It feels like everyone I know is collectively suffering from that special brand of fatigue that sets in around October. End-of-year-itis. My mind keeps conjuring up an image of a wet rag being wound up tightly and every last drop wrung out. That sums up what this year is doing to me right now. I’m being wrung out like a wet rag. In the wide world out there today it seems to be all protests and chaos, idiots and racism, depression and anxiety and a big ol’ woeful mess. Let’s not even talk about the rubber Rand, bouncing around all over the place.
And then last week we get a sucker punch with the screening of that documentary and a knee-jerk reaction removal of South African wines from shelves in Denmark. I will not be getting into any details on the issue here, aside from mentioning that it has opened the doors for lowest of the bottom-feeding opinionistas to hurl their most obvious, predictable and superficial criticisms at the industry – unsurprisingly without anything resembling constructive criticism or suggestions on how to do better.
So, in an unprecedented (not to mention uncharacteristic) flash of optimism, I’m going to put it out there that despite the seemingly calamitous current state of affairs, it’s not all bad news all the time.
A quick glance at the latest tourism report from SouthAfrica.net looks pretty rosy. Foreign tourist arrivals for the second quarter of 2016 increased 10.4% compared to last year, and the total foreign spend increased to a not-too-shabby R16,8 billion (that’s up 10.6%). 2016 has seen more tourists stream to South Africa from the USA (18.6%), Canada (13.7%), and Europe (15.9%). 48.6% of these visitors find their way to the winelands. Ka-ching!
How about a short recap on our wine accolades? We do love those accolades, don’t we? In the last couple of years, South African wines have been garnering more and more favour with international critics. Tim Atkin spends a significant amount of time putting together his annual South African report and classification. Year after year, we also see more wines scoring that magical 95 points (and above) from Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. While the intrinsic value and even relevance of wine scoring has established itself as one of those wine debates that will never really be settled (unless a plague of sudden agreement descends upon us all), that fact remains that when Parker, Martin, Atkin, Tanzer etc. stamp their magical “95” on our wines, the world takes a little more notice. And we sell a little more wine.
Vineyard and production practices have improved significantly, producing better quality grapes. Sustainability has also become more than just a trendy buzzword to slap on a label, with numerous estates investing heavily in ensuring their production methods are up to scratch in terms of irrigation, use of agrochemicals and general cultivation practices.
The wheel turns slowly, but it surely seems to be turning. And mostly for the better. Should we pat ourselves on the back for a job well done yet? Maybe just a bit, though there is always more work to be done. But we don’t exactly need to be wailing or gnashing our teeth either. Communications within the industry is sharpening up and lo and behold, we may even be listening to each other for a change. All in all, it’s not all bad news. We would do well to remember that.
- Marthélize Tredoux is the co-owner and editor at Incogvino. By day, she helps SA wineries sell their wine in the USA. She won the Veritas Young Wine Writers Competition in 2013.