do something about the conditions which drive them deeper into the pit of desolation, we will not be in a position to deal with the prohibitionism which colours so much of the national government’s rhetoric about alcohol. For reasons of political convenience, or perhaps out of ignorance, our politicians see alcohol as a cause of socially dysfunctional communities, rather than as a consequence of them.
Let us be clear about this: when it comes to lobbying the government, we – the wine industry – are happy to remind them that we are one of the top drivers of the Western Cape economy. We trot out numbers which suggest that 280000 jobs are directly or indirectly the result of grape-farming, wine making, packaging, transport – the trade in alcohol. We show that the industry adds 1.2 % to GDP and pays in excess of R5bn to the fiscus – which is more than the combined net income of the producers. In addition there is the contribution the mere presence of the wine industry makes towards tourism, not only the annual descent of Gauteng on the Western Cape, but, perhaps more importantly, the hard currency contribution of Northern Hemisphere visitors – the so-called swallows and the once-in-a-lifetime adventurers. When we seek to impress on an otherwise disinterested or incompetent national government the vital role played by the wine industry, we endeavour to show the size of our contribution – our indispensability, if you like. Now we must assume responsibility equal to our claims, and play our part in the upliftment of communities whose despair, despondence and general sense of helplessness makes them easy prey to drug pushers, ale-vendors, the merchants of oblivion for those whose everyday lives demand an urgent avenue of escape.
How, you may ask, are we to do this, we who are already battling to stay viable as grape prices remain resolutely low, and the on-shelf price of packaged wine leaves no margin for the value chain. Here we can turn for inspiration to someone whose credentials in terms of commitment to this country are beyond dispute. Rosa Kruger is a viticulturist, and one of the key drivers behind the Old Vine Project, which has identified the blocks of old vines whose potential to yield world class wines has been widely acknowledged as a game-changer for the ultra-premium segment of the wine industry. Rosa is – almost singlehandedly and against the inertia of some of the key institutions in the industry – trying (so far unsuccessfully) to get training programmes for vineyard workers included in the certification criteria for the Integrated Production of Wine regulations. In her own words:
“I work in the field. I see the needs every day. I honestly think the general farm worker needs and wants to develop his skills as a vineyard worker. I have done it myself in a very very small scale and I have seen the wonderful results.
Empowerment starts with education. Social upliftment starts with education. I really believe that.
I have lost too many vineyard workers to Tik, TB and violence, to not notice the absolute desperation. I think by education we can start the long and cumbersome process of upliftment.”
Vineyard work for many who spend long hours in the sometimes baking sun – we should not kid ourselves that we practise much by way of cool climate viticulture in South Africa – is not a choice: in many of the inland areas, it is the only option other than unemployment and starvation. If we wish to transform it from a burden borne with resentment to a career of choice, it must come with skills development and the prospect of skilled labour rates and job satisfaction. Chris Mullineux, who together with his wife and partner Andrea has turned their Mullineux & Leeu operation into what is probably the smartest and most successful small- to mid-size wine business which has developed anywhere in the world in the past decade, trained as an accountant – but having qualified, instead he chose to spend his days walking between rows of vines, watching, suckering, pruning, nurturing. Because he knows what he is doing, and because he understands the science of the vine and the art of fine wine, he loves performing exactly the same work which those who are forced into agricultural employment resent and despise. If we don’t empower the labour upon whom our industry depends – and empower them with knowledge, and passion and a sense of their place in the greater machine out of which fine wine emerges, we will always have these two halves of the industry separated by an unbridgeable chasm.
Finally, I want to talk about another two wine industries, another two halves which function in a competitive yet symbiotic relationship, the world of commercial or, as some would have it, industrial wine, and the world of fine, some might call it craft wine, others, vin de terroir – wine made to express origin more than the hand of the winemaker. It’s become fashionable to see these two wine industries as hermetically sealed off from each other, fighting each other for the same share of the consumer Rand. The “terroirists” appear to have acquired a position of superiority, as if the expression of origin (assuming this is always discernible) necessarily trumps the art of “made” wine. If we are going to fight amongst ourselves, to factionalise ourselves rather than stand united, we will continue to be easy prey for other – real – competitors chasing the disposable income of our customers.
These two wine industries are really one and the same, and although wines with a claim to origin tend to fetch higher prices, the success of Australia’s Penfolds Grange and Dom Perignon – for example – shows that there is a demand for ultra-premium wines which make no claims about terroir. We need to understand that for wine – as a category – to grow, it must have an affordable entry point which brings new consumers into its wonderful and sometimes overly mysterious world. But it also needs to be able to maintain the interest of those who have made the first leap of faith. Entry level wine must be consistent and it must be affordable – and it must also be susceptible to stylistic modification, because at this point fashion is a key element in creating the essential interest which makes category change possible. The fruit for these wines must be farmed on an industrial scale, and the wines made using all the legal technology available to optimise the consumer experience. There is no future for the craft wine industry if the commercial or industrial side of the business doesn’t do its job properly. However, once consumers discover the joy of wine, the opportunity presented by the infinite nuance of place and craft will create an endless playground: there will be no way out of the maze because there will be no desire to leave.
Today’s auction is a celebration of the extraordinary variety which nature, through the diversity of the countless growing sites, and man, through the skill and knowledge of the winemaker, has brought to Cape wine. There are wines on sale today made from fruit harvested from vineyards planted before the Second World War; wines made by craftsmen who have been dead for many decades; wines produced by the latest generation of wine-savvy artisans, youngsters who were born years after the first Nederburg Auction was held on this site a mere 42 years ago. Every one of these bottles was made with the potential to evolve, to become what it is now, and what it may yet become in the years which lie ahead. They would not be here if we didn’t have the other half of the wine industry, the affordable everyday beverages that bring consumers to the world of wine, and which provide the funding not only for events of this kind, but for the craftsmen whose investment in skill, time and money would not have been possible if there wasn’t a cash cow somewhere in the background.
If the wine industry we love is to survive and to thrive we all of us need to be conscious of its fracture points and to strive to bridge the gaps that have appeared in its edifice. We cannot ignore the plight of the communities living in our midst whose circumstances turn them into indentured labourers: by giving them the knowledge to become more active players in the value chain we will give them the sense of purpose they will need if they are to escape the evils of addiction, and they in turn will give us the skills we need to raise the overall quality of what we produce. We cannot ignore the polarisation around production sites: we need to ensure that growers in appellations with the potential to yield wines which express their origin are suitably remunerated, and that those in places where high volumes of healthy fruit can be obtained have the skills and opportunities to make the most of their crop. Finally we need a culture of mutual respect across the great and artificial divide which appears to separate fine wine from the good everyday drink which lies at the heart of every wine industry. We have enough enemies beyond the city walls that we do not need to create fake rivalries within. It is a great privilege to have access to fine wine: let us not forget that while we choose to see this as a reward for our own successes in the material world, it comes with obligations: to respect those out of whose labour, insight and intellect the quality emerged, to appreciate their achievement, and, by our actions, to ensure the continuity and sustainability of the enterprise of fine wine in South Africa.
16th September 2017
Tim Atkin MW
HERITAGE: BOON OR BURDEN?
