South Africa’s wine industry has made great strides in the past ten years, from being a bulk exporter of ‘cheap and cheerful’ wines to being on the ‘brink of breaking into the international fine wine spotlight’, wrote Mike Ratcliffe, owner of Warrick Wine Estate, in the Sunday Times recently.
Ratcliffe writes that the bulk export of low cost South African wines damaged our country’s image as a wine-producing country, but that this is being turned around, with excellent quality wines being exported. He ascribes the success of the wine industry to the folloiwng:
* tackling the reputation and improving the quality, for example, of a cultivar such as Pinotage, which was ‘mocked in global circles’. Ratcliffe praises the industry’s ability to accept criticism (however UK wine writer Rebecca Gibbs experienced the opposite in a Pinotage workshop at CapeWine 2012).
* The young up and coming winemakers are innovating, and ‘breaking down barriers and pushing the envelope of experimentation’, and challenging region and variety. The older guard and wine co-operatives are changing ‘their business models and driving quality innovations’.
* South African wines are as good and some even better than their international counterparts, and are being recognised by international wine buyers and wine drinkers. This was confirmed at CapeWine 2012, where heaps of praise was showered upon the South African wine industry. This is making winemakers more confident about their wines.
* The industry is producing more quality wines, and the prices of these wines are increasing, as more of them are exported.
* More co-operative marketing is taking place, CapeWine 2012 having been the most excellent showcase of our country’s top wines. Despite their differences, ‘the wine industry is presenting a strong and united front’.
Alongside Ratcliffe’s article was one entitled ‘Wine farms look wobbly’, sad to see after the euphoria created for our wine industry at CapeWines 2012. Quoting a report by VinPro and Winetech, it shared that high costs are slashing profits, the cost per hectare having increased by 61% to over R30000 in the past 7 years, mainly due to electricity, fuel and water cost increases. Income has dropped from R1 per 750 ml bottle in 2004 to 38 cents now. Some optimism about the forthcoming harvest has been expressed, a larger harvest leading to better profit. Wine production is expected to grow by 7% this year, to 1,1 billion gross litres. Bulk wine exports grew by 26% and bottled wine exports dropped by 9%. Exports increased by 7%, and domestic sales by 4% in the past year. Wine farmers are surviving the downward profitability trend by diversifying into other forms of farming, and by adding wine tourism attractions to their farms.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage