Cape 2018: Crossroads

The former Heinz executive says that selling and shipping in bulk does not help either profitability or job creation.

“We need to change the image of South African wines – focus on quality and packaged rather than bulk wine.”

Graham Beck Wines’ vision is to produce South Africa’s best Cap Classique – its sparkling wine style. The company produces 7.6m bottles of Cap Classique but is looking to double up to 15m bottles by 2023. Seventy per cent is consumed at home. The remaining 25% goes to 25 countries, the largest markets being Germany, Sweden, UK and African countries, most notably Angola and Nigeria.

While Cap Classique is made using traditional Champagne grapes, there is a move to include SA’s unique variety, Pinotage and/or Chenin Blanc. New legislation for Cap Classique is afoot.

Cellarmaster Pieter Ferreira, who has done 29 vintages at Beck’s, says: “I am very pro the Rainbow Nation story. So I am not against the idea. Pinotage is unique to SA but it is a temperamental grape variety. It gives a point of difference: ‘Diversity is in our nature.’ We need to embrace that.”

KWV chief winemaker Wim Truter told DI: “We are shifting to a lighter style, less oak. There’s massive focus on balance, making sure we have the right things at the right time – phenolic ripeness to get freshness, guiding acidity because once the freshness has gone, you can’t get it back.

“We have 60 growers on long-term contracts. So every farmer knows which varietal range and price point plots are vinified separately. I spend more time in the vineyards than in the wineries these days. South African wines always have colour and concentration.”

Truter acknowledged that leaf roll virus, which inhibits grapes achieving full ripeness and therefore affects productivity, remains a problem.

“You expect vines to last 20-25 years. If you have to grub them up after five years, you lose profit,” he states succinctly.

South Africa’s leading wine brand, Kumala, seems to have been quiet for a number of years although it enjoys good listings in UK multiple retailers. With Cape 2018, it came back with a splash of colour through it’s new Keep it Kolourful, campaign which goes across all markets, including South Africa.

It is described as the brand’s largest investment in 10 years, according to Accolade SA general manager James Reid.

Accolade Wines’ Kumala brand manager, Chris Buckwell, told DI: “Kumala has been growing 8% year on year and is the number one brand in the UK. It distributes across continental Europe and the Nordics.”


While some of the major cooperatives consolidate or encourage their members to grub up vines, there is a proliferating number of young, enthusiastic boutique winemakers who extol being non-interventionist.

What was Zoo Biscuits but now Zoo Cru is probably the most well known. There are also Young Guns and the Old Vine Project.

This year’s Platter Guide, the bible Tons of Chenin does not count. As for Cinsault, Pinotage – seriously? They are not going to work.” Tam’s comments annoyed one of the participants, particularly as regards Pinotage. Tam backtracked a bit, claiming that Pinotage was just not world class as are South Africa’s Cabernets, and particularly Stellenbosch’s.

Tam challenged Stellenbosch producers to step up and take on the big guns of top Cabernets. “Opportunities are made,” he pronounced. “They do not just happen. Cabernet is a cash cow. It needs to walk and roam,” he said cryptically.


Wosa’s Thompson replied: “While we have our challenges in terms of becoming sustainable – be it profitability or transformation – we definitely are stepping into our own. We are confident enough now to own who we are and are creating world-class wines which we can truly be proud of.”