Keynote Address: Nederburg Auction, 17 September 2016
Good morning, goeie more, everyone, and thank you for giving up part of your Saturday to be here at Nederburg. I’d also like to thank Distell, the Auction and its talented and hard-working team, especially Dalene Steyn, for inviting me to Paarl. And I hope you appreciate the much-needed rain I’ve brought from England.
The subject I have chosen for this speech is heritage and its longer-term effects, both positive and negative. I’ll also touch on the role of tradition and, inevitably, this being South Africa, on history and politics. I will then go on to talk about the present state of the Cape wine industry and finally, peering into my soothsayer’s crystal ball, about the challenges and opportunities of the future.
Obviously, these are the views of an outsider – of a rooinek, if you prefer – but I like to think of myself as a Brit who knows your country reasonably well and has been visiting it, on an annual basis, since 1990. If my calculations are correct, this is my 30th visit to the Cape. As some of you may realise, I’m also married to a South African, so I’m almost one of you, except when it comes to rugby. Ladies and gentlemen, I know what it means to be “in the dog box”.
CONSIDER THE LOBSTER
I’d like to begin this morning by asking you to consider the lobster. I’ve pinched these words from the title of a wonderful essay by the late American writer, David Foster Wallace, but the context in which I want to use them is quite specific: how individuals and societies respond to stress and to change.
Now I have to admit that, while I quite like eating them, I knew very little about lobsters until I saw a video on You Tube recently featuring a wise rabbi called Dr Abraham Twerski. In the video, Twerski uses the way lobsters grow as a metaphor. As good crayfish consumers, you’ll be aware that a crustacea’s vital organs are protected by a hard shell or carapace. What you might not know is that this shell is inelastic and that in order to grow, a lobster needs to shed it at regular intervals. Lobsters can live to 100 years old, so at various points in their existence, they molt: a process known as ecdysis. Obviously, there is an element of risk involved here – the lobster’s shell is part of its defence mechanism, after all – but eventually a new shell replaces the old one.
The lobster, says Twerski, grows “because it feels uncomfortable” within its shell. “If lobsters had doctors,” he jokes, “they wouldn’t grow. They’d take a valium.” His conclusion – and this is what I’d like to use as a subtext this morning – is that if “we use adversity properly, we can grow though adversity”. Life is not a cakewalk, and nor is history. Dealing with change requires creativity, bravery, cool heads, collaboration, compromise, endurance and an ability to learn from the past, especially from past mistakes.
A HISTORY OF CHANGE
The history of what is now South Africa has been marked by change – sometimes violent change – from the establishment of the Cape colony in 1652 to the Great Trek and the Battle of Blood River, from the Zulu War to the Anglo-Boer War to the formation of the Union of South Africa, from the promulgation of the Native Land Act to the National Party’s victory, from Nelson Mandela’s release to the first democratic elections. Even today, in the middle of what Alec Russell of the Financial Times has called South Africa’s “second struggle” against corruption, internecine bickering and misrule, you are still living through profound and sometimes alarming changes.
Over the centuries, this country has shown a remarkable capacity to adapt to its altered circumstances and, with time, to subsume races, religions, tribes, interest groups and political points of view for a greater good. Many of you will recall the bloodshed and the bombs, as well as the dire predictions that preceded the 1994 elections. “We are heading for total destruction,” thundered Eugene Terre’Blanche of the AWB. Well, you weren’t. As Jan Boland Coetzee told me at the time: “Come back next year, Tim. The Boers will still be here.”
Last week, I attended a Three Wine Men tasting at South Africa House in London. To receive our guests, I stood with my fellow two wine men, Oz Clarke and Olly Smith, in the imposing doorway of a building that I’d demonstrated outside as a student in the 1980s. Alongside us was Thobile Mazibuko, South Africa’s Trade Councillor in the UK, a passionate, dynamic, welcoming symbol of all the good things about this country. Never forget where South Africa has come from; never forget, for all its on-going imperfections, what it has achieved.
JAN VAN RIEBEECK’S “VERY FRAGRANT AND TASTY” WINE
When is he going to start talking about the South African wine industry, you’re probably wondering? And the answer is now. And I’d like to begin at the beginning with Jan van Riebeeck and one of the most famous diary entries in the history of New World wine. On the 2nd of February 1659, the first commander of the Cape colony, praised God that “wine was pressed for the first time”, commenting on the “very fragrant and tasty” liquid made with “mostly Muscadel and other white, round grapes”.
We have no idea what that first wine tasted like – the Dutch were brewers not winemakers, although they certainly knew a thing or two about the subject. “The wine carrying trade was central to the fortunes of the Dutch economy”, in the words of the historian Simon Schama, shipping Bordeaux to Germany, Rhine wine to Russia, Malaga to England, Burgundy to the Baltic as part of an “extensive commercial network connecting producers with consumers from Cyprus to Peru”. We also know that Van Riebeeck himself petitioned the Dutch East India Company for winemaking tips and equipment. You could regard him as South Africa’s first garagiste.
SOUTH AFRICA’S WINEMAKING HERITAGE
South Africa is enormously and rightly proud of its winemaking heritage, partly, I suspect, because it gives you bragging rights over the Australians. Governor Arthur Phillip, who was in charge of the First Fleet, picked up cuttings from the Cape on his way to establish the new penal colony in New South Wales in 1788. Even better, from a South African point of view, that first vineyard was a flop. Vines flourished more or less immediately in the Cape, but it took the Aussies much longer to get it right. It wasn’t until 1822 that the first wine was exported from Down Under. The Cape’s vineyards are less historic than those of South America, but they are way older than Australia’s.
Several of today’s best-known wine farms date back to the early days of the Cape colony, often created with the help of freehold land grants. I was visiting Tyrell Myburgh at Joostenberg earlier this year and saw a facsimile of an old map from the 1750s showing those very farms. Blaauwklippen, Groot and Klein Constantia, Meerlust, Rustenberg, Rust en Vrede, Saxenburg, Spier, Vergelegen and Zorgvliet all existed then and are still making excellent wines today.
It’s important not to overplay the Arcadian aspects of those times. This is not the place or time to dwell on the seizure of grazing lands that used by the Koikhoi, on diseases, such as smallpox, that whites inadvertently brought to the Cape, or the prostitution, the gambling and the fighting. The Cape colony was a fortress as well as trading and refueling station on the way to the East. As you know, Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town still has the remnants of Van Riebeeck’s bitter-almond hedge, planted in 1660. Like bits of the Berlin Wall in Germany, it stands as a reminder of past defensiveness and a corral mentality.
With the arrival of Simon van der Stel in 1679, the fledgling wine business expanded from the confines of the Cape Peninsula to the areas around what are now Paarl and Stellenbosch. The immigration of French Huguenots in 1688 and their settlement of the Drakenstein Valley (today’s Franschhoek) also added impetus and possibly some expertise to the wine scene.
For all that, the quality of the early wines appears to have been pretty mixed – somewhere between a 75 and an 84 on today’s 100 point scale perhaps. In his excellent book, Wines of the New South Africa, the wine writer Tim James says that, following complaints from importers in Batavia and Holland, the Cape was requested to halt exports, thank you. What changed this image was the so-called “Governor’s wine” from Constantia, a forerunner of Vin de Constance. Holland and Batavia couldn’t get enough of that, just like Napoleon a century later. It was the Cape’s first icon wine. And that’s icon in one word, rather than two…
BOOM AND BUST IN THE 19TH CENTURIES
Under British rule from 1806, the Cape colony and its vineyards continued to expand, although quality remained uneven to say the list. The area under vine increased threefold between 1795 and 1825, much of it Semillon, which yielded well and was considered disease resistant. Wine was exported or sold to passing ships, but the burgeoning domestic market was more important. But then the Cape, not for the last time, entered a period of over-production and falling prices. The Brits abolished preferential tariffs in 1825, badly affecting exports to the Cape’s largest overseas market. Brexit, eat your heart out.
