Archive for February, 2012

Growth and trade with Africa

Monday, February 27th, 2012

In his annual budget speech Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan said South Africa’s annual economic growth lagged those of other sub-Saharan African nations. SA’s economy is expected to grow at 2.7% whereas other nations were achieving 5.5% or more. Just recently there was a newspaper report which stated that South Africa was in danger of losing its spot as African gatekeeper to a country such as Nigeria.

South Africa, which boasts the continent’s largest economy, needed to do more business with the rest of its neighbours in order to “better position itself as Africa’s economic gateway”, he said. “To succeed in this environment, we have to seize the opportunities presented by this changing world,” Gordhan said in Cape Town on February 22.

Quite coincidentally I’d chatted to a local winemaker who had just returned from a four day sales trip to Lusaka, Zambia. “It was unbelievable,” he said. He likened it to South Africa 30 or 40 years ago in that the first few shopping malls and large developments are just beginning to take hold. Many South African corporates have obviously recognised the possibilities offered by countries such as Zambia. Shoprite, Spar, Mr Price, Sterns, Wimpy, News Café, Pick n Pay, Woolworths and even Ster Kinekor have a presence. “When I was in the malls it felt like being in Cape Town or Johannesburg!”

Just weeks ago Zambia shocked the rest of the continent and the footballing world by winning the Africa Cup of Nations tournament ahead of more favoured opposition Ivory Coast, a side packed with Premier League stars. But Zambia has more going for it than football. The country of 12.5 million inhabitants had an inflation rate of 30% in 2000. Just over a decade later it is in the low single digits with the World Bank having declared it one of the world’s fastest economically reformed countries. It has massive potential – as do Angola, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, DRC, Ghana and more.

The winemaker was in Zambia to sell wine. “And it’s doing rather nicely too. I can see myself having to spend more time servicing this market because we’re growing which is fantastic.” It’s a predominantly urban market, obviously, and the taste is relatively unsophisticated with a distinct preference for sweeter wines. But is that any different to some of South Africa’s urban markets – or the popular taste three or four decades ago?

“And the people are just so fantastic too – really friendly, well spoken, accommodating and humble. Zambia was a very pleasant surprise. I look forward to my next sales trip.”

Sijnn of the times

Friday, February 10th, 2012

David Trafford is modest to a fault – and notoriously low profile when it comes to his own label, De Trafford. For years he’s allowed his wines to do the talking for him – but now he wants to let folks know what is going on with his new venture in Malgas.

“We don’t often do this sort of thing,” he said (with typical understatement) to a select group of wine retailers and writers at a low key tasting last week, “but we want to get across what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

Sijnn is the Khoi word for river – since Trafford’s new vineyards are near the Breede river near Cape Infanta on the Cape’s south east coast. “The pronunciation and spelling of Sijnn varies. One expert said it was ‘sin’, another ‘sane’ – as in insane… and we go with the latter! There have been a few moments when we’ve thought we’re mad to have tackled this…”

His partners in this venture are wife Rita, Simon Farr of Bibendum and Durban-based wine enthusiast Quentin Hurt. What makes Sijnn so interesting within the South African wine context is that this team are a bit like Captain Kirk and the crew of the startship Enterprise – boldly going where no-one has gone before.

It was the stony soil and relative dryness of the area (around 350mm of rainfall annually) that saw him initially aim to produce a Rhône or Chateauneuf du Pape-styled wine. Hence the planting of Shiraz and Mourvèdre – but he also decided to plant Portuguese grapes Trincadeira and Touriga Nacional along with some Cabernet Sauvignon. On the white side there is Chenin Blanc and Viognier. Still in the pipeline are Roussanne, Grenache and Tempranillo. In total there are 16 hectares under vine at present but there is patently room to grow.

The interesting thing about the tasting Trafford conducted was the component parts – and then a vertical of the final blend. The Trincadeiro offers wonderfully expressive fruit – as does the Touriga, while the Mourvèdre is spicy, the Shiraz peppery and restrained. By contrast, the Cabernet Sauvignon shows a marked leafy “green” character – but does make a contribution to the blend by toning down some of the overt plummy fruitcake notes of the Portuguese grapes.

The maiden 2007 (and 2008 and 2009) were driven by Shiraz and Mourvèdre with them making up nearly 70% of the final blend but with the 2010 and 2011 the Portuguese varietals take on more than mere bit parts. In the 2010 Touriga is 27% and Trincadeira 10% while in the 2011 which is still doing its thing in large 700-litre older oak barrels it’s 19% and 6% respectively.

Obviously the wines and the enthusiasm were exciting to witness but everyone present reflected on whether we were seeing the birth of another South African wine producing area. On the basis of less than five years of production, Malgas shows distinct promise – and hats off to Trafford and his fellow pioneers.

Benchmarking

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

The week or two delay in the onset of harvest locally worked to many a winemaker’s benefit this month. That extra 10 day or two week lag meant that they were able to attend the International Wine & Spirit Competition’s feedback tasting held at the Grande Roche hotel in Paarl.

Arrayed in ranks on long tables in the conference centre were all the South African wines which were adjudged trophy winners, best in class, gold or silver medallists. Additional appeal was added by the top table of international trophy winners brought in by competition director Frances Horder.

