IN HIS FOURTH annual guide to South Africa, Tim Atkin MW regards the 2015 vintage as “the best I’ve tasted in 26 years of writing about the country’s wines”.
He says: “A winning combination of better viticulture, the development of new wine regions and the emergence of a young generation of wine-making talent make South Africa the most dynamic wine-producing country in the world right now.” Atkin singles out Chenin Blanc, Syrah and Méthode Cap Classique wines for special praise in his report.
Atkin argues that South Africa’s old vines are “a precious and dwindling resource that needs protection” and says that too many wine farms are unprofitable because of the low price of the country’s wines, particularly in export markets. “In the absence of significant government subsidies, the answer is to increase the price of South African wine.”
Winemaker Bruce Jack of Accolade Wines backs up Atkins’ comments: “The biggest issue is that our average grape price is the lowest in the New World, and probably lower than anywhere else. This would be OK if we had the soils and the topography to generate massive grape yields in easily accessible, large areas – but we don’t.
“South Africa has been designed by god to craft premium wine, yet circumstances (history, industry structure and many other factors) ensure we continue to bash away at entry-level wine, resulting in unsustainable grape prices for the growers.
“Where will this lead us? The answer is already evident – we aren’t replanting in a sustainable or strategic way. The industry is already reinventing itself for farmers to survive. Primarily vineyards are not being replaced, or pulled out and a different crop planted. This radical transformation will ironically hit those primarily responsible for the low grape prices – the big buyers of bulk wine. And many farmers and those dependent on grape farming will have to suffer a large amount of unnecessary pain in the process,” says Jack.
Managing director and partner at Anwilka and Klein Constantia, Hans Astrom says: “Brand South Africa needs to gain a bigger footprint on the very competitive export markets at the same time as there is a rise in pricing achieved among all tiers. The local market and its financial situation need stability and political support.”
Glenelly Estate export director Nicolas Bureau says: “The SA wine industry is not making money. For a long time, SA was perceived as a producer of bulk wine and we struggle, even today, to command higher prices for our wines because of this perception – even though the end of Apartheid was more than 20 years ago, SA still suffers from a negative perception from the public.
“We have no ‘iconic’ wine in SA yet and very few wines command a price of $100-plus for a bottle – I am leaving aside the small releases which are, for me, just the product of marketing, and not really related to quality.