Friday, December 22, 2017

2018 - The Year of The Cape!

As another year winds down I thought I would also attempt to shed some light and thoughts on the year ahead. Most winemakers, marketers and growers are enjoying a deserved break before the harvest season and I am sure each one of them are a bit nervous but excited at the same time. Nervous because of the very dry conditions their vineyards have experienced and what the crop would be. Excited in the hope that the quality will be very high and give them the opportunity to create one of the better vintages!

From a market point of view I am hopeful that 2018 will be “The Year of The Cape”. We have experienced amazing press from across the globe, a new lease on life for Chenin Blanc & Pinotage, wonderful opportunities for smaller, niche producers and the list goes on. But then again there has been very good press for a long time. Very often we read and hear from various markets that South Africa’s time is around the corner, just to be disappointed that it hasn’t happened. Maybe our expectations are too high, maybe it is just not our time yet OR maybe it is time that we go out there in full force creating that demand.

The world wine market opened for us 25+ years ago. In terms of family that is one generation and business has changed drastically in the past 25 years. What has happened is that many of our brands, big & small, have been positioned by people who are most probably retired now. Current Winemakers & Managers of Family properties inherited importers, structures, markets etc. This alone is a huge challenge for a winery and something that I encounter quite often when talking to industry colleagues. So my two cents and thoughts are:

Take time to step back and review your business model, specifically your export markets. For years SA wineries have been so grateful and happy to HAVE an Importer that they very rarely review the status and synergy. Every couple of years any business need to reset and review their model making sure they are on the right track and don’t fall behind in their market space. In basic terms, make sure that your Importer supplies the market that you want to reach. If your aim is to grow big retail business but your importer focus on HORECA and select wine shops then it is not a good fit, and Vice Versa!

PEOPLE BUY FROM PEOPLE: I will always stand by this doesn’t matter what you sell: insurance, cars, wine…Your importer and their staff is an extension of your business. There has to be a solid relationship and friendship for both businesses to grow. Make sure that as both your businesses evolve and change that it keeps the common thread built on your relationship & mutual respect. All of the above also accounts for your local representation of course.
I believe that our pricing structures in the export market have suffered because of the above or lack thereof. Our relationships & understanding of each other’s business models are not good enough to enforce increases and changes. We have to stop being just grateful and sell our stories & quality to support the price points and positioning.

DON’T BE SCARED OF CHANGE: Every year that you don’t take out a bad vineyard sets you back at least three to five years if not more. As with your commercial side you need to review your production and how effective or ineffective it is. There are many producers who have hectares and hectares of unproductive vineyards which should be pulled out, but the hurdle is the cost of replanting. Don’t worry about that cost now, plan for it properly and make sure that when you can replant your business can support it. For very year that you don’t do anything in your production chain you are taking a step back. The same accounts for people that you do business with. If something doesn’t work then look for solutions and make those changes.  Don’t be scared to cull wines from your range that isn’t profitable enough. It can be those supposed “cash cow, volume” wines that causes your business the worst headaches when it comes to CASH FLOW. The golden term for every business!

I learnt something very important from my barrel cooperage, Tonnellerie Baron, in Bordeaux. Lionel Kreff the Sales Director shared a very true statement with me a while ago. We as barrel coopers are there to look after, cherish and protect the wines that growers work so hard for every vintage. If we do not keep our end of the bargain in creating safe and enhancing vessels to their wines, then we are destroying their hard work. This is the total opposite of SYNERGY! If you feel that people working with your wines, whether it is on the farm or out selling, are not enhancing or protecting it then change it!

WORK TOGETHER MORE OFTEN: I do believe that there is already a very good support system in the industry of producers helping and supporting one another. Of course when the going gets tough there is always a scenario of helping yourself before someone else. But in the bigger picture it is becoming more and more important. The more of us who speak the same language (not Afrikaans or English), confidently promote and sell our products and help open doors for each other, the better for the holistic industry. This ‘new’ generation has a very important role to play in changing the industry for the better in totality!

Next year will be a testing one for the world wine market. However, I believe it is the year for the Cape to rise and stake down our claim! It needs to start with each one of us reviewing and analysing our own businesses to make sure whether we are on the right track. Whether we as individuals are custodians of Wines of South Africa or out there for ourselves! We cannot keep waiting for anything to happen we need to go get it! The resources, forums, support, stories and quality is there for us to use.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone, may you have a Blessed time with Family & Friends and come back rejuvenated and ready for 2018! 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Violence has come to the Cape Winelands!!

