Selling the uniqueness of South African wine 21 June 2005

Seminar on wine business hears home truths
Qualifying his earlier description of the South African wine tourism industry as a ‘cottage industry’, advertiser and tourism expert Paul Bannister, said there was limited entrepreneurial experience in local wine tourism and marketing at the individual winery level. ‘Producers should stop seeing their neighbours as ‘the enemy’ and rather collaborate, viewing other wine-producing countries as their competitors.’

Addressing delegates at a Wines of South Africa (WOSA)-hosted seminar entitled Business Success for Small Wineries at Spier on June 15, he said a similar mindset had persisted in the broader tourism industry but that by pooling resources and co-operating across a range of fronts, it had been possible to promote the country as a leading travel destination, both for South Africans and foreign travellers.

Urging local wineries to work together to gather effective market intelligence and to create an integrated wine tourism experience that went beyond cellar door sales and embraced the wider aspects of hospitality, he said the potential of the sector could be far more effectively unleashed. ‘Wine tourism needs a central co-ordinating body that is adequately resourced and has the support of all players. It is heartening to know of regional initiatives already underway in this regard, as well as of the expertise residing in the Wine Tourism Forum.’

However, he cautioned wineries from becoming the victim of their own success by becoming too big and commercial and losing the very core of their appeal, which lay in the intimate scale of the experience and the beauty of the winelands.
WOSA CEO Su Birch stressed that South Africa would always remain a niche player on global markets. ‘South Africa is not by and large a low-cost producer. We are a premium producer and need a powerful and convincing story that matches the uniqueness of our offering.

‘The Cape is a global epicentre of diversity. We have viticultural soils that are over 100 million years the old, making them the most ancient on the planet. The footprint of the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest and richest in the world, matches to a large extent the Cape’s winegrowing areas and this gives us the potential to make the most exciting wines in the world. We also enjoy a cultural diverse heritage and we need to reflect these features in the way we communicate about our wines and their provenance.’

She called on producers to embrace the concept of biodiversity, both in their individual efforts to conserve natural habitat on wine farms and also by amplifying the generic branding of South African wines built on the message that ‘variety is in our nature.’

Dan Jago of Bibendum, the UK’s biggest distributor dealing exclusively in wine, called on South African producers to bring down the alcohol levels of local wines while retaining their flavours.

He warned producers not to consider the UK market as the only avenue to be pursued and suggested that in addition to newer markets, they also develop the South African market. ‘The further away from home you go, the harder it becomes to sell your product. Concentrate on the home market.’

– Report prepared for WOSA by DKC