It’s all about Image, Stupid

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A lower grape crop due to extreme weather conditions. The national economy on the verge of collapse. Wine marketers who know diddly-squat about capturing the local and international market. The inability of producers to co-operate. Continued dependence on bulk-wine…..all that was needed at last week’s VinPro Information Day was an outbreak of phylloxera in the Cape Town Convention Centre and an impromptu strip-show by Dudu Miyeni to make the roof cave in.

But due to the fact that bad news sinks in quicker than good, the 700 wine industry delegates attending this year’s VinPro gig did not find much new information in the presentations power-pointed by the line-up of speakers. (Go to www.vinpro.co.za for the set.) Personally I found Unathi Mantshongo’s eloquent talk on the VinPro Foundation, the body’s empowerment and transformation initiative, truly inspiring and deserving of more airtime.

And the organisation’s CEO Rico Basson appears to be on the right track in harnessing the industry through the Wine Industry Strategic Exercise (WISE). The point of departure here is the hub www.winesouthafrica.net which Rico describes as the “wikipedia of the South African wine industry” with aspects such as Brand SA, transformation, global markets, tourism and research being used as targeted areas to drive action and producer buy-in.

I am just wondering if it is not time for the industry to admit the presence of the elephant in the room, namely South Africa’s global reputation. The late Dr Anton Rupert said that the success of any wine producing country depends on three things: Image, image and image.

When is the wine industry really going to admit that the major reason for its unfulfilled potential is the skunk-like image the country that houses this industry has throughout the world?

The reasons for this reprehensible global image need not be detailed, being all too familiar to anyone who is exposed to the daily accounts of the Government’s latest forays in its favoured areas of corruption, cronyism, simple mismanagement, general ineptitude, the perpetuation of racism and disregard for the country’s citizens in general.

Throw rampant and vicious crime, Aids and growing unemployment and poverty into the mix and a package tour to Syria starts to look attractive.

This is the image Brand South Africa and all its off-shoots has to contend with. National perception drives the willingness of international consumers to interact with the products and services of that respective country, with wine possibly being one most sensitive to aforementioned perception.

What makes this situation more damning is the fact that South African wine has never seen as much positive international media coverage, as many 90 plus scorings from the crème de la crème of wine critics and as many praise-singers for our country’s products.

Yet, still South African wine is dependent on cheap bulk exports. Still prices of our finest wines lag woefully behind – not only European producers, but from those made by our mates in New Zealand and Australia.

During last year’s Cape Wine 2015 delegate-after-delegate lamented our low international prices, sheepishly asking why we don’t ask more for our premium products?

Well just try to do this and see what happens. Of course the products are there, as is the provenance. But when you have a wine like Kanonkop Paul Sauer, one of the great reds from anywhere, only cutting $40 in the States while a very average Napa commands $125 with ease, you know the problem lies deeper – much deeper – than wine quality and marketing.

Can South Africa change this perception? Not bloody likely, as a Government in self-destructive mode is not going to listen to our pleas, especially about something such as wine which is as far removed from its cultural framework of reference as lobola is to a Jewish wedding.

It is, however, a fact that without admitting to this major of major challenges the industry is not going to get out of the current mode of water-treading. Talking the same talk, year in and year out. Watching as the status quo floats by, once again, as it has done since God knows when and will seemingly do so in the future.

And once accepted, in public and incorporated into the agenda, the challenge of addressing this negative international perception can be strategized. However, it appears that industry organisations are pussy-footing around the issue and not willing to admit that the elephant is in this very room. Continual denial and fobbing off its presence in any strategy wine South Africa embarks on is a one-way ticket to where we have been going over the past few years – which is nowhere.

Emile Joubert

 

2 thoughts on “It’s all about Image, Stupid

  1. Ek dink jy het ‘n goeie punt hier beet en ek dink daar is lig in die tonnel. Ek praat uit ‘n Sjina perspektief, so sluit dus nie alle wyn uitvoerlande in by my kommentaar nie. Die vertoonvenster vir ingevoerde wyn in Sjina is die Prowine skou in November in Shanghai. Laasjaar het SA ‘n effense groter teenwoordigheid daar gehad as vorige jare (WOSA dryf die uitstalling) Dit was egter maar nog steeds elke vervaardiger vir homself. Daar is nie ‘n gesamentlike poging om ‘n landsbeeld te bevorder nie.
    Ek glo nie die wêreld is so gepla met die negatiewe dinge waarmee SAners daagliks saamlewe nie. Ek dink nie hulle sien ons as ‘n muishond nie. Noem jy hier “SA” dan is die eerste opmerking diamante, goud en wilde diere (in daardie volgorde). In Sjina het meeste nie eers ‘n idee dat ons wyn maak nie. Altyd ‘n goeie aanknopingspunt. Miskien is die sleutel wyntoerisme en moet die fokus wees om slegs te fokus op die dinge wat SA goed doen – mooi natuurskoon en wilde diere en ‘n lekker braai (nie seker of ons nog baie diamante oor het nie).
    Ek is bewus daarvan dat WOSA onlangs ‘n kantoortjie in Hong Kong oopgemaak het. Dis miskien ‘n goeie inisiatief maar die Hong Kong mark is ‘n mark op sy eie en ligjare verwyderd in smaak en aanbieding van Sjina. Ek glo WOSA kan realisties net na SA wyn se belange omsien in Hong Kong en miskien Singapoer omrede die twee lande ontwikkelingsgewys soortgelyk is en ander Oosterse plekke so verskillend van mekaar as Engeland van Rusland is.
    WOSA behoort ambassadeurs (invoerders wat reeds daar gevestig is) in elke prominente uitvoer land te identifiseer op te lei en hulle by te staan in hul pogings om SA wyne daar te bevorder. Dit lyk vir my of die fokus tans is om delegasies uit Suid Afrika bymekaar te maak en dan op duur onkoste oor te vlieg na lande. Almal het ‘n heerlike tyd maar die saad wat gesaai is word nie gekultiveer daarna nie. Dis myns insiens onmoontlik om die beeld van die land te vestig en daaraan te bou as dit nie aktief en herhaaldelik in oorsese markte gedoen word deur mense daar te hê wie se doel dit is om daaraan te bou nie. Ek is al ‘n geruime tyd besig met wyninvoere maar het nog geen kontak met WOSA gehad nie. Die SA ambassade en konsulaat se doen ook nie baie om wyn hier te bevorder nie. Dit kan ook ‘n waardevolle beeldbou en kontakpunt wees tussen uitvoerlande en Suid Afrika.
    Miskien is dit ook tyd om te werk aan “brand Wes-Kaap” en nie “Suid Afrika” nie. Wyn word immers daar gemaak en nie in Gauteng of Noordwes nie.

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