Thursday, March 13, 2008


A small output of high quality wine, or a river of low quality wine? What are the South African farmers to do? Make some more good wine I hope. Insipid wine does not just leave a bad taste in the mouth; it is also difficult to continuously get rid of at a decent price.

The next step is finding a proper way of telling the emerging middle class (Black Diamonds) about it. Yes, exports are all well and good, especially with the current rate of exchange, but it is always better to have a strong home base.

With all the international awards that the local wine industry is raking in, there certainly is a lot of talent around (not just winemakers, but also viticulturists and marketers), plus some terroirs that have achieved prime stature, even if not situated in France.

It seems quite straightforward to me that if you produce a superior wine, there will be sufficient buyers wanting to enjoy it. The proviso is to put it into a bottle with a label that is comparable to that quality. Then of course, you need to spread the word by means of advertising, publicity, tastings plus perhaps introductory or promotional offers to get the consumer to believe your message and wanting to share your history. As in all things, balance remains the key.

Everyone enjoys excellent quality, loves a good story, and most people are prepared to pay handsomely to enjoy greatness and share the status that such a label accompany.


A French proverb states that “The best use of bad wine is to drive away poor relations.” A tempting thought from the world’s biggest producer. Perhaps that is why their local consumption has been falling year after year and was (2nd after Luxembourg) at 48.5 litres per person per year in 2005. It must be added that Champagne and Cognac is enjoying unprecedented growth and success. After 10 years at the number one spot as exporter in terms of volume and value, Italy (1st) and Spain (2nd) have overtaken France in terms of volume during 2007.

Apart from offering their bad wine to unwanted family and friends, it has also been poured into the Gironde, Bordeaux in the distant past. Nowadays the farmers at least earn Euros by converting wine into fuel.

South Africa also has had some strange uses for its bad wine, such as providing it as rations to the farm labourers - the ‘dop’ system. Thankfully that practice has been stopped. Another option, earning the wineries income, was to pack it into foil bags and selling these ‘papsakke’ into the retail trade. Fortunately this has also been banned (18 September 2007). Our SA consumption figures have always been very low and declining (7.4L per person in 2005 from a high of 9.8L in 1997). But I am not so sure if any of these two practices have contributed to that low rate. Unlike France, South Africa’s wine exports by volume have been increasing at ±10% since 1995, reaching 20%+ during 2001 and 2002, but dipping to just over 5% growth in 2005.

Now let’s talk of good wine. You drink it of course, but there is much more to it than that. Len Evans, an Australian winemaker and critic, said, “Wine is not meant to be enjoyed for its own sake; it is the key to love and laughter with friends, to the enjoyment of food, beauty, humour, art and music. Its rewards are far beyond its cost.” Wine critic Jancis Robinson MW from the UK had this to say in 1997: “Wine is emphatically not a serious subject. Wine is one of life’s perks, an indulgence, a mood lifter, a social mixer.” Closer to home Bruce Jack of Flagstone once noted this on the making of wine, “We can drink in the wonder of it and share the majesty of it all.” And on selling wine Phillipe Wagenfuhrer, chef patron of Roots Restaurant had the following to say: “Ultimately, wine is about conviviality, about sharing, about recognising special moments. It’s not only about profitability.”

So there you have it all - a quick world tour on the use of wine. My view is that a good wine deserves to be shared, to be lingered over, to form a part of those special moments of your life, but also as a pick-me-up and perhaps as a pick-up! Indeed, why not?

Sources: Cape Wine Academy ‘Introduction to South African Wine’, WinesCape Issue 8 2006, John Platter South African Wines 2007, WINE magazine June 2007, WINE magazine August 2007, Wine Tourism News September 2007, E-lettre Nº 263 du 28 août 2007, The Andros Boutique Hotel.

Anton Blignault is CEO of FMS Food & Beverages SA, an international trading house focusing on the export of wines. Consulting services include setting up or updating restaurant wine lists, and organizing corporate or private wine-tasting functions.