Vinpro sets the (Wine) Bar

Despite the line-up of high-powered speakers at this year’s Vinpro Information Day, the organisation’s CEO Rico Basson left the biggest impression in terms of succinct and pertinent information. If not exactly in terms of where the South African wine industry is going, but where it wants to go.

This last phrase is as refreshing as a glass of un-wooded Chardonnay on a hot day. Our country’s wine industry organisations are not known for putting their noodles on the tasting counter through the outlining of a game-plan. Because in these bodies the fear of failing is larger than the fear of a new round of subsidised Spanish red wine imports.

Rico’s presentation at the Information Day can, along with those of the others, be found here. But the part that was of especial interest, mainly due to the challenging nature thereof, was the list of points under 2015 Industry Realities and an Ideal Future State 2025. Or less euphemistically put: where the wine industry is now and where we have be in ten years’ time to stop the ship from sinking.

Rico Basson, CEO of Vinpro.
Rico Basson, CEO of Vinpro.

One of the biggest challenges set out is in increasing the percentage of black-owned land and water in the wine industry from its current 1,5% to a whopping 20% in 10 years. Not that the passing of ownership of litres of water and hectarage of land from white to black is strategically and structurally impossible. Nope. Nothing a few MBA’s and slick consultants can’t sort out, possibly with a few cases of Simonsberg and Helderberg in the boot of an appointed official’s Beemer X5.

The real challenge lies in finding enough previously disadvantaged people with the heart and appetite for sustainable wine and grape farming to actually make up the 20%. A shadier part of this 21 years of democracy episode is the sorry long list of failed BEE deals in the wine and other agricultural sectors.

Growing the empowerment base to such a radical degree is, as anything, not impossible. But it is going to take a lot of mentorship, a lot of energy and a hell of a lot of willpower from both sides of the farmer and worker spectrum. And it ain’t buyable, either.

The other challenge is going to be job creation. Some 275 000 folk currently employed in the wine industry, with a target of 375 00 for 2025. Question being, in which sector of the wine industry is job-creation going to happen?

Mechanisation among wine and grape farmers is increasing at a far greater pace than the industry would want to realise. For example, harvesting machines with computerised scanners to knock out inferior grape berries are being bought at R3,5m a pop. Why? To save having 15 less efficient people sorting in the cellar.

Spot the job opportunity.
Spot the job opportunity.

The reason for mechanisation goes further than hard cold economic realities. In today’s competitive environment unproductivity can’t be tolerated, and in this sense the local wine industry is carrying too much dead wood. If those job figures are going to increase, the general nature of wine industry employment will have to change, and attitudes and productivity levels among the greater workforce will have to improve.

Now for the cool stuff.

The wine industry is planning to increase local wine consumption. Currently sitting at six litres per capita annually, by 2025 plans are to have nine litres of the grape’s nectar sipped by each member of the population. This will, of course, prevent the piling-up of a wine surplus such as the one currently seen in South Africa.

Promoting wine generically on local soil is unlikely to take off, however. The big wine companies are just not capable of spreading the love required to fund a campaign out of their own marketing budgets which does not directly benefit its own products and can actually aid a competitor’s.

Not that big brands are the bad guys. Anything but: Distell’s prominent advertising has managed to keep the product that is wine on the radar screen when every other bit of space and every soundbyte seems to be owned by SAB and various spirits producers. Besides Distell, other brand monsters such as Four Cousins, Robertson Winery, Porcupine Ridge and Namaqua have each in their own sweet way contributed to raising an awareness of the wine category among the local population.

If South Africa is going to drink more wine, thus, more robust big brands are required. Just as in the spirit and beer sectors, the consumer is not excited by product category as much as by product diversity. Get more big wine brands out there each blasting out a different message and offering its own style of product, and consumers will easier exchange there coolers and ciders for wine.

Bigger not badder.
Bigger not badder.

And in the process the entire category of wine is going to win through bigger brands. Because – and bless their hearts – the wine fundis who think you are going to grow national per capita wine consumption levels through Kanonkop Paul Sauer and Vergelegen have been picking the wrong mushrooms on their Sunday morning jaunts.

With more big brands I am also convinced that the bulk scenario will change as Vinpro would like it to. Currently exports are 60:40 in favour of bulk, where the ideal picture for 2025 is 40:60.

Build more brands. And build more brands that travel. In today’s global village there is no reason a brand such as Two Oceans ofrWolftrap Red cannot have the success it has in Durbanville and Melrose reflected in Ipswich and Bethesda MD.

Challenges at a political level. Challenges at a commercial level. It would be nice to have less of the former, but hey, this is Brand South Africa being moved. And it’s going to be one hell of a ride.



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