Those implying that South Africa’s wine producers are reluctant to stand together should have been at the Vinpro Annual Information Day held at the Lord Charles in Somerset-West on 19 January. It was standing room only as over 500 wine farmers, wine makers, viticulturalists and other folk involved in the local industry packed into the conference venue. Over 100 had to be turned away, even after a make-shift venue was arranged from which proceedings could be followed by camera beaming.
Why such interest and at this time when a heat-wave has pushed harvest dates forward and many were obviously itching to get to their vines and cellars?
Well, because the bulk of the industry seems to have realised that a make-or-break situation is looming for local producers. A situation such as this tends to create a mood of solidarity, so forward we shall go to be together at this time and to ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ perhaps ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ find solace and insight into what the esteemed speakers at the Vinpro Information Day shall tell us.
The speakers were another draw-card: ,Dennis Dykes from Nedbank talking about global economics, Van Loveren’s Phillip Retief on local wine market conditions, Dave Duarte, Ogilvy whizzkid on digital media, ,Marian Kopp, managing director of German wine behemoth Niederkirchener Weinmacher on the international market and the Big Kahuna, Johann Rupert on, well, just what he felt like.
It was also an opportunity for producers to get a glimpse of Vinpro’s new executive director, Rico Basson, a dynamic young former banking professional who displays a refreshing new touch to this organisation.
With South Africa being a part of a world wine market under strain, many of the insights overlapped. Among these were:
- ?+¦?????+¦????,,,,,,,, European markets have reached maturity, and the economic conditions in the Eurozone don’t help much either.
- ?+¦?????+¦????,,,,,,,, Go East, and to America. That is the future for exporters.
- ?+¦?????+¦????,,,,,,,, China is a reality, stressed by Rupert and Kopp.
- ?+¦?????+¦????,,,,,,,, South Africa’s increasing dependence on bulk exports is a case for grave concern.
- ?+¦?????+¦????,,,,,,,, Marketing. Marketing. Marketing.
- ?+¦?????+¦????,,,,,,,, The nature of the consumer has changed. It is a two-way relationship.
- ?+¦?????+¦????,,,,,,,, Technology has to be embraced.
- ?+¦?????+¦????,,,,,,,, Producers have to cut costs.
As could be expected, Rupert was good value. Stating that the message South Africa’s wine industry was using in the international arena was flawed, he said: “We have so many positive messages, but selling wildflowers is not one of them. No-one buys wine on biodiversity. We need one simple message, and biodiversity is not it.”
Having spent time with his golfing buddy Marvin Shanken, publisher of the Wine Spectator, Rupert emphasised the importance of strong brands. “Internationally, scores in the Spectator are followed religiously by consumers looking for top-end wines. For our industry to be recognised as one capable of producing wines of superb quality we need 10 to 15 brands achieving consistently high scores in icon publications.”
Rupert has high hopes for the new institute for wine excellence he has established at the University of Stellenbosch along with stalwarts including Jan Boland Coetzee, Duimpie Bayly, Jean Engelbrecht, Neil Ellis and Danie de Wet.
“When I got involved in the industry I was shocked at how inaccessible information was,” he said. “The stuff was there, but gathering dust in files. I had to go the Australians for accessible information online. With this new centre of excellence at Stellenbosch University we are going to change that.”
On the topic of excellence, Marian Kopp emphasised the German wine industry’s Association of German Pr?+¦???+¦?+¦-ú?+++ådikat Wine Estates, an organisation harnassing vineyards of excellence under one grouping. Commanding higher prices and producing wines from vineyards with a track record for superior quality fruit, the stable of excellence is not only an endorsement of quality for the producers concerned, but also garners international recognition for the quality of German wines in general.
That this development is needed in South Africa to replace the shipwrecked Estate grouping is a no-brainer.
It is a pity that ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ inexplicably ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ the industry’s ethical grouping WIETA organised a gathering on the same day as the Vinpro gig. The question of labour was highlighted in an entertaining presentation by Prof Johann Willemse, Chair of the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Free State. To stay in business, producers were going to have to cut labour costs by going mechanized, illustrating this reality with examples from Australia.
Together the industry stood at this information day, although there will always be the inevitable break-away small-mindedness.
All presentations are available at www.vinpro.co.za.