Cape Wine 2015, the three-day showcase to the international wine fraternity, held in September, has proved the most successful exhibition of its kind to date, in terms of visitor numbers and with South African wines earning high praise. 

Held every three years, this year’s trade fair drew 1 900 visitors from a total of 58 countries, the number of visitors rising by 27% on the previous show. Delegates included retailers, sommeliers, restaurateurs, hoteliers, educators, wine critics and members of the media who had come to meet the 350 exhibiting producers and taste their wines.

Said Siobhan Thompson, CEO of Wines of South Africa (Wosa), organisers of the event: “The overriding impression among guests was that South African wine has assumed a new level of quality and a clearly differentiated and distinctive voice. Returning visitors who have been following our progress over the years could see the impact of the extensive innovation in wine-growing and winemaking that has been taking place. They consistently remarked on how this has has translated into greater confidence among exhibitors, who are now more readily expressing what is distinctively South African in their wines.”

In his opening address Wosa chairman Michael Jordaan also highlighted the importance of innovation. He referred to South Africa as being at a tipping point “where all the cumulative innovations in the wine industry would start showing”.

A blend of tradition and innovation

According to Jordaan, South African wine is the perfect blend of tradition and innovation. “The industry underwent a wine renaissance. There’s been an increase in the number of cellars, from 200 in the early 1990s to around 600 today, with boutique wineries entering the market and new areas of origin opening up.

“Since the advent of democracy, exports have increased from 22 million litres in 1992 to 422.7 million litres in 2014. Now, prominent viticulturists and winemakers from other countries have identified South Africa as having great potential and have invested here too – people like Zelma Long of Simi Vineyards in California, Anne Cointreau, Michel Rolland, Michel Laroche and many others.

“There’s also been a shift to cooler vineyard sites in the past decade, either with a coastal influence or at altitude. Look at the Elim ward, the southernmost of the maritime vineyards and exposed to very strong south-easterly winds. The Swartland region was also only recently rediscovered by new-generation winemakers and is seen as the more edgy alternative to Stellenbosch. What the Swartland has also done creatively is to highlight the common thread between brands of the region as a way to collectively market the area. Wineries grouped together as the Swartland Independent Producers and in 2010 launched their counterculture rebellion, known as the Swartland Revolution, an annual fair which now attracts connoisseurs from around the world.”

SA wine industry is a key economic driver 

Alan Winde, Provincial Minister of Economic Opportunities and one of the opening speakers, highlighted the economic impact of the wine industry.

“Wine tourism is an important economic generator, earning R6 billion for our economy. In total the industry makes up 1.2% of South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product. The entire industry contributes R36 billion to the national economy.

“In terms of global wine production, South Africa ranks as number seven in overall volume and produces 4.2% of the world’s wine (2014). Our exports have grown from less than 50 million litres in 1994 to over 422 million litres in 2014. I’d also like to encourage wine producers to remain innovative so we are able to leapfrog our competitors.”

Minister Winde also commended wine producers for operating responsibly. “South Africa produces the most Fairtrade wines in the world, and organisations such as the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (Wieta) and Fairtrade are playing a key role in engaging with the industry.”

Why South Africa 

Analjit Singh, international business proprietor, owner of the Leeu Portfolio in South Africa, and also one of the opening speakers, gave compelling reasons and an international perspective on why South Africa is such an attractive option for investors worldwide.

“Looking at the South African wine and tourism industry, a lot of people asked me why this industry specifically was so appealing to me and to other buyers from abroad. And there’s no single reason. It’s about the South Africanness of this place. The environment, the beauty, the use of English as a commonly spoken language, the wide acceptance and application of European and international standards, the excellent wines at more affordable prices and the relatively more affordable real estate. The fact that the wines here are neither New nor Old World. The best South African wines show the restraint and freshness of the Old World, while bursting with New World purity and fruit.

“I was also inspired by the people in this industry, the confidence of many of the country’s winemakers and their close understanding of their sites, resulting in well-balanced and intriguing wines. I could see the reputation of this industry through my dealings with people. A reputation of worldclass wines and innovation on all fronts. I know this can be ascribed to assiduous work over decades across several fronts, including plant improvement programmes and world-class vineyard and winemaking research. This has resulted in a new generation of dynamic, focused and often visionary people.

“The diversity of the South African wine offering is also a unique selling point. This country can compete in almost every market and style segment. South Africa also has a great group of young, dynamic and energetic winemakers who are carving a new path for the Cape. And then there’s the soils. The soils and climates are very diverse and change in relatively short distances. This means we can do different styles of wines within short distances of each other. The wines are also priced relatively well when compared to most international producing countries.

“No less important, though, is the generosity of spirit, gentleness and friendliness of South Africans and the absolute beauty of the landscape.”

Cape Wine 2015 in numbers

  • Bottles handled: 25 000
  • Glasses used: 10 000
  • Weight of glass recycled: 15 920 kg
  • Weight of plastic recycled: 28 980 kg
  • Number of visitors: 1 900
  • Number of wines available to taste: 4 000
  • Countries represented: 58
  • Twitter mentions: #CapeWineConnect 2 073
  • Total reach: #CapeWineconnect 10,7 million

Masamitsu Yoshino, publisher and director of Japanese specialist trade beverage magazine Wands Review, was optimistic about South Africa’s potential in his market. Last year, South African imports to Japan rose by 19.3% on 2013, according to Japan’s Ministry of Finance. Yoshino said South Africa has now overtaken Germany to become the eighth biggest supplier of wine to Japan. Consumers were familiar with the popular French cultivars used by many South African winemakers and the elegance of local wines made them well-suited to washoku (Japanese cuisine).