If this comes across as being a bit emotional, well yes it is, what has happened the past week should be the last straw!

I was born in 1980 and grew up in what you could probably call the rural Boland region of the Western Cape. To me that was probably in the middle of Apartheid and as i grew up you notice things, but don't know any better because that what was 'normal'. My father was a banker and in those days worked at Boland Bank so we moved around a bit between Hopefield, Piketberg, Clanwilliam and then settled in Robertson where i finished high school. My brother is three years older than me and my sister two years younger. My brother went to the army straight out of high school, something a lot of people found strange then, but he loved it and it was something he always wanted to do. He became a "parabat" in Bloemfontein and spent ten years in the army. If it wasn't for politics and affirmative action he would still have been there, but the army was no place for a white guy i guess. My sister had to study in-house with a Financial Firm because my parents couldn't afford two children at varsity. Something i still feel very guilty about till today because it wasn't the field she wanted to study, but i can proudly say she has made a huge success of that. She passed her B Accounting Degree Cum Laude two weeks after giving birth to her first child.

One thing i will never forget was when i had to take a letter home which my parents needed to sign to state that they don't mind if i compete in sport against players of colour. Yes, that happened and not for one second did they hesitate to say NO they don't mind. I was too crazy about anything to do with a round ball anyway. But on a serious note, i do believe that South Africans my age or similar has many similar stories to tell.

We were a lower to middle class family in South Africa. Growing up and living in these small towns many of my friends were farmers or worked in agriculture. Today i have many friends and colleagues in agriculture. So that is me in a very short ordinary South African like so many other!!

In the past couple of years i have been personally affected by the constant attack on farmers, not always murders but lies and making them scapegoats for things they didn't do. All of this politically driven and ignited!
Oom Johnny Burger, Rietvalley Estate, committed suicide not out of guilt but he was a depressed broken man targeted by politics with them wanting to make an example of him to the farmers. What happened to the Papenfus women who ignited this bullshit and created the nightmare??? For some time no one could find her and i bet you she is walking free having a cocktail or glass of South African wine in Hermanus or somewhere else. Why is no one hunting her???

We always hear about the farm murders in the Free State, Limpopo or areas very far from the Cape Winelands. Now it has come to us and as close as Stellenbosch with the murder of Joubert Conradie. Not too long ago there was the murder of Alberto Costa also in Stellenbosch.

This week it hit A LOT closer to home for me, but for the sake of privacy i cannot say who it was.  He was abducted in Ashton, a small town close to Robertson, by three men with knives thrown in the back of his car and driven to Cape Town. I cannot share too much information, the case has been reported to the police, but he miraculously escaped early Saturday morning. To see and hear an older man traumatized and broken, the same man who went to the Angola War when he was 18 and lost friends on the battlefield, saw and experienced things none of us should, is heartbreaking.

Have you seen the short video of wolves being reintroduces into Yellowstone National Park in the USA after 70 odd years and the impact it had, even changing the flow of rivers??? Watch it!!

The murder of farmers will have the same effect as when wolves were taken OUT of the Yellowstone Park, more closer to home, just look at Zimbabwe. I for one have always said that South Africa will not become the next Zimbabwe. Unfortunately what has happened recently is busy affecting my optimism. Violence in general is on the rise to the point where people will start taking the law into their own hands. My heart breaks every morning when i have to hear about another child killed by a stray bullet in Mannenberg or Grassy Park. Those poor parents who has to live with that but keep their heads down and work to earn a living as well.

This is not the South Africa my parents signed YES for, it is not the South Africa I love and wherever I travel invite foreigners to come visit. I don't have a tractor or a bakkie, but I am willing to join anyone who has space in theirs on Monday or whenever! If people can Toi Toi and break down the city for service delivery or student fees, then we must stop being too proud to stand up! Pride will not get us anywhere!!! Huge action needs to be taken and it has to happen very soon, we cannot sit back and keep talking about it around a braai. We are great at talking, but this needs to go over to action which doesn't mean violence. It means government and the world has to take notice!!

 I will be wearing Black on Monday!!!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Are Site Specific Wines the Best in the World?

I am not sure how many people have actually viewed this as a topic or important enough to discuss, but on a recent trip to the USA and Europe it has come up a few times. Working with Arendsig Single Vineyard Wines (Robertson) and Tonnellerie Baron (Bordeaux) from a producer side it has become a very important point to me as a USP. 