It was not a good time for the wine industry. As governor Richard Bourke, quoted by Tim James, put it at the time, using words that strum a resonant chord today: “The culture of the vine is not in the increase, the low price of wines in the last years having caused great discouragement.” Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as they say in France.
In fact, the mid 19th century was not a good time for the Cape full stop. Martin Meredith in his book, Diamonds, Gold and War: The Making of South Africa, says that in the 1860s it was afflicted by “drought, locusts, a slump in wine exports, a fall in the price of wool and a banking crisis”, as well as fear of invasion by the Zulus. The Cape and the Transvaal, he continues, were regarded as “among the most troublesome, expensive and unprofitable possessions of the British empire”.
What changed all this, of course, was the discovery of diamonds in West Griqualand in 1871 and gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886, two finds that were to transform the prospects of what we now know as South Africa and effectively trigger the Anglo-Boer War. The legacy of that three-year conflict – the mistrust and lack of empathy between Boers and Brits – is still apparent at times today. And the wine industry is not immune from its effects. The contrasting memberships of the English-speaking Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA) and the Cape Vintner Classification (CVC) are a case in point.
PHYLLOXERA AND THE FIRST CO-OPS
The year that gold was discovered was memorable in the wine business for another, considerably less propitious reason. Oidium had arrived in the Cape in the 1850s (largely treated successfully with sulphur), but phylloxera was something else altogether. The aphid that had come to Europe on cuttings of native North America vines in 1863, and devastated the continent’s wine regions, was identified at a vineyard in Mowbray in 1886. The effects were predictably catastrophic, although the Cape benefited from the fact that Europe, 20 years ahead in its fight against phylloxera, had already discovered a solution to the problem: not leaving a toad under each vine to draw its poison as some suggested at the time, but grafting Vitis vinifera onto American rootstocks. Today, almost all South African vines are grafted in this way.
By 1905, three years after the end of the Anglo-Boer War, the wine industry was in a lamentable state, although, even in the wake of phylloxera, supply still exceeded demand. This is another, recurring theme in the history of Cape wine: the tendency to make wine first and worry about selling it second.
The industry’s low profitability led to another innovation: pooling resources to achieve economies of scale. Wine co-operatives, already a feature of the European wine scene since the mid-19th century, were established in the Cape. The first was in Tulbagh in 1906, but far more significant was the creation of the Ko-operatieve Wijnbouwers Veriniging (KWV), whose stated aim was to “direct, control and regulate the sale and disposal by its members of their produce”.
WHAT GREW WHERE AND WHEN?
Before I move on to discuss the role of the KWV and the years of National Party rule, I’d like to pause to consider one aspect of the history of the Cape’s vineyards in greater detail, namely: which varieties were grown in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries?
The answer is that we don’t know precisely, although we can hazard an informed guess. Groendruif (green grape, or Semillon), Steen (Chenin Blanc) and Fransdruif (French grape, or Palomino) are all mentioned in contemporary documents, but ampelography didn’t exist as a serious science until the 1860s when it became an imperative in phylloxera-ravaged France. In South Africa, confusion abounded, made worse by the tendency to call the same grape by different names. Steen and Stein are only one example.
By the time we reach the early 20th century, things are considerably clearer. Sémillon was still the most planted grape, although not as dominant as it had been. And Chenin, Palomino and Muscat were still important. Cabernet Sauvignon and its parent, Sauvignon Blanc, featured on the list of varieties, as did Cinsault, known, confusingly, as Hermitage, after a French appellation that only grows Syrah. Syrah itself had also arrived in the Cape by then, making its debut at Groot Constantia in the 1890s. Pinotage was yet to be invented, of course, there was no Pinot Noir before the 1920s, and Chardonnay did not arrive until the 1980s, at first smuggled illegally from France and the United States.
As a brief historical parenthesis about Pinotage, you may not know that Professor Abraham Perold, the man who invented the grape, never got to taste a wine made from his creation. Some might argue that if he had, he would have grubbed it up, but I think that’s unfair. The plants, grown from four seeds in his own garden, were saved from oblivion by Dr Charles Niehaus, a young lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch, when Perold left to join the KWV in 1927. It wasn’t until 1941, the year of the latter’s death, that the first Pinotage was vinified at Elsenburg Agricultural College. By such small margins did the grape survive.
How do things look today? Well, Palomino and Semillon have experienced a precipitous decline, while other varieties have grown dramatically, too dramatically possibly. South Africa’s vineyards are dominated by a small handful of grapes: Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinotage, Chardonnay and Merlot. Between them, these eight varieties cover 82.1% of the area under vine. Of the other grapes that are grown in the Cape, only Muscat d’Alexandrie, Semillon, Viognier, Ruby Cabernet, Cinsault, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc are statistically significant.
What else is there? Scan the list of varieties on the South African Wine Industry Information and Systems’ (SAWIS) website and you could be forgiven for thinking that the Cape is more diverse than it is. The Cape has plantings of most things, from Albariño to Verdelho, Alicante Bouschet to Zinfandel. But that cornucopia of cultivars is misleading because most of them are planted in miniscule quantities.
The small number of widely distributed grapes is a reflection of history, but it’s also an indictment of the conservatism of the wine industry. Varieties that already do well in South Africa, and have done for a long time, such as Semillon and Cinsault are under-represented, but so are the likes of Roussanne, Marsanne, Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional. And what about the high-quality European grapes that aren’t in production at all, such as Aglianico, Mencia, Falanghina and Scheurebe?
Things are improving – Albariño, Assyrtiko, Grüner Veltliner and Vermentino are all comparatively recent arrivals and there are more and more varietal wines made from grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Cinsault and Semillon – but South Africa can, and should, grow all of the world’s best grapes. It has the range of climates and soil types, as well as the legislative freedom to do so. Newton Johnson’s Albariño, Stark-Condé’s Petite Sirah, Lemberg’s Hárslevelü, Diemersdal’s Grüner Veltliner and Ayama’s Vermentino are a start, but I believe the Cape needs more wineries with a similar sense of adventure. As Frank Zappa once said: “A mind is like a parachute; it tends to work best when it’s open.”
1948-1994: PROSCRIPTION, QUOTAS AND THE SKUNK OF THE WORLD
A discussion of open and closed minds brings us to the next chapter of our story, the period between 1948 and the 1994. I’m not going to spend time talking about what I regard as the gross immorality of apartheid – and yes, I realise that racism didn’t begin in 1948 and wasn’t confined to National Party voters – other than to comment on the damage it did to South Africa’s image in the rest of world. Sanctions, demonstrations and sporting boycotts left the country isolated, belligerent and more than a little defensive, a situation that was made worse by the government’s near-totalitarian control of the media. TV was outlawed until 1976, although given the quality of what appears on the box these days, you could argue that the Nats weren’t so blinkered after all.