Early comers made a beeline for the top table to taste the best wines of the competition: NV Champagne (Cuvée Trianon, France), Single Vineyard White (Two Sisters Vineyard Riesling 2007, New Zealand), Sauvignon Blanc (Cono Sur 20 Barrels Ltd Edition 2010, Chile), Semillon (McGuigan Bin 9000 2006, Australia), Sherry (Harveys VORS Palo Cortado 30YO, Spain), Pinot Noir (Peregrine Pinot Noir 2009, New Zealand), Shiraz (Saltram No. 1 2002, Australia), Single Vineyard Red (Caape naturaliste Vineyard Torpedo Rocks Cabernet Merlot 2009, Australia), Cabernet Sauvignon (Trapiche Finca Las Palmas 2007, Argentina), Dessert wine (Jackson Triggs Okanagan Estate Proprietor’s Reserve Riesling Icewine 2007).

Hot ticket items were the two white wine trophy winners from SA – the Chardonnay trophy which went to Spier Private Collection 2009 and the Chenin Blanc trophy which was Kanu’s KCB 2007. Everyone had their own ideas about the merits of individual wines but it was great to see the interest from local winemakers. After all, so much of good winemaking is tasting – both your own wines as they progress through the various evolutionary stages and the competition’s, be it domestic or foreign!

Strong classes were the Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc blends, Bordeaux Style and Cabernet Sauvignon blends as well as the sweet wines with natural sweets such as Vin de Constance and Meerendal’s Chenin Blanc 2009, and noble late harvests such as Fleur du Cap’s 2010, Nederburg’s Edelkeur and Eminence not only faring well but being exceptionally popular among attendees.

Reflecting

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

The start of a new year is when people tend to take stock of things.  Mike Ratcliffe of Warwick is one of them. He sat down and mapped out sales of wine at various price points – using Warwick and Vilafonté wines since he’s involved with both. “I have to say the graphs made for interesting reading once I’d finished them.”

“There’s 30% compound growth in the value end of the market – wines like our First Lady which sell for around R60. That ticks over quite nicely.”

What raised his eyebrows was the “really strong growth” in the top end – wines selling above the R250 a bottle mark. Warwick Trilogy is R275 and the Vilafonté wines – Series C and Series M are R479 and R350 respectively.

Vilafonté Series C – the Cabernet-led red blend – sells out in less than six months while the Merlot-led Series M takes a full year to reach the same sold-out status.

Once again this demonstrates two maxims which form the bedrock of marketing folks’ strategies: to over deliver on quality at lower price points and secondly, that high-ticket items are essentially recession proof. When people want luxury goods and can afford them, they buy them. And that includes Aston Martins, designer handbags, fashion, watches and the like.

“The other thing is to tie your wines in with limited volume, high-end brand extensions,” Ratcliffe said, “That’s the place to be…”

Is our Wine Route experiences up to scratch?

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

It appears that the festive season has been a good one for South African wine farms with foot traffic through the wine tasting room doors up on 2010.

I drove around Stellenbosch with holidaying friends from Johannesburg in early January. It was really enjoyable getting to see the winelands from their perspective and visiting some wineries that I haven’t been to in some time.

 

 

It gave me the opportunity of assessing the wine tourism offering as a fly on the wall.

They were visiting the various cellars for the first time so there were no preconceptions: everything was fresh and new. My point of view was obviously informed by a bit of background knowledge.

 

 

The first thing that struck me was how late many venues open their doors to the wine tasting public. It appears that 10am is the popular favourite with fewer opting for a 9am start. I guess the general wisdom is that visitors to the winelands don’t exactly leap out of bed early to face up to a glass of wine at 8am or so!

And the few we visited that opted for the earlier start were still tidying up and getting ready for visitors.

 

While bottles weren’t always fresh, having been opened the day before, as soon as they realised the tasters knew what they were doing and were fairly serious about what they were tasting, this changed.

 

 

South Africans are known for their generosity and the wine farms were no exception. While the little notice on the counter might say five wines for R30 or three wine for R45, as soon as a bit of interest and knowledge was displayed, it became a case of “why don’t you try this? No charge… We’re quite proud of it.”

 

It must be said that one of the wineries had very accommodating and enthusiastic tasting room staff but the interaction was a touch robotic. Of the “this wine is XYZ, the grapes come from ABC, it spent X months in (French/American) barrels and you should find flavours of blah blah blah”. By contrast, one other winery engaged with the tasters. “Where are you from? Have you enjoyed your holiday? What other wine farms have you visited? Which wines have you like so far?” A clever and subtle way of drawing out the tasters and assessing their willingness to interact and their level of wine knowledge.

 

 

Being with wine inclined friends meant that we appreciated the latter approach. That’s not to say there isn’t merit in the former: it would be more than acceptable to the average ‘we’re in the Cape on holiday and one day will be spent doing the wine route’ visitor or the novice drinker.

 

 

But it made me think: what could be achieved if all the experiences were of the engaging kind? The sort where there’s an intelligent walk through a range of wines that could potentially break down the barriers to entry for wine novices and really get them enthused and turn them into eager experimenters, unafraid of venturing untutored opinions.

Overall it was a fabulous day out in the winelands – a little frustrating perhaps in that we only managed to do four wineries and a brandy distillery tour (which was excellent and quite possibly the highlight of the day) but it left us all keen to explore more.

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