South Africa continues to generate great enthusiasm among commentators and the trade in the UK, with many singling it out as the most exciting southern hemisphere wine producer, and often by a country mile. Translating such enthusiasm to sales, though, and especially at a premium level, can be a little trickier.
It’s an issue that underpins the core themes of this supplement and one that our various commentators and South African champions look to address. For the category to grow upwards, the key question is how the bigger players and wines aimed at the broader market can best tap into that general buzz, drawing upon and balancing the mood of innovation with hard commercial reality. And, in doing so, deliver a more cohesive and stronger collective offer from the Cape to the benefit of the industry — and UK drinker — as a whole. South Africa’s larger and medium-sized producers have clearly been showing flair at the higher end, delivering a host of wines that reveal site-specific character, often sourced from patches of older vines, and drawing on the same innovative, seemingly freewheeling but ultimately quality-minded attitude that the Cape’s surfing young-gun winemakers have embraced. But one of the challenges raised on these pages is that South Africa has a “hole in the middle”, with too few recognisable wines and brands at the mid-market level, and so straddles entry level and high end with little to connect the two. This is particularly marked in the on-trade, though there are signs that wine focused outlets are beginning to follow in the footsteps of the independent merchants that have more readily embraced South Africa.
With South Africa’s UK sales dipping in volume, but gaining ground in value at a more premium level (according to SA export statistics from Wines of South Africa), some of the above messages do appear to be getting through and engaging with consumers. However, with myriad styles of wine coming out of this incredibly diverse producing country, the difficulty lies in finding the right wines and styles, presentation and stories, to give consumers clear “ins” once they look to trade up from the lower shelf. Suggestions range from greater emphasis on regionality, allied to signature grape varieties, by way of promoting less usual varieties and blends as a strong USP, to a continued upping the ante in terms of collective messages of quality, diversity and ongoing innovation. With so much energy behind South Africa, there’s little doubt that it’s presence and reputation will continue to grow and several of the answers most likely lie on the pages that follow.