I think that isolation also damaged South Africa’s wine culture. Travel then was not as easy or as inexpensive as it is now. But at a time when, as Gyles Webb of Thelema once put it, South Africans were the “skunks of the world”, the Cape’s winemakers were less inclined to do harvests overseas, or even to track down and taste the great wines of Europe. It’s a truism that to make outstanding wine, you need to know what outstanding wine tastes like.
Too many Cape wines of that period – and obviously, there are exceptions, including Château Libertas, Kanonkop and Zonnebloem – displayed tell-tale evidence of what Australians call a “cellar palate”, where a certain, often slightly old-fashioned style becomes engrained and accepted. Winemakers told me at the time that their wines were “between the Old and the New Worlds” in style, but they weren’t. They were recognisably South African and that wasn’t always a good thing.
The quota system administered by the KWV, a body whose main administrative function, remember, was to keep farmers in business by purchasing excess stock, was obstructive, protectionist and small-minded, making it almost impossible to establish vineyards in new regions, such as the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley until 1986. Most of you will be familiar with the battle that Tim Hamilton Russell fought to establish his brand in Hermanus. With hindsight, was it not insane that such a pioneer and marketer should be investigated and prosecuted, just for planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay?
In those days, it was also extremely difficult to get new plant material through quarantine – some vines were marooned for as long as 20 years – and the lack of good clones, especially of the Burgundian varieties, but also of Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc held the industry back. Concern about illegal imports of virus-affected material was understandable and yet plenty of otherwise well behaved winemakers were so frustrated that they broke the law.
Were there any positives about the KWV’s period of control? The answer is not many. One silver lining was the boom in plantings of Chenin Blanc, which I regard as the Cape’s outstanding white variety. From the 1950s onwards, the KWV encouraged growers to use Chenin almost everywhere, much of it for brandy production. That’s why Chenin pops all over the Cape, and also why, almost by default, it is reasonably well represented in terms of the old vineyards that have spearheaded its renaissance in the last decade. The clones were not always the best, and not all of the regions in which it was planted were ideal, but for once the KWV came up with the right answer. Colombard, on the other hand, also planted for distillation, largely proved the opposite.
POST-1994: THE VINOUS REVOLUTION
I’ve spoken a lot about the past today, about the heritage of the Cape wine industry. And yet, in some respects, that wine industry is a recent creation reflecting the broader social, economic and political changes that have occurred since 1994. Tales of Jan van Riebeeck, the Dutch East India Company and the Lords Seventeen are all very well, but they detract attention from a more important story: what’s happening right now and how exciting it is.
For the past four years, as part of my annual South Africa Special Report, I’ve done an updated classification of the best Cape wineries, dividing them, along the lines of Bordeaux’s famous 1855 Classification into First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Growths and a large group of Crus Bourgeois. (It’s up on my website, www.timatkin.com, as a free download if you’re interested.) And I’m delighted to say that it’s promoted debate and even upset a few people.
The interesting thing about my 15 so-called First Growths is that all but three of them started making wine after 1994. Alheit, Boekenhoutskloof, Cape Point, David & Nadia, Keermont, Mullineux & Leeu, Newton Johnson, Paul Cluver, Porseleinberg, Rall, Reyneke and Sadie Family were all founded in the post-apartheid era, and Delaire Graff is unrecognisable from the old Delaire property. Truly, the speed and depth of change have been remarkable.
What explains the rapid improvement in the quality of your wines? Some of the older bottles under the hammer today are obvious exceptions, but barely a decade ago South Africa frequently didn’t stack up against the international competition. Too many of its reds were virus-affected, showing that bipolar, under-ripe/over-ripe character and the tell tale whiff of burnt rubber. The whites were better, but with very few exceptions (Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, Ken Forrester’s FMC Chenin perhaps) they weren’t world-beaters. And yet here we are in 2016 with a vinous revolution to savour.
Improved viticulture has been a key factor in South Africa’s renaissance, especially the use of superior clonal material, techniques to combat leaf roll virus, the scourge of the Cape, and better and bolder site selection. There’s a recognition among leading producers that good vineyards really are essential to make fine wine and that certain varieties are particularly well suited to certain areas: Chardonnay in Elgin, the Hemel-en-Aarde, Ceres Plateau, Overberg and Robertson, Sauvignon Blanc in Constantia, Darling and Durbanville, Chenin Blanc in Stellenbosch, the Swartland and Citrusdal Mountain, Syrah in the Swartland, Stellenbosch and Tulbagh, Pinot Noir in Elgin and the Hemel-en-Aarde, Grenache in Piekenierskloof, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc in Stellenbosch.
The second crucial factor has been the emergence of gifted winemaking talent, partly helped by South Africa’s economic travails. It’s ironic that the weak Rand and the cheap price of grapes have created a low barrier to entry for new producers. With a few thousand Rand in your pocket, anyone can buy a ton of grapes, rent some cellar space and create a brand. Many of the best new wave producers – Duncan Savage, Donovan Rall, David & Nadia Sadie, Ginny Povall, Hannes Storm, Pieter Walser and Johan “Stompie” Meyer – don’t own vineyards.
The Cape is blessed with a golden generation of winemakers, many of them still in their twenties and thirties. The key figure in all this, and an inspiration for this group, has been Eben Sadie. And it’s a neat, but telling coincidence that Eben qualified from Elsenburg Agricultural College in Stellenbsoch in 1994, the year of those first democratic elections.
Unlike the previous generation, brought up under apartheid and not always welcome overseas, this one has found it easier to travel, to look and to learn. They’ve tasted some of the best and have used that experience to make something that is uniquely South African. There’s also a palpable esprit de corps about them. The youngsters don’t have everything their own way, mind you, although they do tend to garner most of the headlines. Partly spurred on the competition from their younger peers, older winemakers (not much older in some cases and still younger than I) are achieving remarkable things, too.
Historically, the South African wine industry has always been entrepreneurial and “intrepid”, to use the title that WOSA chose for its recent London tasting. I think this is truer than ever today and it is reflected in the expanding boundaries of the winelands.
South Africa’s 98,597 hectares of grapes are famously spread out, extending from Lutzville on the West Coast to Plettenberg Bay at the end of the Garden Route and even to the Highlands of the Free State. It’s not quite Chile, but it’s still a long drive from one end to the other. The majority of those plantings may be concentrated in six major areas – Stellenbosch, Paarl, Robertson the Swartland, Breedekloof and Olifants River – but the Cape is home to dozens of different regions and sub-regions.
Your climate is essentially Mediterranean, with some cooler pockets that are distinguished by altitude or proximity to the Atlantic or Indian Oceans, but there are still significant variations between these regions. You only have to compare, say, the sun-baked expanses of the Swartland with the cool, cloudy Elgin to appreciate that. Consumers are largely unaware of these differences, especially on overseas markets.
Since the quota system was abandoned, it has been much easier to plant vineyards in new, previously unheralded or unplanted areas such as Cederberg, Elim, Elgin, Greyton, Malgaas, Montagu and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, giving South Africa an even greater range of locations. A further source of complexity is the enormous variety of your soil types, which include shale, schist, iron, granite, sandstone and even a little limestone.
