PIWOSA founder: South Africa wine 'coming back'

After a few tough years due to drought, South Africa is coming back, according to the founder and chairman of the Premium Independent Wines of South Africa.

PIWOSA founder Rollo Gabb, from the famous Gabb family that invented and produced South Africa’s leading wine brand, Kumala, told Drinks International that after several years of drought during which South African wines could not fulfil orders and lost shelf space among the multiple retailers, South Africa was now very much on its way back.

“In 2018 we got our first shock when production fell off a cliff and there was a knock on effect in 2019,” said Gabb. “Broadly, some vineyards were down 40%, some 20%.  Journey’s End was down 15%.”

“The drought only finished this winter. The dams are full. So, this year we hope to have a good harvest. I think we are getting back to normal.”

Gabb is concerned that the shortfall in South African wines, particularly at entry level, has meant supermarket shelf space has been re-allocated to other countries and will not be easily done back.  Nevertheless, he notes that Chilean producers have suffered some bad frosts and there is political unrest.  There has also been further wildfires in California. Without wishing catastrophe on rivals, he sees these, some of the them natural, occurrences inevitably throw up  opportunities for others, such as South Africa, in this case.

Gabb is also chairman of Cape Wine Exporters, which ships South African wine in bulk. “I do not think we will see any benefit for another year,” he predicts.

After selling Western Wines and the Kumala brand, now owned by Accolade Wines, the family concentrated on its Journey’s End estate, which is the most southerly part of Stellenbosch, with views of the sea at 500m and prone to the Cape Doctor wind. Gabb says this means JE is 4°-5° cooler than most of Stellenbosch with a wider range of diurnal temperatures, giving cooler evenings which improves his wines’ acidity.  Also, no humidity so little or no disease.

The estate has gone from 20 hectares to 140ha. His principal brands are Journey’s End, Honeycomb, Destination, Kendal Lodge and his flagship Cape Doctor blend (2015: Cabernet Sauvignon (39%), Merlot (33%), Petit Verdot (17%), Cabernet franc (6%) and Malbec (5%).

With no aid from the South African government, Gabb sees PIWOSA as a way for the 12 premium independent producers to club together, pool their resources, to ‘bang the drum’ for SA’s premium wines.

In April PIWOSA will attend 30 shows across five Asian cities. “We are stronger, going as a collective.  We can build the category.  Asked if he would expand the collective, Gabb says no, purely because keeping it at 12, makes for easier meetings to arrange and, most importantly, quick decisions.

So South Africa is on its way back, according to Gabb.