Edo Heyns: The madness of misfortune marketing

By , 23 April 2021

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Le Bonheur in Stellenbosch – not second rate.

Originally published in a Stellenbosch Wine Routes members’ newsletter: A recent phone call from a well-respected sommelier confirmed my fears that harnessing our Covid-19 misfortunes to sell wine could have detrimental long-term consequences.  Essentially, he approached me about a special South Africa event and tasting in the USA to create awareness about “what is going on in South Africa” and to encourage our government to allow wine exports again.

Kanonkop proprietor and one of Stellenbosch’s true marketing leaders, Johann Krige, once mentioned to me that if Americans knew that their BMW’s are made in Africa and not in Germany, they would stop buying them. We have a serious long-term premiumisation and African perception challenge to position Stellenbosch as an epitome of excellence – a wine region that can be compared to global leading wine appellations – “despite” being on the southern tip of Africa.

In general, the global perception of the “Africa” in South Africa is too often one of famine, poverty, and perhaps safaris. However, Stellenbosch does not carry such connotations and like Bordeaux, Barossa or Napa, Stellenbosch is perhaps better known as a wine region as the country that it forms part of. Our challenge is to show that Stellenbosch is different, by confirming that Stellenbosch is exceptional. 

It was therefore with dismay that I saw many wineries and other industry organisations hanging their hat on the misfortune of “what is going on in South Africa” by using the lockdown restrictions to sell wine and subsequently #SaveSouthAfrica. Make no mistake: the impact of the Covid-19 restrictions was nothing less than horrific and desperate times called for desperate measures. But the desperation of selling Stellenbosch wines through pity plays right into the perception that Stellenbosch is not exceptional.

The same has now happened with the perception that we are indeed swimming in an ocean of surplus wine. I was asked to write a piece about the surplus situation in Stellenbosch to the members of Stellenbosch Wine Routes, which prompted me to call Yvette van der Merwe from SAWIS and ultimately to write this piece.

South Africa has 250 million litres of wine that has not been contracted and can therefore be viewed as surplus production. Of this, an estimate of only 1.7 million litres is from Stellenbosch, based on a sample of selected wineries by Sawis, as well as informal confirmation from Stellenbosch Wine Routes members. Furthermore, more than 70% of the total figure is bottom of the barrel (or rather massive tank) Colombar, Chenin Blanc or dry white. I am sure many of you have shared my frustrations of how difficult this widely communicated surplus has made it challenging to negotiate price increases this year – even if the wines in question are anything but dry white.

And yet, I’ve seen wineries share reports about the dreaded surplus to encourage consumers to #SaveSouthAfricanWine. Marketing a wine surplus only adds to the long term challenge and so does pity for Pinotage or shame for Chenin. We need to seriously challenge this “what is going on in South Africa” rhetoric and have a sharper approach to realise a long-term goal of Stellenbosch excellence.

  • Dr Edo Heyns is Strategic Development and Marketing Manager at at AdVini South Africa, which owns L’Avenir and Le Bonheur and has a majority share in both Ken Forrester Wines and Stellenbosch Vineyards

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  • Christo le Riche27 April 2021

    This is so sad but unfortunately true. Not only for Stellenbosch, but for South Africa as a whole. I recently typed the search phrase “South Africa” into the wine-searcher/news page, and the results are dismal. It is all negative press about the state of our country and industry.

    We need a serious reevaluation of how WE position ourselves in the world of wine. We are exceptional, but we need to firstly believe it.

  • Michael S. Ratcliffe24 April 2021

    Stellenbosch wines will be massively successful because of superior quality and extraordinary value. In the long-term, here is no other marketing message.

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