Young wine writer voice a new wine directionDecember 4, 2014
Winner SA Young Wine Writers Competition – SANDILE MKHWANAZIDecember 4, 2014
The SA wine industry after 20 years of democracy: an overview of what happened and with special reference to how we can kick-start the stagnant local market in the future.
There is an image that circled the globe some twenty-four years ago of Madiba leaving the Victor Verster prison, a clenched fist in the air, his jubilation palpable. Being a wine fanatic and associating celebration with wine, I would liked to have seen a glass of cracking good Shiraz in his raised hand, ‘cheersing’ to the sky. But a good Shiraz, or a good anything for that matter, was still to come.
The mid 1990s saw the dawn of a radical change, not only to the government of our country, but also to the wine industry. It, as with our rugby, was cast in a shadow under the Apartheid regime and thus we were prevented from participating in a global arena. With the release of Nelson Mandela, it was as though a new sun rose on our vineyards and stadiums alike. Now we could showcase to the world what we had to offer.
As we ventured into the light, what we found ourselves faced with was a large lack of self-confidence, old-fashioned oenological practices and stale marketing tactics; we had been sitting on the bench for too long. What we unmistakably had on our side, though, was the land and generation after generation passing down their secrets of it. We were perhaps somewhat inexperienced when we began pressing the bunches again: we didn’t take well to criticism, possibly treated our customers with some disdain and may have taken an overall plunder here and there – in my mind largely due to not believing in ourselves enough. When the world is watching, the pressure naturally mounts.
The attribute we undeniably possessed, however, was a tenacious sprit. Every sphere is entitled to shake its head at itself – think back to neon spandex and teased hair. The wine industry put its best foot forward and the journey it embarked on following Mandela’s release became a very human one. We had a unique story to tell, and this would prove to make us relevant. After all, in every wine there is a story. Our fiery spirit set us apart: the land, its farmers and communities all interwoven and carrying an innate rawness that made us so very different from other countries. This would be what would make us pertinent and intriguing – perhaps even appealing – to the consumers. South Africa took its innovative, adaptive self and began producing pioneering wines that would put us on the map. Each farm, each wine maker, each bottle had its own distinctive story behind it; a personality captured behind the label. It may have taken a bit of time initially, but the world certainly sat up and paid cognisance to the nectar we were producing.
South Africa’s wine industry statistics are certainly different to a few years ago. The quality of the vine, its yield and the final product remains unchanged though. In fact, it is my belief that it goes from strength to strength. Foreign investment remains present and this brings with it a certain comfort and satisfaction that the outside world believes in us and wishes to see this sector flourish. In addition, a large and inherent facet is the bevvy of young wine makers we are noticing. These guys and gals have a vested interest in seeing this branch of our tree thrive and blossom, and their fingers are on the pulse of current trends. They typically bring overseas experience to the table along with vibrant energy and steely determination. They are also tech-savvy and we exist in a digital era. Who listens to the young? The younger.
I believe these young(er) wine makers will indirectly re-ignite the industry through a technical transformation; with social media being the largest marketing tool known to date, a once-untapped plethora of consumers can be reached. A major area that social media lends a hand to, fundamental for winemakers and drinkers alike, is the wine festivals. These are prime opportunities for public appearances and one-on-one interaction with your followers. One need only attend annual events like The Stellenbosch Wine Festival, L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate, Bastille, Magic of Bubbles and The Swartland Revolution to observe the injection of younger blood. @-symbols, ‘likes’, hashtags, push notifications and more allow for instantaneous reaching to this populous. Educating and enticing these end-users is a ‘post’ away. Tweet and your minions re-tweet, blog and they share. The majority of those involved in the industry know this, those who don’t will soon (have to) catch on. Change or die is the harsh aphorism behind innovation and survival. So, to advise your home and abroad followers – suppliers and superfans alike – on your recent cellar activity…Update: Chardonnay now in 2nd fill barrels for 6months. Watch this space. #excitingtimes
If, this ungrammatical jargon is for the youth, happened to flit through your mind, then the industry is in safe hands.