Cape 2018: Crossroads

So what is SA’s USP? Thompson opines: “Our wines are a clear expression of our diversity – of the warm, passionate people and spectacular places that came together to create them. We are creative and not afraid to express where we come from and who we are now – and this is what is now showing in our wine. In terms of two focal points, of course Pinotage is proudly South African and we can now say we are leaders in Chenin Blanc.”


In terms of bulk versus packaged, Thompson says: “International trade dictates, to an extent, the reality of bulk shipping and many international markets have large operators who ship wine in bulk. But this ends up on shelf as good quality branded and own-label South African wines. By 2025 the goal is to have 40% of our wines exported in bulk instead of the 60% we currently have. We are focusing on new markets in the US, Asia and Africa to increase sales of packaged wines.”

For another independent perspective, DI approached Kirsten Willis, Direct Wines’ buyer responsible for South African wines.

She says: “We try to work with our suppliers on a long-term basis to ensure continuity and guarantee of business year on year. It is always difficult when volumes are down, but again, the partnerships we have with producers has helped to ensure we secured the desired volumes. It meant we worked more as a team with producers rather than a traditional supplier-buyer relationship.

“Our consumers understand the value for money they have always received from South Africa and, even though prices are rising, it still proves one of the best value-for-money countries.”

Asked if she agrees with Atkin’s point of view, she replies: “I absolutely agree with his views on this. The atmosphere and camaraderie in the South African wine industry is fantastic. I believe this is the most exciting time to be involved in it. Over the past few years I have constantly seen improvements in wine styles and experimentation, producing better and better wines which are among the best in the world.”

What does Willis see as SA’s USP? “Variety,” she responds. “South Africa seems to be able to offer nearly every style of wine. The various climates, soils and the individuality of each winemaker (and their readiness to experiment) proves there are just no limits to what the country is able to produce.”


From doing the rounds at Cape 2018, here are some of the comments from producers.

Kanonkop’s CEO Johann Kringle, exclaimed: “The drought is broken. We have got enough water for irrigation.”

He likened SA wines to BMW cars. The wines are perceived as ‘African’ and therefore associated by some with corruption, military coups etc, whereas BMW is seen as quality German engineering, but in Africa they are made in Pretoria.

Hartenberg managing director Kobus Potgieter confirms: “The South African wine industry needs to get prices up. Only 14% of all wine farms are consistently profitable. That is quite shocking. Another 47% are marginal. If we do not get prices up, especially for primary producers, farmers will pull up their vineyards. We have already seen a decline and in five years there will be a crisis as farmers will be unwilling to plant. Primary producers, who work with cooperatives, will pull out vines and grow citrus or whatever instead.”