The great estate brandies from South Africa don’t have it easy in the market. There’s this thing called Cognac, see, a category that seduces consumers with brands like Remy Martin, Courvoiseur and Hennessy. Besides the evocative names and the charming French origins, aforementioned brands as well as many others, have stratospheric marketing spend with which Cognac can conquer the spirits loving public globally.
Attending this year’s Backsberg Postgraduate Vino Varsity Challenge between the MBA students from UCT and Stellenbosch could have one thinking of the 1980s pop music band China Crisis. Both teams were tasked with solving the South African wine industry’s challenge of getting shelf-space, throat-approval and face-time in premium wine markets. And as far as both the UCT Graduate School of Business and the University of Stellenbosch Business School are concerned, China is the place to go.
Showing my age I’ll admit that when first meeting the John Martin Sauvignon Blancfrom Backsberg Estate Cellars I assumed the wine was named after the iconic South African yachtsman. This John Martin was to round-the-world sailing what Cristiano Ronaldo is to football, and if ever a sailor needed a wine named after him, it would have to be our John.
Merlot outsells all other single red wine varieties in South Africa, yet it is given a wide berth by the pundits. For popularity among the general public and commercial success are not deemed being critically hip, nor trendy. To misquote the late great Yogi Berra: who wants to encourage people to drink something everybody else is drinking?
Sanity has set in, and it would appear that those voices claiming the South African wine industry only really began to make its mark in the 1990’s are either deciding to shut-up themselves or are being silenced. Sure, when economic sanctions prevailed in the 1980’s it was harder for a South African wine farmer to get a wine listing at Waitrose than a ticket to the Nottinghill Dreadlock Weaving Convention. But just because we were stuffed in the market place, does not mean no good wine was being made here.