That year South African wine sales buzzed like a vuvuzela at supermarkets and independents across Britain. The category grew 20% and South Africa overtook France for the first time ever to claim the number four spot in the bestselling countries of origin chart.
Four years later the eyes of the world turn to Brazil, famed for its colourful carnivals, samba beat, miles of golden beaches and a flourishing economy that puts the B in BRIC.
The nation’s wine market may be next to non- existent in the UK, but it is capable of crafting excellent wines to rival those of neighbours Argentina and Chile. UK retailers are planning to capitalise on the exposure Brazil will gain throughout 2014 with new listings – and keep the momentum going in the run-up to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 and beyond.
Waitrose will start listing Brazilian wines this spring, Marks & Spencer has sent its winemaker to Brazil to make blends it will sell, and wines are gaining traction in independents and regional chains such as Corks Out.
Waitrose buyer Nick Room, who visited Brazil last year, says: “It’s an opportunity to present South America in a different light. We can do new countries quite well and we have a couple of suppliers we want to work with and a couple of lines we will run.”
Big name suppliers have jumped on board – PLB has snapped up Vini Brazil, Bibendum has taken Miolo and Stevens Garnier has added Aurora to its portfolio. Copestick Murray has launched a wine called I Heart Brazil.
Bibendum managing director Michael Saunders expects interest in Brazilian culture, food and drink to “explode” in the next few years.
Daniel Hart, agency manager at Stevens Garnier, which has a brand called Brazilian Soul for the multiples and Vinicola Aurora for the independents, says: “People are looking for something new and unusual and retailers are interested in anything with a point of difference.
“The style of wine is quite different in Brazil – lighter in alcohol and more elegant in flavour than the rest of South America. Consumer taste is moving towards fresher and lighter styles, so it fits.”
Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country and it isn’t all tropical beaches and rainforests. The majority of the wine is produced in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, which benefits from a dry, Mediterranean climate that has been likened to Alba in Piemonte by Bibendum’s Andrew Shaw.
He says: “Brazil offers something completely different from Chile and Argentina in terms of climatic and viticultural conditions.
“What is really exciting for me is the diversity, from fruit-driven varietal wines to world-class wines that showcase their fantastic terroir. There is no doubt that Brazil deserves to be at the very top of the world wine scene.”
Wines of Brazil is ramping up its marketing activity with digital campaigns and on-pack promotions, and Ana Paula Kleinowski, who oversees the export project, says: “We think we can grow exports to the UK by 300% by 2016.”
But to do that Wines of Brazil will have to overcome various challenges.
Stevens Garnier’s Hart says: “One of the trickiest things for the country is the cost of production. There aren’t supersized vineyards like in California or large volume growers like you get in Argentina or Chile. There aren’t the economies of scale to keep production down and there’s a high internal cost of packaging – around 40% higher than Chile and Argentina.”
Brazil doesn’t produce the volumes of its neighbours and needs to operate at the premium end of the market – New Zealand would be a good comparison.
New Zealand commands the highest average bottle price in the UK trade and Brazil would be delighted to mimic the scale of distribution it has achieved at a similar price point.
But, as Waitrose’s Room says: “Any new category takes a while to get started, especially if you start at mid-tier – which Brazil has to be – but we hope consumers will like it and come back for more.”
Hart adds: “Brazilian Soul has an rrp of £8.99. We believe it can discount to £6.99. That’s well above the UK average of around £5.25.”
Room says Waitrose has plans to promote the wines away from the main wine fixture to whip up interest in the run-up to the World Cup. He adds: “Consumers need international grape varieties. You can’t strike a cord with the consumer without international varieties and we are trying to make it as consumer-friendly as possible.
“We will list a couple of dual varietal wines and singles – a Merlot and a Chardonnay. It’s not going to be cheap but if the blends are right we will hopefully be successful.”
Retailers and suppliers are adamant they want to create an enduring category.
Room says: “We want to keep these wines in the assortment for a long time with good quality we can enthuse our customers with.”
Hart adds: “With the World Cup coming up it’s a good time, but we are trying to grow interest away from the sporting events – we are trying to build a category for the long-term, not just for a small blip.”
South African wine’s post-World Cup legacy in the UK has been overwhelmingly positive: it is the only major country of origin to show continued growth in the market – up 14% in volume and 18% in value (Nielsen, year to November 9, 2013).
It is helped by a strong base, favourable exchange rates and large scale of production. But with the attention Brazil will gain there is nothing to suggest it can’t enjoy similar success, albeit on a smaller scale, and eventually perhaps rival established players such as New Zealand.