My initial response to the question, "Are Site Specific Wines the best in the World", would be NO. I don’t believe that Site Specific Wines should or will always be the best of its cultivar or blend. It goes a lot deeper and intricate than that. Quality is undeniable, but it is about the aura, track record and sense of place around the wine that counts.

When you look at the Premium World Wine Market and divide it into Old & New World, what comes to mind when you hear: Napa Valley, Marlborough, Burgundy, Bordeaux? Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay & Pinot Noir, Bordeaux Blends.  All of these regions have set a benchmark for the world wine market to follow. South Africa doesn’t feature with any specific varietal although there has been a new resurgent push for Chenin Blanc and Pinotage.

There has been a constant benchmarking of New World Wines compared to that of Bordeaux & Burgundy specifically. The funny thing is that whilst we go out there and use their wines to show trade and wine consumers how good our wines are, the Old World just keep doing what they have done for centuries. Not that they can and should rest on their laurels, but the fact is that because of the strength of their appellations they just make the best wine that they can every vintage. To them the vintage is paramount in their pricing…not so much for the New World. 

Do they make the best wines in the world? It probably depends on what barometer you are using to measure it, but from an historical point they do. When you look at the high regard these vineyards and appellations have amongst winemakers around the world, then yes they do. Are there better wines grown and made outside of these historical regions? YES there are!

I have been part of tastings where SA Wines have gone up blind against the best of France, Italy, Spain etc, many times rated higher and many times not. The difference is that when you purchase top Bordeaux you are buying a piece of land & history knowing that the specific wine was made from a designated area and terroir which cannot be replicated. On top of that it comes with generations of knowledge passed down knowing how certain blocks/cultivars perform in certain soils & vintages on the property. Does it make these wines the best in the world and always top of the selection process in tastings? NO

The most exciting time for me at Arendsig Single Vineyard Wines is when Lourens and I taste the new vintages, freshly bottled or still in barrel. Thinking back at previous ones and if we have a bottle left taste it next to older vintages. Do we always think the new vintage is the best vintage, NO. What we are looking for is that fingerprint thread of each block coming through vintage in and vintage out! The ‘DNA’ of that block that has become the signature of the brand! Some vintages we bottle more, some a little less...volume is not ever a talking point, quality comes first! When you become greedy in bottling more rather than focusing on quality you lose the essence of your wines! 

On the Tonnellerie Baron ( )  barrel side I can definitely see a big move by producers to have more focus on what they produce, their oak-ageing regime and understanding of their vineyards! This is extremely exciting to see and for the past four years taste the wines from barrel and learning about the producer, their vineyards and brand vision first hand. We won’t necessarily see this immediately but over the next five to ten years which means we have a lot to look forward to on the Premium side of South African Wine. 

I have always said that South African Wine needs to create a better identity for ourselves and it has to start within each region, by each producer. Individually there are amazing stories and examples of how old estates, new independent wineries/winemakers and even corporate wine companies have reinvented themselves with great success. As a whole though there is still too much confusion, saying the one thing, doing the other. We must get this attitude out of our systems of not wishing good business and fortitude on our fellow industry colleagues and friends. There needs to be a system working from Top to bottom not the other way around to change the "value for money" tag. 

Let’s build our regions and create the following and awareness of them under the umbrella of South Africa. Then work on focussing on the sub-regions within the regions. If Stellenbosch is strong then Simonsberg, Helderberg etc will be strong. The same with all the other regions.  It is like Doc Craven said, when Maties is strong Springbok Rugby is strong J

We all want to sell our wines at higher prices in the export markets and should work towards the same common goal. To achieve this we need consistency in quality, specialty in our offering and belief in our wines, doesn’t matter from which region you are.
Site specific wines are not always the best in the world, but you would struggle to get any closer in experiencing a sense of place, passion and uniqueness in wine style! Last year I was very fortunate to meet the people from Tenuta delle Terre Nere from Mount Etna in Italy,  and tasted their wines (imported by ). Learning about the wines made from vineyards grown in the shadows of Mount Etna in ancient volcanic soils and tasting the wines was an absolute confirmation. I could experience the ‘sense of place’ with the sniff and taste of the wines, closing my eyes trying to imagine those vineyards and land. Was it the best wines I ever tasted, NO, but that’s not the point. It was worth every cent and to share it with people who love wine.

South Africa have these stories, sites, history, skills and everything that goes with it! The product is there and confirmed in the results we see internationally every year. Now it has to be backed up by the brand owners, marketers, winemakers and ambassadors going out into the World Wine Market!