The picture is becoming more diverse by the vintage. It’s not just rediscovered areas such as Citrusdal Mountain and Piekenierskloof, both comparatively rich in old vineyards, but places like the Ceres Plateau, the Eastern Free State Highlands, Langeberg-Garcia, Oudtshoorn, Rawsonville and Slanghoek. Some of these regions are very recent, exciting creations and may well produce some of the great South African wines of the future.
In other respects, most notably transformation and Black Economic Empowerment, the pace of change has been considerably more pedestrian. The ownership structure of the South African wine industry has altered very little since 1994. Black winemakers are still rare, black winery owners rarer still. VinPro estimates that only 2.5% of South Africa’s vineyards are in black hands.
Everyone knows that these things take time. Skills and education are not acquired overnight. And there are two other mitigating factors in my view. First, the ANC government does not appear to regard the wine industry as a priority, possibly because it’s largely white-owned, but also because it’s located in the Western Cape, which is run by the Democratic Alliance. As a result, BEE has mostly been funded by producer levies.
The second factor concerns the general unprofitability of the wine industry. If I were a black entrepreneur, the idea of buying a wine farm, or creating a wine brand, with its low levels of return on investment and huge capital expenditure, might appeal to my ego, but not to my business acumen or bank balance.
And yet, there are signs of progress. I’ve seen various BEE schemes come and go over the years, some undermined by the dismal quality of their wines (many of them purchased from unscrupulous bulk wine suppliers), others by lack of funding or understanding of a complex industry. Even in businesses that were bankrolled by white producers, good will and philanthropy weren’t enough to help them survive without financial expertise or real involvement by the previously disadvantaged.
Now, things appear to be changing, with what Denise Stubbs of Thokozani Wines calls the move from “dependence to independence”. In the past, she says, too many BEE brands didn’t have a home and were regarded as “social projects” without a “real story”. Businesses like Bosman Adama, Companjiesdrift, Enaleni, Seven Sisters, Thokozani and Women in Wine seem to be on a stronger footing. Equally encouraging is the recent agreement between Solms-Delta, one of the best transformation brands, and the government’s National Empowerment Fund, which has enabled the farm’s workers to own 45% of the business. Maybe the ANC is changing its mind about the wine industry.
Social investment and training are also beginning to have an impact, whether it be through the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) scheme, the Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA), better education, housing, health care, sport and cultural activities or the mentor schemes run by the Pinotage Youth Development Academy (PYDA) or the Cape Winemakers’ Guild (CWG). And lastly, it’s also worth remembering how strong the Fairtrade movement is in South Africa. Of the 49 wine producer organisations worldwide, 28 of them are in the Cape. This represents 66% of all Fairtrade wine. But this is just a start. Transformation – true transformation – remains a work in progress.
WHERE’S THE VOLUME?
To invest in the industry and accelerate the transformation process, South Africa needs to sell more good wine at higher prices. The success of the young guns and self-styled Zoo Biscuits, a group that includes Alheit, Crystallum, Fram and Thorne & Daughters, has been enormously beneficial to the South African wine industry. And yet it’s worth remembering that most of the wines they make are small volume affairs that contribute disproportionately to the image of the country, but do less for its bottom line.
Cheap prices are very damaging to South Africa, which remains marooned close to the bottom of the list of the world’s exporters when it comes to profitability. Only Spain, a country that receives R6bn in annual subsidies from the EU and its government, has a lower per-litre price (at €1.09) than South Africa’s €1.3.
What should South Africa do about this? Building more large volume, mid-market brands, as opposed to concentrating on bulk-shipped entry point supermarket own-labels, is certainly part of the solution. The Cape already has a number of these – Kanonkop Kadette, Rupert & Rothschild Classique, La Motte Sauvignon Blanc, Warwick First Lady, Durbanville Hills Sauvignon Blanc and Boekenhoutskloof’s Chocolate Block – all of which sell more than 750,000 bottles a year. But it needs more of them. It has the grapes, the expertise and the wine quality to create them. So why the delay?
South Africa also lacks what Australia, Argentina and Chile have in large companies like Penfolds, Catena and Conch y Toro: namely, ladder-brands that cover all the bases (or rungs), from commercial to world class wines. Coincidentally, the closest South Africa comes to this is probably Nederburg, where we are today, but Distell has yet to create a Grange, a Nicolás Catena Zapata or an Almaviva. Over to you, Razvan Macici.
Another area of concern, linked to the low price of Cape wines, is the threat to your old vines. These are a precious and dwindling resource that should be protected by the industry in my view. The work of Rosa Kruger, whose website www.iamold.co.za contains a list of all the vineyards in the Cape that are known to be over 35 years old, has focused global attention on South Africa’s heritage, so perhaps they will be in due course.
And yet two things are worth remembering her. First, South Africa’s plantings of old vines are comparatively small, partly because of virus. Yes, there are seven vineyards on Kruger’s list that were established before 1905, but overall there are only 3,538 hectares that count as “old”, and 1,376 hectares of those are sultanas. Also, thirty-five years old wouldn’t be regarded as ancient, or even middle-aged, in some parts of France, Spain and Italy. It’s just that in the Cape, many producers believe in renewing their vineyards after a quarter of a century.
The second thing is arguably more worrying. By definition, old vines tend to yield lower crops, especially in drought years like 2016. This is appealing to winemakers, but not necessarily to growers. If producers (and ultimately consumers) aren’t prepared to pay a premium for the fruit, then farmers won’t be able to afford to keep it in the ground. Charles Back of Fairview underlined this point to me recently: “The price ceiling and the cheap, bulk wine image of South Africa,” he said, “is preventing us from protecting our heritage.”
Or as Christa von la Chevallerie, who grows some of the best and most sought-after Chenin Blanc in the Swartland, puts it: “I need to charge R25,000 a ton for old vine fruit, or I will have to pull it out. Below that, I simply can’t make a living.” No wonder more and more growers are looking to make their own wines. For Willie de Waal of Scali “growing grapes and selling them just doesn’t make sense at the yields we get”. Something, as they say, has got to give.
I’m often asked what the solution is to this grave problem. Should the price of grapes just be left to the market, to the occasionally brutal laws of supply and demand? I think there’s an argument for intervention. It may smack of KWV-style protectionism, but why doesn’t the industry agree, at the very least, on a minimum price for old vine fruit? And, while we’re about it, how about regular discussions between representatives of the growers, producers and co-operatives to discuss a joint strategy to make South African wine profitable and respond to issues such as drought, climate change and pricing. Stop behaving as if you are competitors or adversaries and work together for a greater good. It is time for the farmers to make a plan, or ’n boer maak ’n plan, as you say in Afrikaans.
PROFITABILITY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
I don’t want to go on about this too much, but lack of profitability in the wine industry is the large African elephant in this room. Everyone is familiar with the adage that “to make a small fortune out of wine, you need to start with a large one”, but the problem appears to be particularly acute in South Africa right now.
The figures really are alarming. According to VinPro, only 15% of the country’s wine producers are truly profitable. The low price of wine farms reflects this state of affairs. An established 80-hectare property in the Swartland (with 40 hectares of mostly Chenin Blanc and Pinotage and some access to water for irrigation) recently sold for R5.5m: the price of a modest one-bedroom London flat. No wonder farmers are turning to other crops when they can. Growing apples is currently around five times more profitable than growing grapes. It’s significant that the email address of Rita and Basie van Lill, two of the best grape growers in the Cape, is the tea-related firstname.lastname@example.org.
