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The folks at the wine and brandy routes are an innovative bunch whose passion it is to make South Africa and its wines sexy to local and international visitors. Newly appointed chair of the SA Wine Routes Forum and manager of the Robertson Wine Valley, Elizma Botha, talks wallflowers, wine tourism and breaking down barriers.

 

What is the aim of the SA wine routes forum?

The SA Wine Routes Forum consists of 19 representatives of wine and brandy routes in the respective wine producing regions. It is a platform where we exchange ideas, learn from and support each other to strengthen Brand SA. We also co-opt representatives from VinPro, Wosa and Wesgro.

 

How can the SA wine industry boost its image locally?

We need to make wine more approachable. Wine is the drop-dead gorgeous lady 95% of guys are too afraid to ask to dance, so she’s the wallflower left in the corner… or maybe taken for a spin by someone who wants to impress his friends, but he’s not looking for a relationship. We need wines that can develop long-term relationships with our (prospective) customers and we need to share our love and passion with them unconditionally. Bring on the vanilla Chardonnays, the coffee Pinotages, the sweeter pink bubblies. Anything that will break down the barriers. Also, don’t tell customers what they are supposed to like. In my opinion, a wine connoisseur is someone who likes what’s in his glass.

 

Any other barriers to promoting wine locally?

I think we are all concerned about the proposed legislation to reduce the allowable blood alcohol level to zero, as well as the ban on alcohol advertising. It will take away the opportunity to educate consumers on responsible enjoyment of wine and being part of the winelands culture – one that sets us apart from most other mass-produced alcoholic beverages. I truly believe that there are better ways to address the problems these policies aim to do.

 

How can wineries improve their visitor figures?

Nothing beats service. It’s more than a friendly greeting and knowing your product (although these are very important as well). It’s about offering your guests what they expect and more, giving them just the right amount of information to add value and not alienate … showing them such a good time they would want to pop in again soon. In short? Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do when you have friends over.

 

Where does wine tourism fit in?

Add beautiful surroundings, delicious produce and cosy accommodation to their tasting experience and you’ll have visitors coming back for more. Until now wine tourism has been route-driven, even though for years it has been said we need a centralised strategy and entity driving wine tourism. Festivals have been a fabulous catalyst to get people venturing out into the winelands, and collaboration with Wosa and Wesgro has increased awareness. However, we are eager to see the soon to be launched outcomes of the Wine Industry Strategic Exercise (Wise) baseline study and strategy for wine tourism.

 

Anything to look forward to in the next year?

Always! There is never a shortage of opportunities to enjoy wine – whether big and bold or more intimate and focussed. The wine routes are working on addressing seasonality, attracting visitors throughout the year. We are also participating in Cape Wine, an amazing initiative to showcase Brand SA.

 

Elizma Botha

Elizma Botha

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