Fiddling While Local Wine Market Dries Up




Eighties pop band Talk Talk had a hit with the stirring number titled “It’s a Shame”. I listen to it often and this week I couldn’t help thinking it’s a shame that all the South African wine industry can do is talk talk.

Well, on one specific topic that is. And it’s called generic marketing of wine in South Africa or, to put it more directly, how to stop the slide in local consumption of what should be our national beverage.

During the AGM of Wine Cellars SA on Wednesday, blue chip marketer Bennie Howard sketched the problem. Some 25 years ago South Africans were putting back about 11 litres of the stuff per person per year. Currently this figure is between six and seven litres, which should not be the case.

In the 1980s you could count the number of SA producers on a bust abacus set. Chardonnay, Shiraz, MCC and Sauvignon Blanc were hardly on the map. Yet, with limited varieties and styles to their disposable, South Africans were looking like a nation with a wine palate. Surely things could only get better as the world-wide interest in wine as an “in” beverage surged from the mid-80’s?

Not. We are making some of the best wines in the world of immense diversity and at good prices. Yet South Africans are eschewing wine, while remaining prolific alcohol consumers.

Whisky, cider, beer, vodka categories are growing. Wine is fighting for survival.

And everyone is concerned, or should be ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ if you are in the industry, that is. Fine, huge growths in exports are great, but globalisation is a fickle bugger and it would be safer to bet on shares in Greek banks than growth in exports and value continuing to keep the local wine industry afloat over the next decade.

And this is where the talking comes in.

In the 1990’s the wine industry’s organisations and key players spent a few years working on a project called Vision 2020. This aimed to map a strategic path as to where the wine industry should by 2020, with the added sexy implication of clear-sightedness thrown into the concept for good measure.

Included in this ambitious talk shop was the subject of generic marketing of wine to bolster local sales.

Well, despite months and months of deliberation, Vision 2020 ended up at the same place where a lot of industry ideas tend to end-up ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ the scrap-heap of talked about plans and ideas that did not translate into action. Including, of course, the plan aimed at growing local wine consumption.

In 2004 the SA Wine Council, which now finds itself on the aforementioned scrap-heap held another chin-wag among industry big-shots to address the issue of the local promotion of wine on a generic basis.

You guessed it ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ talk talk. No action.

And then this wintry morning in May 2010 came around. Wine Cellars SA AGM. A panel of experts including Distell’s Carina Gouws and Mike Ratcliffe and Bennie Howard. Great presentations on the need to grow the local market. ,All the members with pleading looks in their eyes, looks stating that the issue of growing the wine category in South Africa needs to be looked at seriously.

Wine is losing market share. Wine is losing value. The industry is bleeding. (Any ex Vino Broederbonder who wants to challenge this statement should have been in the hall to hear the plea of a producer who said that wine farmers are not only losing shelf-space, but also losing farms.)

There are some terrific minds in the wine industry that could grow the category locally. It doesn’t cost the earth. Just some passion. For example: as head of the SA Brandy Foundation Pietman Retief used generic strategies to grow the brandy category from 37m litres annually to 48m in five years.

But if we agree that the wine industry must do something to stop its share of the South African throat decreasing, it’s got to get off its arse. And for fuck’s sake, stop talking and start doing. It really is such a shame.

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5 thoughts on “Fiddling While Local Wine Market Dries Up

  1. Well put Emile. Truth is we can start a entire new blog just on “Talk and no action” but here’s a point to ponder. Why is there a levy on export wines to fund WOSA and yet nothing for the local market….I’ll give you my 5c worth. It’s the age old SA arrogance :We build it they will come ergo We put it in a wine bottle they will drink it. Let’s start a raffle to see who can predict the century we see a local campaign promoting wine consumption…I’ll go first: 20Never.

  2. Praat is veels te lekker en doen is veels te veel moiete! Big problem, lack of available local market research – and not that duimsuig stuff, proper academic market research. No money for this apparently, thus no willing or able folk to do it – unless you’re one of the Groot Ouens and they won’t share for sh*t. We know more about yeasts and pruning than a lot of country’s, but rate marketing prowess on cup size or the ability to shift volume!

  3. It comes down to the age old thing… South AFricans look out for themselves first, and then for the rest of the people. And in wine terms that means we cannot work together for the greater good of everyone. You get a country like Chile outselling us and they are a hell of a lot more isolated. Why can’t our guys pull their fingers out? Because the big players don’t share. Simple as that.

  4. I was thinking over this topic just yesterday, and how everyone spends all their time complaining, when really, as mentioned, we should be one of the greatest wine drinking nations on earth.

    It is a question of pulling thumb, and it means that individuals need to take these matters into their own hands – stop looking to WOSA for salvation, since time has proved that it isn’t going to come.

    I’ve got my own idea and I’m going to put it into action – as should everyone else who has a passion for this industry!

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