Thursday, December 4, 2014

Swartland versus The Rest??

I am probably a bit late in this whole debate about the launch of an Anti-Swartland wine and the misquotation of Mr Andre van Rensburg and Mr Gary Jordan. Then Mr Miguel Chan from the Tsogo Sun Group also commented about the amount of producers using their physical location to market and sell their wines, rather than where the grapes are grown. So killing two birds with one stone/”Twee vliee met een klap”:

It doesn’t matter how you look at it, you have to give credit to the Swartland for the identity they have created for their region. Something I have advocated for years lacking from South Africa on the world stage. Yes, it is wonderful to have drivers like Eben and Adi behind it, but a group of winemakers bought into the idea and worked with it. Whether you agree with their philosophy, winemaking style or techniques, it doesn’t really matter. They have created a hype around a region that was not even mentioned anywhere to anyone just a couple of years ago.

Similarly I have to congratulate Franschhoek with the launch of the AGP. Forget that there are only a couple of cultivars that they want to focus on, they have created a target and focus to distinguish themselves. Most importantly is that within the region the wineries using their own grapes or at least Franschhoek grown grapes want to tell the world about it and differentiate from the ones buying in. 
The reinvention of Stellenbosch issue is something different to me. Stellenbosch has everything going for them i.e historical value, wine tourism, perceptual value of high quality wines but most of all a very diverse wine region. Yes, Miguel mainly refers to the branding/packaging in his comments, but to me the problem goes a bit deeper and this accounts for producers everywhere, not just Stellenbosch.
Kanonkop Estate, Meerlust Estate, Rust en Vrede…what do you think about when you hear their names? Pinotage, Bordeaux Blends, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon…to mention a few? Besides the cultivars mentioned there is a common thread aligning them…FOCUS! When everyone went Sauvignon Blanc crazy a couple of years ago and bottled it even if they didn’t have a vine on the farm, did these producers do it? NO. How easy would it have been for them to tell their importers/local distributors that they can bottle a Sauvignon Blanc under their label if they needed to? VERY EASY. They didn’t do it, but stayed true to what they have always done, kept their heads down and believed it will increase the following of their wines. What has that done to their brands? Increased Perception of Top Quality and Value, created amazing Brand Value!!
Doing a vertical tasting of Bruwer Raats’ Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc is similar. Bruwer believed that these cultivars will create a niche market for him and eleven/twelve years down the line it paid off!! In saying all this I am not promoting that one producer cannot do both red and white really well. However, the producers who has a historical but deserved international following and appreciation are the ones who has focus.
I don’t like the fighting of regions with each other, but historically that is what we have done all these years. We always try to talk down our neighbouring  farm or other regions. When are we going to accept that WINE PRODUCERS should support WINE and one another and grow wine consumption against other beverages?? We must accept that Cabernet from Stellenbosch, Paarl, Robertson and Darling will and should taste differently, not that the one is always better than the other.
The issue that Miguel Chan raised is something I fully agree with, you shouldn’t be able to use your Estate brand for bought in grapes or wines. But this issue is mainly at the lower end of the pricing scale. I believe that the first troubles in the Swartland will start when a producer who grew a very strong brand with his Swartland Region label, starts to buy in wine from other regions to supply his volume and then bottle it under WO Western Cape. (I stand corrected whether this has already happened?) They created an identity and we should applaud and learn from it. 
For the South African category on a global scale…we need more of this and we need our winemakers to understand their own regions/farms first, then learn about the rest as well. There is amazing historical value and quality from generations of family owned estates that deserves more credit! The fact that I missed the 40 year Vertical tasting of Vergenoegd Cabernet still haunts me...
Lastly, to the Swartland Revolution boys...don't downplay Merlot, Cabernet or Chardonnay as if it is the worst thing that's happen to wine. Chardonnay is still the biggest selling White Wine and known red cultivars i.e Cabernet and Merlot. You have made your point and done a great job with your Chenin, White Blends, Shiraz and Cinsaut, but will they ever be bigger than Cabernet or Chardonnay?? Use this as your USP to differentiate yourself from others, that will make you stronger!
It is not the Swartland versus The Rest it should be South Africa versus The Rest!!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Drunken Fowl...

Last Thursday was the launch of a funky new wine from historic Saxenburg Estate outside Stellenbosch. Known for Shiraz and maybe best known by the older wine consumer, Saxenburg took a step to attract a new wine consumer to their brand.

One thing I have to say is that the branding, name and style of wine definitely falls into a very innovative category for the South African market. A Shiraz with a slightly higher Rs (around 7g/L) although it doesn’t come across as too sweet. Matured in older French and American oak just rounds the wine off very nicely. I think it is a wine you can put in the fridge for a little while and enjoy chilled.

