We chat with one of our members each month about their business, what makes them lie awake at night and what gives them hope.
1. Tell us more about Excelsior?
Excelsior Wine Estate near Robertson has been in the De Wet family for 160 years, and I am the fifth generation farming on the estate. The farm spans over 275 ha, of which 226 ha is currently planted to vines and the rest is dedicated to soft citrus.
Apart from the vineyard and cellar operations, we also have a small restaurant on the farm, and run a successful luxury guesthouse in the old manor house. Across all of these operations we employ 105 people.
We export 85% of our wines, and sell the remaining 15% in the local market – although this will be even less this year following the ban on local sales. We target the mid-level consumer, who values quality, but does not want to spend more than a R100 on every bottle. That is the core of our business, although we do have higher tier wines for a special occasion.
2. How did the restrictions on liquor sales during the national lockdown affect you?
We are lucky in that the major part of our business is exports, and certain markets like the UK and USA actually grew in that period. Obviously the local and hospitality sides were badly affected, but through UIF support and adequate reserves, we managed to avoid retrenchments.
From the beginning I felt it was important that people still have an income and that we had to keep the business healthy. It was a balancing act, but we seem to have gotten through in good shape.
We have improved our online sales, although there were challenges with the delivery services. These have been dealt with and I can only assume that online has truly arrived in SA.
3. With the current surplus of uncontracted wine, there is concern that there will be no room in cellars for the 2021 harvest, and some producers are considering green harvesting. Are you currently making any adjustments in the vineyard or cellar regarding the 2021 harvest?
We will be okay, as we managed to export wines. We would like to have some space available so that we can help other producers in the region. It’s going to be a challenge for many producers in 2021.
4. Are there any exciting plans in the pipeline at Excelsior?
We harvested our first Malbec in 2020 and it’s looking very promising. We planted it as a blending cultivar for a Cabernet Sauvignon. In its first year it already made the blend and will only improve in time. We are also trialling some different rootstocks as I believe that the right combination of cultivar and rootstock is the key to quality and sustainability.
5. What is your message to other cellars and producers?
The wine industry is going through one of its worst times, but it has happened in our long history before. Think of phylloxera, sanctions, etc. But the wheel turns eventually. Stick to what you do well, do it better, and carry on making wines that the consumers want to drink.