The last time the local wine industry gazed at its navel by commissioning a study on its own contribution to the South African GDP, wine tourism was shown to add just over R4bn to the total of R26bn. But that was in 2008, and since then industry bodies have been frying other fish on the labour and bulk export fronts without comprehensive studies on the economic clout the local wine business wields.
When the next study rolls around, hopefully before the end of the next decade, my money is on wine tourism realising at least 30% of the industry’s contribution to GDP. For wine tourism in South Africa is, simply put, rocking.
Without fresh statistics I am going to have to validate this conviction by relying on personal observations, something that my working and relaxing in the winelands makes possible to a plausibly comprehensive degree.
Two things are noticeable, and let’s start with the numbers of feet stomping around the wine regions. Croc-wearing they may be, but they are there in their thousands. I recently cruised Robertson, Franschhoek, Paarl, Stellenbosch and Hemel-en-Aarde and have never seen the wineries so full of people. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder they are tasting wine, buying cases of it, having lunch, taking selfies with a winemaker and just generally hanging around and soaking in the atmosphere of a winery, something those of us involved in the game take for granted.
The origins of these tourists are as diverse as their respective wardrobes. Dutchman, like me, from Bronkhorstspruit and Westdene; Waspish KZN Midlands types; Kumlane and Mkhale from Soweto; Sollie and Debs, Jews of Origin Fresnaye; Nolla, Pieletjies and Beyoncé Carelse from Port Elizabeth. You name it. And those were just the South Africans. Hordes of foreigners are around, too, and not one of the Germans, French, Swedes or Yanks I spoke to was unwilling to proactively state that the Cape winelands is a world-class destination.
But the success of wine tourism does not only rely on numbers alone. The other reason for South African wine tourism entering a golden phase on the world stage is the quality of its offering. When I was a student at Stellenbosch University in the 1980’s a chunk of mild cheddar and a cream cracker would be the only sustenance available at an on-site wine-tasting – if you were lucky. Today the bulk of the country’s finest restaurants are situated in the winelands of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl and Robertson, as well as ladles of comfortable, casual and quality eateries.
Art galleries abound. Tasting adventures, such as pairing wine with chocolate, biltong or cake, provide the visitor with a rounded wine-experience. Wineries are throwing open their vineyards and natural environment to trail-runners and mountain-bikers. And you can even go on a safari of two, albeit of the tamer Non Big 5 variety.
This is where the action is, and this is wine tourism. It not only provides wineries with an alternative income stream which in some cases is of stratospheric levels, but also gives visitors an emotional take-out. In other words, back in Soweto Kumlane and Mkhale can relive their wineland experience to a lesser degree by popping down to the local liquor store and grabbing a bottle or two of wine made on that cute old farm with the ducks they visited during their trip to the Cape in December 2013.
Nothing markets wine brands, the ethos and culture of the product and the unique Cape wine region like wine tourism does.
This is why the industry is becoming more dependent on it and why tourism is going to play a more important role in the industry’s success. It also makes the wet-nappy hysteria that producers, industry bodies and wine show impresarios are showing at the pending ban on wine advertising in the media totally unnecessary.
The mountains, vineyards wines and people are Brand Cape Winelands’ best advertising. It is a success story that does not have to be told, because everyone already knows it.
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