Saxenburg explains it like this:

Bertie as you all should know is Saxenburg’s

resident beau. Better known as the drunken

fowl he surfaces quietly, like a night owl.

And when no one is there for the securing, he

consumes the wine that in the barrels is maturing.

Shiraz is his favourite one, and brings a wiggle to

his wee bum.  With his rich spicy and plummy flavors.

He shouldn’t be the only one to savour!

The packaging is fun and light hearted with a very affordable price to come with it of R65 at Cellar Door. We might see some other type of Drunken Fowls this coming season J

Friday, September 26, 2014

Montpellier de Tulbagh celebrating 300 years!!

For those who have followed my blog or twitter would know that I have a huge passion for tradition and heritage. This was one of the reasons why I started working with Montpellier de Tulbagh in June this year and this past weekend we celebrated their 300 year anniversary, 1714 - 2014. South Africa has a rich history and wine heritage which is sometimes overshadowed by the modern and cutting edge tasting rooms of revamped or newly established wineries.

The Manor House
Visitors enjoying the music, food and wine
When you drive onto Montpellier de Tulbagh you get transported back in time with the vineyard Chapel on the right, driving down the lane of “bloekom bome” and entering the big garden and impressive manor house.
The Vineyard Chapel
Lucas van Tonder, Advocate of the High Court in Johannesburg, bought the property around twelve years ago to realise a dream. When you talk to him the passion and love for the farm is tangible. When you see the renovations and constant upgrading of the historic facilities you fall in love with the romance of this wine farm.

Lucas entertaining the crowd
Montpellier has three very distinctive and impressive venues for weddings or private functions, plus a newly built Deli which will be opened towards the end of 2014.  The plan for the deli is to have local produce available as well as all the wines from the Tulbagh valley. A great idea to have all the wines from the whole valley at one place whilst visitors can enjoy the hospitality of Montpellier.

Functions in the garden

The Dome long table
Dome Cathedral for your special occasion
Another step towards future growth was the appointment of young, energetic ex-Val de Vie winemaker, Harold Versfeld. He joined Flip Smith as winemaker in September 2014 and brings new ideas and plans to revamp and structure the range of wines. Although the Estate is planted with around 11 cultivars there will be a restructuring of the range of wines. The focus will be on certain cultivars that does well consistently. The Montpellier Shiraz has been one of those wines winning Gold at the recent Michelangelo Wine Awards.
Harold Versfeld
Harold and I are very excited to be working with this historic property and taking it to new heights with the passion and love that Lucas has for Montpellier. You can be sure to hear a lot more of Montpellier in years to come. Be sure to visit their website to read the wonderful story of the farm. One of the oldest wine producers in South Africa and still under South African ownership!! Here's to another 300 years and more...

Facebook:   Montpellier de Tulbagh
Twitter:       Montpelliersa




Friday, April 11, 2014

SAWIS:Change legislation to enhance Estate Wines!

I have always supported and endorsed Wines of Origin rather than Western  Cape and in particular Estate and Single Vineyard Wines. These are wines that should be perceived as special, rare and worth every cent, because they are made from a special, small piece of this earth. The majority of these wines are of great quality and deserves the price tag with many under-priced.
Location, Location, Location
Although Estate Wines were almost the only wines produced in South Africa until the nineties, it very quickly lost its point of difference and specialty as producers bought in grapes or wine of a specific cultivar not planted on the farm. This was done to satisfy the need of a certain importer or market segment in South Africa that they wanted to supply. Legislation was never really put in place (as far as I know) other than that a producer can use the Estate name, but nowhere can it say ‘Estate Wine” on the packaging. For instance if I had Colyn Estate Wines and I used wine from outside of my estate I could use the name Colyn, but not add Estate Wines.
Stunning view from only this spot...point of difference!
So what’s the problem with this?
The USP of an Estate Wine should be that the wines were Grown, Made, Matured and Bottled on the Estate. Only the grapes grown on the designated piece of Estate land can be used for the production of the Estate Wine. It means that the winemaker’s challenge is to make the best wine every vintage from the grapes that his vineyards give. They cannot source grapes from elsewhere. Everyone says that a wine is made in the vineyard and Estate/Single Vineyard Wines are the ultimate challenge for any winemaker to prove that.

Hand Harvested Estate Grapes...managing your quality!
The problem is that certain Estates use their location/brand to sell wines at a premium that they actually bought in from other regions or even within their own region. When you read the label it clearly states that the winery is situated in such a wonderful area with unique climate, terroir, cooling breezes off the "Arctic" blah blah. So they want the consumer to think it is from their property in X region, but the grapes/wine are actually from a totally different region and the Wine of Origin is Western Cape.  In Afrikaans you would say “skou met ‘n ander man se perde” (showing off with someone else’s horses).

