Franschhoek winemakers resilient to credit crunch

The Franschhoek Month asked the Vignerons of Franschhoek what effect the recession is having on their wine sales.

The majority of the estates that replied stated that their wine sales have increased relative to the same period a year ago.

Dieter Sellmeyer of Lynx Wines writes as follows: Non-cellar door wine sales locally come mainly from restaurants and from mail campaigns and neither of these have suffered – in fact restaurant business is up, which may partly have to do with the evolution of the brand. We have never done a lot through retail outlets as the competition there is massive and yes, cut-throat.”

Haute Espoir, Rickety Bridge Winery, La Motte, Stony Brook Vineyards, Graham Beck Wines and Vrede & Lust also all report increased wine sales, and it would not appear that the visitors to the Franschhoek wine estates are trading down in their wine purchases, as was claimed in a recent article in the Cape Times.Dana Buys from Vrede & Lust describes how he has enhanced wine sales at his estate: Our sales are significantly up over last year. I think it is due to our wines improving and a strong focus on direct wine sales. Direct sales are important with more customers buying to drink at home versus while eating out. Our wines are priced well relative to the quality. We have significantly upgraded our cellar door team and they have done a great job building the new wine club and getting our European eStore sales humming”

Graham Beck Wines’ Etienne Heyns attributes their sales success to his cellar door staff: “Our staff makes a point of providing our visitors with extra hospitality and superb attention during such times when relatively fewer visits occur. In addition, we reward our visitors with an array of extra special offers on our wines. We value their custom and want them to leave our estate with an indelible impression – and a boot full of superb wines.” Werner Els of La Petite Ferme attributes their sales’ success to focusing on greater distribution in South Africa’s major cities.Vrede & Lust says that there are fewer tourists around this season. “To counteract the tough economy we work on ensuring that our pricing is correct for the climate and we understand that better cash-flow is often more important than higher profit margins – i.e. we are realistic about the laws of supply and demand! Most of all, we work hard to ensure that the customers who visit the farm have a fantastic experience here” says Dana Buys. Rickety Bridge Winery says that it offers a good quality product. “We put a lot of emphasis on giving guests an experience though good service and a good quality “product” in both our restaurant and with our wines. I believe we offer something for everybody – whether they are serious connoisseurs or just looking for a relaxing day in the winelands” says Jackie Rabe.When visitors come to the farm we sell them an experience – wine sales follow automatically and price hardly comes into it. Being small only I, as passionate owner/winemaker, or my equally passionate Assistant Winemaker, do the cellar tours and wine tasting” says Sellmeyer. “We have a few very loyal small tour operators. Their clientele is usually upmarket and interested in wine and more often than not they have wine sent back home. The tour operators know we offer cellar tours and tastings in German, and for that sector this is an immediate winner”.Haute Espoir exports its wines to Germany, New Zealand, Ireland, Sweden, Malaysia, Belgium and Singapore; Lynx sells to Denmark, Holland, Germany and the USA, but the USA sales “have almost vanished. Europe, on the other hand, has soaked up what the US didn’t take. Our Danish distributor reports the best season ever, and our wines are right up there – the result of joint marketing efforts with our distributor. Holland and Germany are not very different. In addition we have very recently received two significant orders from UK and Switzerland for the first time. With a bit of nurturing these will develop into repeat business.”

Rickety Bridge exports to the UK and the USA; Vrede & Lust exports to Canada and Europe; Stony Brook focuses its exports on Europe; La Petite Ferme exports to the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Ireland and America; Graham Beck sells its products in 40 countries, but Sweden and the USA are its two most important foreign markets; and La Motte exports to Europe, Africa and the Far East.

The visitor profile of visitors to the wine estates appears to be varied. Graham Beck Wines estimates that more of their visitors are foreigners than South Africans, in line with 65 % of its wine production being exported. La Petite Ferme receives mainly European visitors, Vrede & Lust is visited by locals, British visitors and Americans; Rickety Bridge Winery says 40 % of its visitors are South African, and the balance are from the UK, USA and France; Lynx sells to visitors from the UK, Germany, USA, Sweden and Holland, as well as South Africans from Gauteng. Some wineries appeal more to older wine lovers, others to younger visitors. “Swallows” are an important part of the winetasting mix at La Motte, says Werner Briederhann, probably due to their exposure to the wines at the monthly La Motte concerts.

When asked how the Vignerons can assist in attracting tourists to Franschhoek, Haute Espoir’s Rob Armstrong said :’“Strive to enhance the experience visitors to our valley have in every aspect, to make this the most attractive destination in South Africa.” Jacky of Rickety Bridge Winery suggested that: “I think it is important to create as much a positive feeling about what you do, get the name out there, get people talking about what you have to offer, make sure your staff are positive and send that message through to customers. Don’t ride on your laurels and expect business to come to you, do as much as you can to drive business to you. Evaluate what you offer and see whether you are really offering guests the best you can, in terms of price, quality and service. If not, how can you expect people to come back. I think in these tough times consumers become sharper, will shop around for good value and will not support places that are taking advantage. I also think that business will have to work harder and smarter to achieve the same business they did in more liquid times.”

Buys says that ‘great customer experience and value’ are key. “We compete with many other destinations in South Africa and elsewhere, and the overall value proposition must be very competitive.”

“We just try to do great value for money wines and give friendly, personal attention to visitors who come to the farm.  We believe in word of mouth advertising and our customers have been very loyal, even when times are tough” says Stony Brook Vineyards. For Els of La Petite Ferme it’s a change of focus to the South African market, while Graham Beck Wines’ Heyns says its “service, service, service!”

Sellmeyer is ‘proudly-Franschhoek’, and makes an important point in this regard: The best way is to send out the message of what a great place Franschhoek is, and all that it has to offer. To do this the most important thing is to remain upbeat, particularly in communications to the media and in newsletters. Visitors don’t like to go to a place that is depressed and down. But the Vignerons won’t be able to attract visitors on their own – they’re only one element of the Franschhoek experience. It’s a joint effort between all players, and just like I only recommend restaurants in the Valley, I would expect the converse to be the case. When I hear about guesthouses only recommending wineries on the other side of the mountain I ask myself ‘why?’- it’s like shooting yourself in the foot. It’s great if tourists go back and tell friends how much the Cape Winelands have to offer, but it would be better still if they told their friends how much Franschhoek has to offer.”

This article was written by Chris von Ulmenstein and was first published in the July 2009 issue of The Franschhoek Month.

Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com

2 replies on “Franschhoek winemakers resilient to credit crunch”

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