You make too much drinkable wine too cheaply for your own good. Roughly 60% of your exports are shipped in bulk rather than bottle, although some of the former makes its way into brands that broadly reflect well on the country. Everyone knows that this state of affairs cannot last. South Africa is competing with Spain, Italy and France in the bulk market (three countries that receive the equivalent of R5bn in export subsidies) and it’s a competition it cannot win, even with a weak Rand to help. With only 4.1% of the world’s production, you simply cannot play the volume game.
To reduce this oversupply you may have to pull out as much as 15% of South Africa’s vineyards – similar to the drastic measures that Australia took between 2011 and 2015 when it uprooted 35,000 hectares. The only danger here is that farmers may be tempted to do away with their lowest yielding blocks, which could include their oldest and (in quality terms) best vines. This is a process that needs to be managed carefully and may require subsidies to ease the transition.
Another, surely preferable answer is to increase the price of South African wine. There’s a handful of pretty expensive brands in the market – De Toren’s Book XVII and Red Lion, Delaire Graff’s Laurence Graff Reserve, 4G, Vilafonté Series C, Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage, The Jem, Mev Kirsten, Magna Carta and Dirty Little Secret – but even these aren’t outrageously pricey compared with what you’d pay for top wines from California or Australia, let alone France or Italy.
Let’s be honest with ourselves here.You have an image problem. As May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, owner of Glenelly and the former proprietor of Château Pichon-Lalande in Pauillac, puts it: “The world still doesn’t recognise the quality of South Africa. In the world’s mind, the Cape doesn’t make great wine.”
Everyone who knows that this isn’t the case – wine writers, importers, retailers, sommeliers and consumers – has a duty to persuade the world otherwise, because the future health of South African wine depends upon it. And yet too many of you still suffer from what Australian call “cultural cringe” – the belief that if something is South African it can’t really be any good. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, you still don’t want to belong to a club – the fine wine club, if you like – that would have you as a member.
“Wine and politics don’t mix” was a line that was often used in pre-democratic South Africa, especially when it came to the issue of sanctions. It made no sense to me then and still doesn’t today. Like any agricultural product, wine is subject to the shifting political landscape, and not only in South Africa. That has always been so, as I hope this speech has demonstrated.
Your next general elections are still three years away, but the recent local elections strongly suggested that voters want change. For now, things don’t look good. The economy has flat lined, unemployment sits at 25% (and much higher than that in some parts of the country), the Rand remains weak and the government is mired in scandal.
What about the wine industry? Well, glancing at the latest bottled and bulk shipments from South Africa, it’s tempting to see another parallel with the export slumps of the past. With the exception of Canada, growth in the Cape’s major overseas markets appears to have stalled or worse. But those figures only tell part of the story. Not before time, South Africa is starting to sacrifice volume to increase the value of its wines overseas, something that is vital to its future. The UK market, for instance, is down 9% by volume, but up 2% by value.
The domestic market is also showing dramatic growth, partly thanks to the expansion of the black middle class. Wine sales in South Africa have increased by 54 million litres in the last two years. The majority of that is bag-in-box, but it’s a considerable boon to an industry that’s again in oversupply.
There are further grounds for vinous optimism. Amidst the political and economic gloom, the South African wine industry remains one of the most exciting and positive things about the country. It’s not just that wine contributes R36bn to your GDP and employs 290,000 South Africans (putting food on the table for three or four times that number). It’s also that it conveys an upbeat and positive image of the Cape and its beautiful wine lands.
I’ve never felt more positive about the quality of South African wine. The 2015 vintage is part of the reason why, but so are the improvements I’ve seen first hand in the vineyards and cellars of the Cape over the last 26 years. There has never been so much great South African wine available. And increasingly, these are wines with a true sense of terroir.
For the time being, these wines are dramatically under-priced. In fact, it’s hard to think of another country, anywhere in the world, that delivers such spectacular value for money. So, if you’re a buyer sitting in this room and preparing to wave a paddle, put some of these wines in your cellar or wine rack now. They will surely increase in price as South Africa is recognised globally for what, at its best, it already is: a source of remarkable and unique wines that combine a sense of heritage with a dynamic, vibrant present.
The even more exciting thing is that the best is still to come. In fact, to continue to improve at the same rate is your next challenge, a challenge that will inevitably entail disappointments as well as triumphs. But that’s all part of the process. As the Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, once wrote: “Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.” A degree of danger – a slight loss of control perhaps – is vital for growth and improvement. Just ask a lobster.
Named by Decanter magazine back in 1997 as one of the 50 people who would be influencing the way people would drink in the 21st century, British wine expert and highly acclaimed writer Robert Joseph delivered the keynote address at the Nederburg Auction on Saturday 12 September.
Known as the ‘Wine Thinker’, Robert launched Wine International magazine in 1983 and
set up the International Wine Challenge, became wine writer for the Sunday Telegraph, and wrote his first book, The Wine Lists. He is currently editor-at-large of Meininger’s Wine Business Intl and his latest book is the interactive Wine Marketing Toolkit.
Robert Joseph is Chairman of the Wine Institute of Asia and has chaired over 50 wine competitions in places including London, Sydney, South Africa, Hong Kong, Russia, Singapore, Bangkok, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Vietnam, Poland and India.
Robert Joseph regularly appears on television and radio in the UK and overseas, including recent BBC programmes Chateau Chunder and This World. He was keynote speaker at the Australian Wine Industry 2000 Global Marketing Conference and the first Viognier and Shiraz Symposiums, and has addressed industry meetings in places ranging from France, South Africa and California to China, Russia and Georgia. He is also a regular invited lecturer at the Wines & Spirits Educational Trust (WSET) Business & Commercial Knowledge course.
Commercially, Joseph is also one of the trio behind Hugh Kevin & Robert Wines whose award-winning Le Grand Noir and Greener Planet wines now sell over 1.8m bottles per year in 18 countries. He is also a partner in Winestars World and innovative research and marketing consultancy DoILikeIt?, where he has helped to create innovative initiatives driven by new uses of social media.
Winemaker and researcher, Peter Godden graduated with a degree in winemaking from Roseworthy College (the University of Adelaide) in 1991, and following five years of winemaking in Australia he gained winemaking experience in Sauternes, Tuscany and Barolo.
Peter has held a number of roles in his 17 years at the Australian Wine Research Institute, and lead research projects into wine bottle closures and Brettanomyces, which both resulted in extensive practice change in the Australian wine industry and beyond.
In addition he has experience in vineyard establishment and management, particularly with his own small-scale wine business based in the Adelaide Hills specialising in Nebbiolo, and he has held a number of industry roles including Vice President of the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology, membership of planning committees for Australian Wine Industry technical Conferences, and has chaired judging panels at the Royal Adelaide Wine Show and a number of regional wine shows.
It was a chance pairing of California chardonnay with lobster and potatoes that set top wine blogger and 2013 Nederburg Auction keynote speaker Joe Roberts on his life-long pursuit of all things wine.
Roberts, one of the most influential and popular wine bloggers in the US and founder of the award-winning 1WineDude.com, will be focusing on how South African wine producers can best market SA wines to young US consumers during his address at the Auction on 7 September.
He rose to fame as a wine writer to a niched, “intermediate”, wine-loving audience since his immersion in the world of wine – an epiphanous moment during which he unwittingly and perfectly matched an inexpensive chardonnay with the seafood meal his future wife Kelly was preparing.
