South Africa could be "number one" wine producer

A leading South African businessman has called for the Rainbow nation’s wine industry to work towards becoming the world’s number one producer.

Kuseni Dlamini, a Rhodes scholar who has worked in the South African mining industry and represents the South African national parks, was a guest speaker at the opening seminar of Cape 2012 in Cape Town today (September 24).

He congratulated South African wine producers and Wines of South Africa (Wosa) on becoming a top 10 wine producer, calling it a “remarkable achievement” but then he went on to say: “You know what it takes so you should not be satisfied with top 10. You have to aim to be the number one - the number one on profitability.”

With five gold medals in the recent Olympics, Dlamini said, seemingly tongue-in-cheek, that 5% share of global wine market could be seen as “pedestrian” if not “mediocre”.

He said that within the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), South Africa was ahead of India and Russia in competiveness. He reeled off a list of numbers from the World Economic Forum to demonstrate the strength of the “powerhouse of African economies”. He described Africa as the “sleeping giant” with primary commodities” but it needed to catch up with “knowledge intensity”.

South Africa needed to become a global centre of excellence and put in important infrastructure to tackle fundamental problems such as unemployment, poverty and inequality. He described the South African wine industry with its Fairtrade initiatives, Biodiversty/sustainability work, ethical traceability and production, as a “force for the good” in the country.

Earlier Gerrit van Rensberg, a minister in the Western Cape province, appealed to potential investors to approach the government. “We will roll out the red carpet, not the red tape,” he promised. He said that with climate change the local climate was forecast to become hotter, drier with intense bouts of rainfall therefore drought followed by floods. This meant the management and preservation of water and rehabilitation of the region’s two major rivers was a priority.

Wosa CEO SuBirch took the conference through the South African wine trade’s progress and achievements since 1992. While the UK remains South Africa’s number one market, it now exports to 133 countries with significant growth in Russia, Africa, China, Germany, Canada and the US.

She spoke of the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative, Fairtrade and ethical production initiatives. In the light of Dlamini’s call for South Africa to become the world’s number one wine producer, based on profit, Birch brought the conference down to earth by saying that she did not expect the South African industry to grow now by more than 50% to a maximum of 150,000 hectares, mainly along the east and west coasts of the province, due mainly to the issue over water. “We will not be much larger but South African will produce premium quality, interesting, distinctive wines that are environmentally sensitive and ethically produced,” she said.

Amorim CEO Antonio Amorim, told the conference that the production of traditional cork closures (along with other cork-related products) helped to protect and sustain the 2.2 million hectares of cork forests across the southern Mediterranean.  He predicted that green issues will increasingly become more and more important.

Charles Banks, CEO of Terroir Capital and Cultivate and owner of the Screaming Eagle Californian icon wine, outlined why he had decided to invest in South Africa. He said he immediately felt at home in South Africa and loved the people, hence his decision to invest. He said the challenge was to “make South African wines, not copy cat wines. You have the terroir to do that. So make wines that are South African”.

Troy Christensen, CEO of Accolade Wines that owns the leading South African brands, Kumala, Fishhoek and Flagstone, said there was a “tremendous opportunity” for South Africa and the fact that people from Australia and Chile were investing in the country demonstrated that. He said one of the challenges was to “get the story out” to the likes of North America and China.