South Africa wine: tipping point

06 November, 2015

The South African wine industry has reached a crucial moment, according to the chairman of Wines  of South Africa. Christian Davis got a tip off and was there

Michael Jordaan was speaking at the opening of Cape 2015 in Cape Town back in September. He said that, although wine was first made in the Western Cape in 1659 and Napoleon drank South African wine, the birth of the modern SA wine industry took place between 1990 and 1994 as the Apartheid era ended.

Since then South African winemakers had been ‘liberated’ to travel and learn from other winemakers. Also, growers had been allowed to bring in new plant material and new clones. The result had been an “explosion of new techniques and varietals”, according to Jordaan.

Therefore, he believes the South African wine industry is at a “tipping point”. From 200 wineries producing 22m litres in 1992, there were 600 wineries making 422.7m litres in 2014.

Wosa chief executive Siobhan Thompson describes South African wine as having a “nervy energy and being full of contradictions”. Nevertheless it was “resourceful, adaptable and inventive”.

“We have made major strides and, after 21 years of democracy, we are now in a state of adulthood,” pronounces Thompson.

Interestingly the Western Cape minister for economic opportunities, Alan Winde, in saying that the wine industry and tourism were “key components” of the South African economy, called on the industry to double its output.

Hennie Heymans, managing director of logistics company DHL SA, Cape 2015’s lead sponsor, told the opening seminar that “Africa is rising” but it faces challenges. He outlined them as:

- Underdeveloped infrastructure

- Customs inconsistencies: A lack of connectivity, not just electronically but, for example, fuel for aircraft waiting on the tarmac

-  Political instability

- And war, crime and corruption

He said logistics in Europe accounted for between 3%-7% of overall costs. In Africa it could be 42%. Heymans estimated that millions are lost in potential earnings due to restrictions, regulations and import costs.

Nevertheless, he said Africa was a huge untapped market and there were still “massive opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa”.

Jordaan made some interesting points in his introduction to Cape 2015. The former banker, now a venture capitalist, said: “Learning to look at what we have and how to make the best of it has taught us to become more cost-efficient while limiting our impact on the environment. Close examination of our role in the environment has heightened our awareness of the Cape’s exceptional biodiversity. It has driven us to protect our indigenous habitat, celebrate our flora and fauna, and entice wine tourists to discover some of our fascinating natural attributes.

“It has encouraged us to remember and cherish our old vineyards and to coax them to yield more of their memories. It has led us to investigate lesser-known varieties best suited to our growing conditions and to explore and experiment with new sites and winemaking styles.”

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