Exciting wave for SA blends

Winemakers are redefining South African blends, which are now counted among the country’s most acclaimed and sought-after wines. At a Cape Wine tasting of six red and four white blends, the panel of winemakers commented that these South African wine styles have developed a strong own identity and compare favourably with their international counterparts.

“Yes, we use varieties, technology and practices common throughout the world, but our authenticity and integrity lie in our distinctive soils and climate,” said Bruce Jack, winemaker at Flagstone.

He added that the diversity of soil and climate is actually the industry’s Achilles heel. However, producers, viticulturists and winemakers have taken advantage of this to put together complex, interesting blends.

“Even more excitingly, there is a new boldness from a generation of young winemakers and viticulturists who make wines that truly represent South Africa’s identity. They respect and learn from those who have gone before them, but build on this and add their own experience,” said Adam Mason, winemaker for Mulderbosch and Yardstick.

Getting back to basics, Kanonkop’s winemaker, Abrie Beeslaar, said the same principle applied throughout: “Wine is about enjoyment, without overthinking. People don’t understand the intricacies behind making a wine; they only know that they enjoy it.”

Protégés ploughing back

An inspiring group of protégés, who are being educated and mentored in the South African wine industry, are transforming the industry in their own way. The Apprentice session at Cape Wine gave four of them – two winemakers, a wine advisor and one very confident wine steward – the opportunity to share their views.

According to the group, the wine industry still has a long way to go to educate its own people about wine. “The common perception, especially in black communities in the Eastern Cape, is that wine is only consumed to become intoxicated,” said Pemla Makhanda, wine steward at the One & Only restaurant.

Heinrich Kulsen, winemaker at Nederburg, added that responsible consumption and wine appreciation are key to educating prospective consumers. “Don’t just use the conventional three-second line about age limit and responsible drinking after ads, but incorporate the responsible message in the ad itself.”

Matome Mbatha, Africa market manager at Wines of South Africa (Wosa), said that the organisation rolled out wine education programmes in Nigeria, Angola and Ghana, and will soon expand these to Kenya and Uganda.

“There is so much potential in the wine industry. Be open to learning, innovate and keep motivated, and the sky’s the limit!” said Phelisa Moni, wine advisor at Spice Route.

– Jana Loots

Cape Wine 2015 in six sips

1. Embrace South Africanness

South Africa boasts enough clout and status to promote its own styles proudly, without needing to imitate other conventional wine regions or styles. Our own wines, personalities and regions are more than appealing and we can confidently back these, knowing that what we offer is world-class. The battle is half won, if our inimitable stories are told confidently and with conviction.

2. Preparation pays 

“If you don’t have back-to-back meetings, you are likely to pour wine for other winemakers and guys that try to sell barrels”. Truth well spoken, by someone who walks the talk, to the extent that he didn’t have a voice (or wine left, for that matter) after the show.

It was glaringly obvious that sharp wineries made a success of Cape Wine before it even started, with clear goals and a focused strategy. Preparation pays and a lot of the real action took place before the Cape Town International Convention Centre opened its doors to Cape Wine 2015.

3. Taking hands

Smaller groupings, such as The Zoo Biscuits and Swartland Independent, might be contentious to some, but they work exceptionally well. There is something remarkable about winemakers who share a communal space and vibe, even serving one another’s wine. Strong regional identity – such as the particularly striking Hemel-en-Aarde stand – also made a great impression.

There are those who argue that collaborative efforts, especially if they are not based on a region, can be confusing, but the big boys can take a few pointers from the youngsters about taking hands, with a common goal and shared spittoon. The spirit of collaboration is at an all-time high across the board, and the benefits are sure to follow.

4. Margins over masses

The word ‘quality’ was used much more often during the glass-in-hand discussions and early media reports than ‘value for money’. The challenge now is to convert the positive reviews and trade impressions into more profitable margins. During a very insightful seminar led by Accolade Category Director Jane Robertson, she made the profound comment that credible mid-tier wines will help more consumers discover South Africa. That mid-tier is notably absent at present, which strengthens the perception of our wines as cheap and cheerful – particularly in the UK.

5. The elephant in the room 

Yes, there were a number of blackowned brands represented at Cape Wine and, yes, there was a seminar that highlighted the successes of inspiring apprentices, but the slow pace of transformation was difficult to ignore. Cape Wine 2015 was undoubtedly the most successful industry event yet hosted in South Africa, but the challenge for the next three years is to tackle the elephant, before it stomps on us.

6. Like a good golf swing 

Cape Wine 2015 was a success and there is certainly reason to celebrate the events of this weekend, despite the Springboks’ shock defeat by Japan. The biggest mistake would, however, be to rest on our laurels. In fact, the objective should be to follow through by maintaining the momentum of enthusiasm and positivity. The year 2015 could go down as a significant one for the wine industry, with Cape Wine and the implementation of the Wine Industry Strategic Exercise (Wise) laying the groundwork for the industry to take the winning shot.

– Edo Heyns

As published in the November issue of WineLand magazine.

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