The crystal ball has been gazed into. My personal witch-doctor cast his impressive selection of dry mammal bones, the arrangement of their falling allowing vast insights both spiritual and practical. And hundreds of blogs, tweets and perceptively penned missives, anticipating what 2020 shall hold for the wine industry, have been read. Here’s what we are in for, amigos:
- The Year of Green
The origin of every bottle of wine is going to be scrutinised to determine the extent of the carbon footprint said vino has left in its wake. Retailers and customers will be demanding information on the wine’s contribution to global ecological sustainability to an extent that has never been seen before. Yes, this has been spoken of for some time ever since Wines of South Africa launched the Biodiversity&Wine Initiative in 2004 and woke producers such as Backsberg began punting the merits of treading lightly during the processes of viticulture and wine-making, as well as in the packaging in which wine is presented.
But 2020 is the year. Greta Thunberg has had her say. Australia has burnt down. In protest, the youth of London glued themselves to buildings in order to raise an awareness of the heated future of Planet Earth.
The public, aka wine consumers, are now seeing and experiencing the effects of climate change, as well as at last understanding it after having its impact explained to them by a 17 year-old Swedish girl who talks funny and grimaces dramatically, perfect visuals for Instagram sharing. Of course, South Africans take a few years to catch-on. But those exporting wine are truly going to be up against the wall in the international market-place if their carbon footprint cannot be detailed and their commitment to farming sustainably is questionable.
- Bulk Wine Exports Will Grow
Premium bulk exports is the next big thing, driven by the issue of aforementioned carbon footprint. Even premium-only wine nations such as New Zealand are moving to bulk exports, with around 40% of current shipping conducted via mass flexi-containers, bottling being done at point of destination. Bulk is thus no longer seen as bad and cheap and cheerful. Plus, by explaining it as a decision driven by the producer’s moral commitment to lowering the carbon footprint of end-product, positioning yourself as a credible producer and exporter of bulk wine no longer carries the trashy label it used to. Those thinking South Africa’s bulk game is dropping, no way José. And it ain’t bad.
- Image, Image and Image
It was the eminent Dr Anton Rupert who said the success of a country’s wine image depends on three factors: image, image and image. Unfortunately it is the image of South Africa that continues to prevent the country being seen as a premium wine nation.
Local industry bodies tend to shy away from this hard, cold, fact. But with corruption, civil unrest, land grabs, rampant crime and the slaughtering of endangered animals hogging the limelight when South Africa hits the international headlines, we will find it nay impossible to convince the international market-place that the country is a place presiding over a wine culture, as well as having vineyards and people capable of producing wine of a quality worth paying premium prices for. Industry and brand communicators are up against it, but have to find ways of communicating the positive lays in South Africa’s land. History, human capital, natural uniqueness, pioneering individuals both in and out of the wine industry and successful artists and sports people…. all these should be part of a more inclusive communication drive to elevate the perception of South Africa which is inseparable from the other party’s decision to buy our wines.
- Brand of Hope and Glory
Own-label producers are, at last, beginning to understand the importance of a brand in selling their wines. The days of wielding heady romance, geographical lecture and poetic narrative in making a wine successful are long gone. Consumers want a consistently good product packaged under an attractive and commanding brand with which they are proud to be associated. Determining and entrenching the values of your brand is as important as hands-on vineyard management, your oaking regime and the captivating words of the wine-maker. The success of brands such as Diemersdal, Chocolate Block, De Wetshof Limestone Hill, Spier, Kanonkop and Meerlust is showing the way, with more-and-more wineries realising that successful wines are also strong, bold brands. At last, a few more will join the offering of Brand SA.
- Cap Classique’s Bubble is Un-poppable
One of the few wine categories to show an upward-curve among local consumers, the future fortunes of Cap Classique are as bright and sparkling as a glass of Blanc de Blancs. Fizz sales are growing at 20% a year, the main reason being that as a category, Cap Classique is a brand unto itself due to the familiarity of the packaging and the promise of cool, fresh bubbly inside that buxom bottle. The splendid quality of Cap Classique, too, is a factor as are the strong brands such as Simonsig, Krone, Graham Beck and Pongrácz that have worked tirelessly to create a demand for Cape fizz through their promotional and marketing activities. The joy is set to continue, with more-and-more wine brands such as Kleine Zalze, Spier and Boschendal making a solid play in the Cap Classique sector.
- Lighter Alcohol and Vegan
Wine is inextricably linked to lifestyle, and this is changing. Refuse to realise it at your peril. Modern consumers are not only aware of the depth of an agriculture product’s carbon footprint, but their manner of consumption is changing. Less alcohol is becoming fashionable, therefore the number of lighter wines and zero alcohol beers and spirits on market is growing at a rate of knots – not through the decision by the producers to make these, but because this is what the consumers demand. More and more of it.
Same goes for vegan-friendly wines. Even if you are not living a lifestyle filled with kale lasagne, almond milk lattes and tofu-topped seed-crackers, vegan wines sound healthier and soul-nourishing. More is wanted, it is growing. And fortunately, vegan wines are great with a full South African braai, the popularity of which will remain unabated in 2020 as well as in the following ten decades.