Raising Prices of South African Wine not as Easy as Shouting About it

At this very moment of writing, a guy on a plane is bringing me a bottle of wine. The wine is a Domaine Mugnier Clos de Marechale 2015 and I bought it for R1 250. This is more than double the price of the Kanonkop Paul Sauer of the same vintage, one of the most magnificent South African wines ever made and in the news right now after having scored 100pts in Tim Atkin’s South African Report.

Is the Burgundy I bought a better wine that the Paul Sauer? No. Do I prefer to Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet France – the blend making up Paul Sauer? Not necessarily. I adore both.

So why am I, a normal wine consumer, willing to do this seemingly financially unwise thing of paying two times more for a product whose value would on the surface not be worth that much more than the other option?

If there was an answer to this, all those voices lamenting the relatively low prices South African wines command would be less vociferous. Because there is no real quantifiable answer that you can put your thumb or signature on.

Just as there is no reason I will on occasion happily fork out R600 on Kanonkop when there are very impressive wines from the Douro and Rioja to be bought at half the price.

The wine world is large and broad, and multi-cultured. And sometimes, I want it all. But I can’t. What I can do, is indulge in little slices at times when desire and emotion demands I do so.

Just as some mornings I have an urge to hear the trumpet of Chet Baker, other days leads me to The Clash and some moments has me aching to have my soul shredded by Karen Carpenter. There is so much art and expression out there to be called on when a personal instinct leads you, no drives you in that direction.

That is why that bottle of Burgundy has been summoned. Because like all wine, I see it as a work of art, an expression of a certain culture, a product creation of another world that I wish to partake in at this very time. Well, once the bottle is safely in my hands, that is.

Same thing happens when I stamp the aisles of the local liquor store. I’ll grab a R450 bottle of Elgin Chardonnay standing next to the R200 bottle from Franschhoek knowing quite well that the former is – to my regular palate – by no means more than twice as good as the latter. But at that moment, my mood and my demand makes the Elgin more desirable.
I am a consumer. And will pay for wine what I am prepared and willing to pay for it. All those industry figures making a big scene about South African wine being too cheap, calling for prices to be raised, well, of course I and others share your pain and your concern. We are listening. Your call is not irrelevant.

But like millions of South African wine consumers and the hundreds of millions of wine drinkers throughout the world, your price can only be determined by what we are prepared to pay for a certain wine at a certain moment. A moment driven by taste, will and wish. All of which are, in case you had forgotten, are personal.

So if there is a collective strategy with force and muscle to shift prices skyward, think carefully. It is the consumer that will determine the success thereof.

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