What’s the general perception of South African wine in the UK right now? “You need to make a distinction between the person who buys from a supermarket and the person who buys from an independent wine merchant,” says Anthony Rose, UK wine professional and one of the three international judges at this year’s Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show.
Those who are buying for everyday consumption associate South Africa with good quality relative to price at entry level and here the battleground is contested by the likes of Argentina and Chile, Australia having made good progress at ensuring its wines trade in a higher market segment.
When it comes to South Africa’s more premium offering, Rose says “South Africa needs to do a lot of work – the independent merchants haven’t got the message yet”.
Is this the fault of not-for-profit generic export body Wines of South Africa and its somewhat controversial “Variety is in our nature” campaign? “I’m not sure about the whole sustainability as a platform – it’s fine and necessary but you need more about quality and character,” says Rose. “But you can’t blame anybody specifically. That’s passing the buck. It comes down to the industry itself”.
Rose points to Europe’s Primum Familiae Vini and Australia’s First Families of Wine as “viable marketing endeavours” although he qualifies this by saying he’s not suggesting South Africa blindly copy this. “Charles Back [of Fairview and Spice Route] and Ken Forrester are good at banging the drum…”.
According to Rose, a broad plan for success involves moving from supplying wine for the own labels of UK supermarkets to having more SA-owned brands and then beyond brands to establishing a following for estates with a strong sense of regionality. “Establishing a true quality reputation depends a lot on the consumer knowing where the wine comes from. It’s the French model: Bordeaux, Champagne, the Rhône…’.
For Rose, all top wines possess not just high quality but character, too. “It’s not a cliché – regionality must be deeply felt and deeply meant to succeed”. He concedes that 90% of the market are never going to understand it but 10% will and they’re the 10% which counts.
Results of the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show will be live on this blog late in the afternoon of Wednesday 30 May.