In discussion with quite a few Estate owners I have come to the conclusion that I am not the only one thinking that when an Estate use NON-Estate grapes they should not be allowed to sell those wines under the Estate name. This means that I will not be able to use COLYN as my brand name, but I will have to use a different brand name for these wines.    

Why is this important?
We all want South African Wines to sell at higher prices, be sought after and to be the wine of choice for people all over the world. Currently this is not the case and many producers struggle to reach the prices that make it feasible to produce wines. Producers have done a lot to increase the quality of our wines but this is not reflected in our prices internationally. An Estate Wine should be a wine that tells a story about the terroir and history of a specific place. It should be a wine produced in limited quantities creating a supply and demand inequality to drive price. The consumer should feel special to get their hands on a bottle of this wine knowing only a certain amount of this vintage was produced. Estate/Single Vineyard Wines should change the perception of low and mediocre quality and uplift Wines from South Africa.
Managing your selected Estate Vineyards to produce Top Quality grapes every vintage.
My request to SAWIS is to work on legislation that will only allow for Estate Wines to be bottled under the Estate Name. There are ways to do it, (too long to explain in this blog), but it needs to be done in a manner that everyone will benefit from it. An inclusive proposal rather than excluding the majority. I firmly believe that this is a process that will bring the industry closer together than keep dividing it the way it has been. We should be proud of our strict and regulated systems, but also use it to grow the industry on the world stage rather than to bypass it for individual gain.

Beautiful Estate Vineyards
Although this suggestion might sound like a petty issue/’who cares”, I can assure you that this will benefit all producers in the long term. We need to change the perception of South African Wine on the international stage and this could be a step in the right direction.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Competition vs Consumer Wines

In reply to recent blogs and remarks by Mr. Christian Eedes and Mr. Tim James about the lack of or low quality of 'entry-level/pool wines' in South Africa, I would just like to give my perspective from a marketing point of view.

Wine judges/media like them get invited all year round to lavish wine launches, new releases and lunches/dinners by producers aiming to impress with their best wines. Why would a producer spend the money, time and effort to invite knowledgeable connoisseurs like them to the new vintage tasting/launch of their R30 bottle of wine?? It must be very difficult for them to enjoy mass produced entry level wines sold through big retail and aimed at the volume market like most of us do even when they just relax at home and not judging. The reality is that very few consumers get the chance to taste the wines they do and of course don’t have the wine experience and education they have.
Promoting Great Value from Specific Producers
Little fact: Wine Enthusiast released figures around 4 years ago, which by now probably have changed, that 84% of all retail wines in the USA sell for $12.99 or less. The percentage of wines sold over $25 are very small and I can’t remember the exact figure but I think it was something like 4%. Put that into our local market and you can look at retail wines below R50 compared to anything above that and I think we could look at very similar percentages. (No you can't suddenly multiply $12.99 with the exchange rate and try compare that to our local retail price points)
A range promoting Wine of Origin, selling for more than half the price it would under brand owners label. 
What does this have to do with it? The wines that they have shot down on the side of the pool are what a very large amount of consumers buy every day. I don’t agree that they are as bad as they mentioned but can understand that it is difficult for them to taste the wines within context. How do you taste the Inspirational Batch Chenin Blanc one day and then have to ‘judge’ a big volume supermarket Chenin Blanc the next. I know Christian tastes for Best Value, I am not sure about Tim, but that is a once off and once a year.

My passion has always been brands and consumer behavior and one thing that stands out clearly is the lack of marketing skills in South Africa to grow the wine consumer base. Some producers advertise their R40 wine as if it is worth R400 when you look at the text and imagery. The spirit brands have always been a great focus point for me in the way they structure their products and advertise accordingly to the consumer.
John B Wines by Rietvallei Estate - great value for everyday drinking!!
We need to understand that wine is competing with masses of RTD's, Beer, Spirits and now a big threat, craft beers. Consumers can buy 2 bottles of decent quaffing wine cheaper than 12 beers or RTD's, but do we attract them and convince them to do it?? NO, unfortunately. Very few of us get to taste the wines that Mr Eedes, James & Co get to, but the reality is that the market for people spending more than R100 retail on wine is very small. There is definitely still a lot of snobbism around wine in South Africa and that is hurting the category. It is good to see though that there is a younger wine crowd attending wine tastings and festivals which hopefully bodes well for the future. I think we have a very competitive category of wines under R50, but i also don't think our local retailers are always listing the best wines, but rather who can supply them best.

Let's hope that 2014 bring us a great harvest and good luck to all the farmers, viticulturists and winemakers.