The country’s golden run of consecutive growth in the off-trade has come to an end as sales dropped 3% in volume and 1% in value to £525 million (Nielsen, year to February 2015).
Kobus Basson, owner of Kleine Zalze, told OLN: “Volume is not the only driver. You want to grow but the challenge for South Africa is to refine what we sell. If that means we drop a bit at the bottom to upgrade in general I am not unhappy. South Africa can’t grow indefinitely. Our resources are limited.
“A lot of producers have decided to cut back a little bit on just filling bottles and focus on what they are selling.
“There are a lot of exciting things with a younger generation coming in and the focus isn’t simply on driving numbers at the budget segment. We are getting there in the £7 to £20 tiers and that is much more important to me.
“We can see it in our own ranges. People are upgrading to more expensive Chenins. Wines of South Africa tells me it’s looking more at value than volume and that’s critical.
“The challenge over the next 5-10 years is to sell more wine in that upper segment. That’s the only way forward. It’s strange to see the figures drop, but producers are happy to be selling more at the upper and middle levels. Chasing numbers is not sustainable.”
The vintage kicked off a few weeks early this year and Kleine Zalze’s winemaker, Alastair Rimmer, said conditions were perfect.
“The first grapes were in on January 12, when normally it’s the end of January or early February,” he said. “We had one of the coolest summers, with no heatwaves or heat spikes despite it being dry.
“We had very cool night time temperatures, which I have never seen in South Africa before. That preserves the natural acidity.
“I am really bullish about the vintage. Volumes were slightly down, not for us but in general. But 2014 was a very big harvest so 2015 is an average harvest in quantity, but the quality is as good as I have ever seen across all areas.
“Everything came in when it should and looked like it should. Time will tell but I think it’s the best vintage of my career. I haven’t seen anything as good at this early stage.”
Basson added: “A friend of mine who has done 49 vintages says it’s the best ever. There is good ripeness without the sugars running away.
“Hopefully that will fit in with the long and short-term plans of the industry.”
Rimmer has made wine across the globe and believes there is no place more exciting than his home nation for making wine nowadays.
He said: “I’m biased, but I truly think there’s no more exciting place to be at the moment than South Africa. We are 20 years into the new industry and people are starting to hit their stride.
“If managed correctly the trajectory for South African wine should be to the stars.”