“The light-bulbs went off in my head, and I was totally hooked. From that moment, I started devouring everything I could find on the subject of wine. I’m convinced that experience is what started me on the path of wine geekdom.”
Since his immersion in the wine world, Roberts has travelled the world specifically to cover wine, including South America, the US, Australia, France, Germany, Portugal and Greece. His writing focuses largely on information for what he calls “intermediate wine lovers” – consumers who have gone through the introductory elements of wine but who cannot find any resources for wine lovers at that level of knowledge.
“They’ve not spent nights reading the World Atlas of Wine or taking certification exams. They’re past the ‘101’ stage, but haven’t jumped off the deep end yet, either. There are quite literally almost zero resources available for consumers at that level, in my experience. Either you’re reading Wine For Dummies, encyclopedic tomes that weigh several pounds, or finding proprietary forums on-line where people can be helpful but also can be acrimonious.”
Such was the dearth of knowledge at this level that his blog rapidly became one of the most influential in the US and catapulted Roberts to fame. In 2012, he was named IntoWine.com’s 14th most influential person in the U.S. wine business.
Hence the subject of his Auction presentation, which will deal with the impact of the US consumer economy on wine sales and how South African wine producers can best market SA wines to young, internet-savvy US consumers by taking advantage of how these consumers find and purchase wine. His presentation is entitled Hustling Wine in the land of Big Hat, No Cattle.
“We have to remember that as we trend younger, people consume wine information differently, and so at the point of sale, if there is no tastemaker available (a sommelier or store clerk), people will search the web.”
He says generally consumers will read Cellartracker.com reviews and influential blogs rather than, for instance, a Wine Spectator review behind a paywall. “That act will influence individual buying decisions. Think about how we shop on Amazon.com with respect to the ratings and reviews submitted by those who have purchased the item already.”
Roberts writes a wine column for Playboy.com, is a wine expert and contributor to Answers.com, and has contributed to The Guardian in the UK, and to Wine Business Monthly and the Sommelier Journal in the US. He has spoken on wine and social media as panel member at numerous international conferences and is widely regarded as an expert on the topics of wine and the influence of social media on the wine world, and on the marketing of wine to the newest generation of wines consumers. 1WineDude.com currently sees several thousand subscribers and visitors each month, and has served millions of page views since its inception.
Nicolas Joly of Clos de la Coulée de Serrant in Savennières in the Loire Valley – who harvested the 874th crop from one vineyard planted in 1130 by Cistercian monks. – is an exponent of the global biodynamic wine revolution, author of “Wine from Sky to Earth: Growing and Appreciating Biodynamic Wines” and owner of one of only three single estate appellations in France today.
The only way to express the originality of a vineyard site…
Biodynamics expert Nicolas Joly said that the unique vine sites of South Africa are inimitable anywhere else in the world and concluded that “the wine farmer should be an artist of the earth.”
Four high-powered African-American businesswomen, the executive members of Divas Uncorked, were the guest speakers, opening the 32nd Nederburg Wine Auction. They are Stephanie Browne, Carolyn Golden Hebsgaard, Karen Holmes Ward and Paula Wright. Divas Uncorked is a Boston-based wine education and consumer advocacy group that seeks to make wine more accessible to women, African-Americans and other minority groups in the United States by “breaking down the intimidating image of the wine world.”
Tom Perry, managing director of the Rioja Wine Exporters’ Association, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Nederburg Auction, on Saturday, September 29 in the Western Cape.
US-born Perry, who has lived in Spain for over 30 years has played a leading role in building the international profile of the Rioja region and its wines. Rioja, in north-central Spain, is arguably the country’s best-known wine region attracting visitors from all over the world. It is also one of the most prestigious, with Rioja wines priced at a premium.
Focusing simultaneously on international and domestic consumers, Rioja has a particular interest in reaching new-generation drinkers, eschewing traditional routes to engage their involvement, using instead channels such as comedy, horse racing, jazz and movies, as well as non-mainstream media.
Formerly a wine exporter, Perry has also been active in encouraging Rioja producers to style their wines more accessibly for New World wine drinkers, while remaining within the confines of the country’s stringent legislation. To this end, he works extensively with regional, national and European Union law makers, as well as with his region’s independent, corporate and co-operative producers. He lectures widely on international wine marketing and is a member of the steering committee of the Bilbao-Rioja chapter of the Great Wine Capitals Global Network and co-ordinates the network’s international communications.
Says auction manager Christine Joubert. “Tom Perry is widely respected in international circles for his innovative approach to building the reputation and visibility of Rioja wines. His enterprising approach to marketing and his conversancy with the demands of major international markets, make him well placed to offer South African producers a range of insights.”
She adds that his views on reaching younger adults will be very welcome in the South African context. “While wines in South Africa’s premium price category and higher, have shown good growth according to the major retailers, national average per capita consumption remains amongst the lowest for any wine-producing nation in the world. We have a pressing need to make wine more relevant to people in their 20s and 30s.”
In yet another break with tradition, this year’s Nederburg Auction, taking place in spring for the first time in the 33-year history of the event, will be featuring two keynote speakers. As well as Tom Perry, the managing director of the Rioja Wine Exporters’ Association, guests will be addressed on Saturday, September 29, by Mutle Mogase.
He is the executive chairman of Vantage Capital, the black-owned private equity fund with interests in mining, financial services and technology.
Mogase, who has been at the helm of Vantage Capital since its inception in 2001, is also a partner in the ultra-exclusive wine label Epicurean with premier of Gauteng, Mbhazima Shilowa; Ron T Gault, formerly of JP Morgan Investment Managers; and Moss Ngoasheng, chairman of Safika.
A BComm graduate from the University of Cape Town, it was while he was on campus that he developed his interest and knowledge in wine, joining the university wine society in 1984. By the late 80’s he was conducting tastings in the townships and in 1989, led a led a team of top South African winemakers to conduct what was probably the first tasting in Soweto under the auspices of the then Wine Foundation.
Mogase is also the chairman of the SA Venture Capital & Private Equity Association and serves on the Board of African Bank Investments Limited.
Says auction manager Christine Joubert: “We are delighted at the opportunity to have Mutle Mogase as a speaker. His entrepreneurial accomplishments are an inspiration. His involvement in wine and wine education and his innovative and resourceful approach to financing and business in general, will add an interesting dimension to the discussion on building a culture of wine appreciation in South Africa.”
Dr Monika Christmann
The keynote speaker at the 34th Auction of Rare Cape Wines brings an international perspective on oenology and wine technology to one of Cape Town’s premier wine events. Dr Monika Christmann, professor and head of the department of oenology and wine technology at Geisenheim Research Centre in Germany, will offer her insights on how consumer demands will shape the future of wine, particularly in the current economic climate.
Dr Christmann, who worked for the esteemed Simi Winery in Healdsburg, California, where she was a member of the winemaking team and laboratory director in the early 1990s, is currently president of the International Organisation of Vine and Wine’s (OIV’s) expert wine technology group. The OIV is the internationally recognised inter-governmental body that addresses technical, scientific, economic and legal issues pertaining to wine all over the world. It also sets conditions for producing and marketing vine and wine products, and helps ensure that the interests of consumers are taken into account.
