In the last few years, the South African wine industry established itself as a small, yet formidable force to be reckoned with on the global wine stage. The slow & steady slog to veer away from predominately producing cheap and cheerful wines and breaking onto the international market is starting to pay off since 1994. Subsequent government initiatives – some more successful than others – along with more market access, has acted as a springboard to gain international footing. This afforded South Africa recognition as a serious wine producing country. The challenge however, is to avoid tunnel vision and be a progressive and unified brand, focusing on great quality across the board. This will solidify and position South Africa as the driving force for wine production in Africa.
The growing international demand for not only South African wines has given us much needed exposure for our mid- tier and premium wines. Exports have grown from a mere 50 – million liters in 1994 to a staggering 313 – million liters in 2015. According to MEC Alan Winde, Department Trade and Industry, exports are bound to increase another 13 % over the next decade. The focus should not be on only fine or plonk wine, but wine exports as a whole. The Wine Industry Strategic Exercise (WISE) is setting the tone for great things to come. These holistic guidelines light the way forward for South Africa as an exciting wine brand, urging wine producers across the board to stay dynamic whilst developing not only their individual brands, but South Africa as a brand as well. Emerging market interest in the likes of China and the United States is a golden opportunity for South African wine to cement a reputation for good quality, be it plonk, mid-tier or fine wines.
Over the last couple of years it has not been only our wines attracting foreign interest. The Advini group – a major role player in the global wine scene – recently bought 51% of Ken Forrester. The French company has partnerships with Le Bonheur and L’Avenir Wine Estate, with plans to grow these particular brands to its full potential. Several other wine farms have been purchased by foreign companies over the last few years. Although South Africa certainly needs trade and foreign investment, it is alarming that ‘colonization’ of our premium vineyards is taking place. If we need any further proof that we can and we should be playing in the premium leagues, this is it.
It is of utmost importance for the South African wine industry to read and participate in the international fine wine market. Instead of playing second fiddle to larger wine producing countries, we should focus on our individual character. Although cheap & cheerful is fun, quality should never be compromised. The fact is that we entered way to low into the global wine market in the post – Apartheid era. The challenge is to raise the prices of our wines whilst not compromising our current market share. There should be determined as to what will justify higher prices – what do we have to offer the world and not what the world has to offer us. This should be done as a joint venture between wine producers and the government to ensure collective growth. There is no cookie-cutter way of doing this, but innovation can come in many different forms. It is imperative to be quality driven in brand driven world – especially one as cut-throat as the global wine industry.
The way forward for South African wines are very exciting. The WISE initiative is set on rebranding not only our wines, but the wine industry as well. Our wines, ethics and the industry should be of exceptional quality, thus creating trust in the wine brand, South Africa. We are the biggest wine producing country in Africa and have the means to be the best as well. This requires thinking smartly broadly about what we need to become “the vineyard of Africa”. South Africa needs to focus on our real point of difference in the global market & produce wines of exceptional quality – be it plonk or premium.