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.


  1. Hi Colyn - Of course I agree with you about the importance of terroir and single-origin wines (although there are a number of great wines made everywhere that do not conform to this:not only in South Africa but even whole European areas like Champagne, Sherry, Port). But I'm afraid the Estate concept, as it was originally conceived of in South Africa, is just about dead. In fact, as I'm sure you know, in legal terms there are no longer any estates - there are only official "producers of Estate Wines". I don't think it will be possible to move backwards to the time when estates could only make estate wines. The authorities were forced to shift from that because so many producers would not agree to such a limitation and were de-registering from estates. The basic problem is that the estate producers messed things up when the had the chance between 1973 and the end of the century. They compromised, and they didn't do any marketing. They didn't, in short, do anything to convince winelovers that estate wines were any better than any other wines. Which of course they usually weren't. And to day that same truth exists. Make a list of the best wines in South Africa and see how many of them would fit the criteria for estate wines. But the important thing is that consumers do not have any idea of what an estate wine is, and there's no reason, really why they should. Eben Sadie and Chris Alheit, for example, can make some great single-vineyard wines, with huge respect for terroir, but they are made in a wineries 100 kilometres - or 400 kilometres - distant from the vines. Why should anyone care about that, frankly? By the way, the CVC (if it even exists three or four months after it was founded) is trying to bring back the estate as a significant concept. It might be best if you were to combine your efforts with them. Though it doesn't seem that they want to deny any property the right to sell non-estate wines under its name. That is certainly a non-starter idea, that was abandoned long ago, even before the estate concept gave way to the single-vineyard concept (which it had always opposed, as I'm sure your realise; the estate was the smallest unit in the WO system).

  2. Colyn, You are missing a vital link in what you write. You say the USP of an Estate Wine should be that the wines were Grown, Made, Matured and Bottled on the Estate, meaning that the winemaker’s challenge is to make the best wine every vintage from the grapes grown there. When the Wine of Origin system was drawn up, unlike in Europe, there was no restriction as to which varieties could be planted and many estates (and other private producers) grew a whole fruit salad. Given that an estate was supposed to comprise a single, contiguous piece of land (which some didn't, just one exception that diminished the credibility of the system), it was hardly likely all the varieties planted were perfectly matched to that piece of land. We are still in the early stages of working out what grows best where, but since the advent of single vineyards (something the estate producers held out against as it would diminish their power as the smallest unit in the WO - the conclusion Tim came to in his CWM dissertation), some great wines of distinction and quality have been made, especially from old vines. So while I care where the grapes are grown and that the winemaker has full control until the wines are bottled, I do not care if they are vinified miles away from the vineyards. It's not the estate system that ensures quality, but the land where the grapes are grown, and the two aren't mutually exclusive. My view is that to try and resuscitate the estate system would now do more to hinder than help South Africa's image for quality. It's redundant.
    I should add that there are some wine farms which conform to the estate system in the strictest sense and are making wines of distinction and quality; Kanonkop is a notable one. The Kriges were wise in pulling out every variety other than those which provided such wines.

  3. Dear Angela and Tim,

    Thank you for your response. The reason why so many producers have varieties on their farms they should never have is not only their fault. Dig deeper into what the old companies told them to plant and you will find the problem. However, I am not of the opinion that we should have legally forced producers that they can only plant certain cultivars in their region. What we do see now is winemakers realizing what works on their properties. I also don't mind when wines are made from grapes outside of the long as the origin is the driving force behind it and not WO Western Cape.

    Somehow I feel you misread what I am trying to convey through this blog which is that Estate Wine definitely has a place in the system and very important role to play. Maybe it's my Afrikaans not coming across so clearly in English. Some Estates are using their location falsely when the grapes/wine they used are actually from a different region. That's why I feel they shouldn't be allowed to use the Estate name as a brand.

    I personally don't believe Estate Wines are dead...the younger wine drinkers who is a lot more inquisitive might be just the demographic to educate on this. The local media however, which is your field, are also misguiding the consumer by mentioning and talking about Estate Wines when Co-Ops and big companies or brands are mentioned. That is a big part of the problem.

    You have seen the mistakes made in the early days, I would like to witness the success and learning from those mistakes to make this industry a much better one that it currently is.