In addition, she serves on the German Federal Agricultural Ministry’s wine research committee and is a director of a national industry forum that focuses on wine and health, for which she is currently researching the impact of wine on diet.
Having visited South Africa several times Dr Christmann is tremendously excited to be addressing the Nederburg Auction, which she considers one of the world’s foremost wine auctions. She says; “Over the last ten years I have noted the emergence of a discernibly South African wine style, and am particularly impressed by the country’s Chardonnays and red wines”. As a consumer in Germany, she is also happy to see South African wines becoming more readily available and believes the awareness of the Cape as a travel destination is helping the country to build its wine profile.
Dr Christmann is currently engaged in a range of key studies and think tanks on issues facing the international wine industry, from the impact of climate change to environmental and social sustainability, traceability, growing international competition in the international wine market, changing technology and the need to cater to the growing health awareness of consumers.
Auction Manager Christine Joubert says; “Dr Christmann’s immersion in global wine industry dynamics and her working experience in both Old and New World environments make her well-placed to comment holistically on the changing world of wine. We are very pleased to be hosting someone of her calibre and look forward to the dynamic viewpoint she will present on Old World wine-making methods and vinification”.
The keynote speaker at the 35th Auction of Rare Cape Wines is Mr Tshediso Matona, Director-General of the Department of Trade and Industry. A member of the dti for ten years, Mr Matona was appointed to the position of Director-General in July 2006 and has been instrumental in implementing its vision of a South Africa that has a vibrant economy characterised by growth and equity, built on the full potential of all citizens.
He has published a number of papers, and contributed to prestigious publications in his field. Mr Matona is also a member of a number of boards and professional organisations, including the Trade Law Center (Tralac) Advisory Board; World Health Organisation Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health; Harvard University Trade Group, JK Kennedy School of Government, Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS) Advisory Board; National Export Advisory Board, South Africa; and, he was a trustee of the South African Students Education Trust during 1990 to 1993.
Mr Matona is currently the director of the Trade and Industrial Policy Secretariat (TIPS), an independent, non-profit economic research institution that aims to be a source of independent economic policy and research leadership to government and civil society in South Africa and the region.
Both women have been with the company for three years. Prior to joining the Systembolaget in 2007, Marie was CEO of Adara AB, a fully owned subsidiary to Apoteket, the former Swedish Pharmacy Monopoly. Sara has a background in import and supply and was previously Director for Arvid Nordquist Wine and Spirit Merchants, a company she was with for 11 years. Her current responsibilities include category management, purchasing and product selection, and quality control, including sensoric as well as chemical analyses.
Marie and Sara will provide further insight into the Systembolaget and its mission, which includes a strong focus on corporate social responsibility, and future trends. They will also offer a perspective on South Africa in the Swedish market, focusing on the wine category and its growth, including the success of South African wines.
Two top female directors of the Swedish retail liquor monopoly Systembolaget AB will share the guest speaker platform at the 36th Nederburg Auction of rare Cape wines on Saturday, 4 September. Sweden is currently South Africa’s third biggest export destination for wines, accounting for 9.93% of total sales volumes, which grew by 14.9% in the 12-month period between May 2009 and 2010.Swedes purchase more South African wine than that from any other country worldwide. Marie Nygren, Vice President and Director of Purchases and Supply Chain Management and Sara Norell, Head of Purchasing in the Supply Chain Management division, will jointly represent the Swedish alcohol retail monopoly Systembolaget AB at this year’s event. The monopoly started in the mid-1800s and is the only retail channel through which alcohol is sold in Sweden. Established to minimise alcohol-related problems by controlling the sale of liquor it currently has 412 stores, approximately 4 700 employees and an annual turnover of 23 billion Swedish Krona (SEK), an equivalent of just under R22.4 billion.
“Terroirist” (ter-war-ist) noun: “A person, usually a member of a group, who is fanatical about wine, especially when it has a sense of place”.This is the description you’ll find on Terroirist.com, the daily wine blog founded last year by US-based wine writer David White, who has been announced as the guest speaker at the 37th Nederburg Auction of fine, rare wines on Saturday 17th September.
Based in Washington DC, this ‘Terroirist’ talks to 10 000 readers a month through his award-winning website, which was recently named “Best New Wine Blog” at the annual Wine Blog Awards, presented at the 2011 North American Wine Bloggers Conference in July.
Artfully straddling the divide between traditional and digital media, David is well poised to comment on the myriad challenges facing the wine industry, including the changing media landscape, the democratisation of wine criticism and what it is that new generation consumers want.
Says David: “Whether it’s new markets, cutting-edge technology or changing consumer preferences, the wine industry is being forced to adapt at lightning speed. It’s an exciting time, but those who want to succeed must recognize – and embrace – how the market is changing.”
Nederburg Auction business manager, Dalene Steyn, concurs: “Given that the look and feel of the auction itself have changed to offer a platform that is both progressive and relevant, we’re excited to have someone like David offer a fresh insight into the changing wine landscape and the future implications for both the industry and consumers.”
Note to the editor:
Since its launch on November 9, 2010, Terroirist has been mentioned by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Reason Magazine, and many other highly regarded publications. The blog has also been highlighted by a number of leading wine writers. David and his team of eight fellow ‘Terroirists’ provide daily updates about anything and everything relating to wine.
David White, who has his Level 3 (Advanced, with Merit) certificate in wine and spirits from the London-based Wine and Spirits Education Trust, has authored several wine pieces that have featured in leading publications, including The World of Fine Wine, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Reuters.
He is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is also a founding board member of the American Wine Consumer Coalition. Recently, he was awarded a fellowship to the annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley.
For further information visit www.terroirist.com
Guests at this year’s prestigious Nederburg Auction won’t want to miss the keynote address by best-selling US author and wine expert Mike Veseth on Saturday 29 September at Nederburg in Paarl.
With the state of the global economy crisis posing many challenges to the wine world and the South African wine industry in particular, this acclaimed US economics professor and “wine economist” will bring his considerable expertise to the speaker platform, tailoring his keynote address around the subject of how South Africa can win the Wine Wars. This aptly follows the fresh insight presented by last year’s speaker, David White, into the changing wine landscape and the future implications for the industry and consumers.
He will discuss the market trends that are redrawing the world wine map and the terroirists (those focused on a wine’s terroir or place of origin) who resist them. Veseth believes that wine businesses are at a critical crossroads, shaped by the powerful forces of globalisation, corporate branding and the exploration of new markets.
As a professor in international political economy at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, Veseth is regarded as an authority on the political economy of globalisation and the global wine market, applying his sharp and astute mind to analyse and understand the complex dynamics of the international wine world.
Nederburg Auction Business Manager Dalene Steyn says: “While believing in preserving the essence and the soul of wine, Mike is also well-versed on breaking into new markets in China, Australia, France and the US. With this combination of a love for wine along with extensive business and economic acumen, we believe he will inspire and motivate wine lovers in South Africa – just like he has done elsewhere in the world.”
This editor of The Wine Economist blog and author of more than a dozen books has won critical praise for his recent book “Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck and the Revenge of the Terroirists (2011)”, which draws remarkable conclusions on the market forces that drive the wine industry. The book has won several awards and prizes, including being selected as Best American Wine History Book 2011 by Gourmand International and a Wine Book of the Year by JancisRobinson.com.