Letter to the editor: SA wine needs to improve service levels

By , 25 November 2020



The restaurant at Jordan Wine Estate, Stellenbosch.

The following received via email from Jacques Steyn, general manager of Jordan Wines in Stellenbosch:

I refer to your article  Brand South African in need of some TLC published on 10 November 2020.

I want everyone to imagine a scenario where the most esteemed wine journalists and influencers in the world simultaneously communicate to the international wine public to “Buy South African Wines Now”. Imagine also that part of this communication involves listing the factors why they should and we all have a rough idea what those factors would be: quality vs price ratio; diversity of styles; biodiversity & sustainability, etc.

I am not convinced that we will see the growth in sales if a scenario like this would to happen.

Our current wine industry is stuck between being production-orientated and being consumer-orientated. I would compare our wine industry to a restaurant with the most magnificent view, a rock star chef that coaxes impeccable flavours out of local ingredients but with very bad front of house service. A place where you have to keep on calling a waiter to take your order and then he gets it wrong. The waiter is very friendly and accommodating but lacks the required attention to detail to make the experience memorable.

In my dealings with other producers – and I can speak for many of my industry peers – I often find that I have to follow up on an e-mail when requesting information – or sometimes even an invoice for payment. There is a general sense that those e-mails disappear into a black hole and we have to keep on checking to see if there is someone on the other end. If there is someone that eventually gets back to the request, half of the information that was requested is missing and another trail of e-mails follow to get all the necessary info. Fact sheets, pricing, vintages, packshots, logos, opening hours, drinking windows. These are the building blocks in establishing important relationships and if Brand South Africa cannot answer an e-mail properly, timeously and send the necessary info we will never get to the top!

I often think the fact that many wine producers who choose to have a sales and distribution partner who acts as a middleman between the consumer and the producer, struggle with that responsibility and thinks that it is not important to spend more time and resources on it as they have “outsourced” that function.

The best front of house service in the world acknowledges the request, listens very carefully, concentrates on the details and anticipates the needs of their customers in order to match the food and setting and make the experience unforgettable. The best restaurants are seamless in their integration between back of house (production) and front of house (the consumer) and one can in many ways argue that they are an extension of each other. The best service is always born out of everyone working together to meet the needs of the customer.

Brand South Africa – producers, industry bodies, sales representatives – needs to sort their service out as this is an integral part of becoming aspirational.


9 comment(s)

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    RH | 27 November 2020

    The situation that Jacques describes applies more widely to a number of south african industries, where a simple efficiency and professionalism is not prized and a sleepy “I’ll get back to you soon” is all too common.

    It’s not always this way, though. I don’t need to name the disappointing interactions, but there have been occasions when someone has lost out on a sale for simply being too loskop to take our money promptly. Including a couple of rockstars who, I assume, are getting by adequately on their reputation alone.

    Every now and again we can be pleasantly surprised by a team doing it right. Recently my wife and I took to ordering our wines directly from the producer, and I’m glad to name estates such as Alheit, Jordan, Fairview Leeuwenkuil and Nativo who responded promptly, despatched the orders swiftly, answered all of our irritating extra questions, and followed up with us later to check that our order was received, that we’re satisfied with our purchase etc. Several of these estates are very savvy in providing bespoke offerings to their mailing list, and none of them have dropped the ball on us yet.

    These kinds of interactions will always be remembered, and we’ll continue going back to those producers who seek to take pride in the BUSINESS of wine, which is so much more than what goes into the bottle.

    Greg Castle | 27 November 2020

    Jacques Steyn is quite correct in what he says, and as logical as it may seem, is generally still very poorly implemented in the SA Wine Industry. The problem of course is, that one is expecting farmers and wine makers to be professional marketers, which is like expecting a chef to be a chartered accountant (a few can muddle through the basics, but most simply cannot be all things at the sort of level required).

    There is a desperate need for more professional marketing in our wine industry, (as opposed to employing one’s daughter or neighbour’s friendly son to take on the professional role of marketing without the qualifications, skills or experience, mainly because they’re ‘affordable’ and the employer doesn’t understand marketing themselves). There is also a tendency to employ people with extensive ‘industry experience’ as being the overriding prerequisite, thus perpetuating the spiral of ‘no new fresh injection of approaches, strategies and ideas’ gleaned from other industries. And yet we expect quality wine to command quality prices.. And rightly so.

    Our process from growing and grape sourcing through to wine making, requires such care, passion, professional attention to detail and well orchestrated implementation throughout the process, and yet so too does marketing and client service. Otherwise we end up with bottlenecks and ball dropping at the most critical customer interface and wonder why Brand SA Wine struggles to gain traction globally.

      Colin Harris | 27 November 2020

      Now this is a helpful comment – UNLIKE Norman the Knobhead below with his snide rubbish.

      The wine industry lags behind on the administrative side and quality of personnel – from marketing through accounting and admin – is more often than not dire. It is a difficult situation because quality staff costs money and that’s not exactly in over supply in this industry. But perhaps if investment in staff is done from the top down, an improvement overall will mean bigger profits.

    Johann | 26 November 2020

    There we go.

    What an opportunity for the author of the article to start his own business and put all his suggestions into practice.

    Norman McFarlane | 25 November 2020

    Are we to assume that Jordan is guilty of none of the sins of which Mr Steyn accuses other producers? #virtuesignalling

    Willie | 25 November 2020

    Yes both of you are speaking the truth and hit the nail on the head.The problem is the wine producers want more out of the deal than they are putting into the deal and that is a mentality thing and a way of doing business over the years.There is also too much bodies ex. in the industry thats trying to build there own kingdom and put in too little effort.Then there is to much middle people in the industry that put unnecessary pressure on the price.
    There are way too many governing bodies that mean nothing.

    Kwispedoor | 25 November 2020

    Nail on the head, Jacques. Of course there are exceptions, but generally the wine industry is terrible at communication (whether via email, websites, etc.)

    And producers will spend much money on all sorts of other things, but the right training and people to connect with the customer don’t usually count among them. A pretty student behind a counter is not sufficient if you want to be taken seriously.

    One particular gripe is the lack of information regarding different vintages from producers who would consider themselves serious players in the industry. Often, a new vintage is released while its info is not available on the website yet. Other times, one would need some information about an older vintage, but it’s either not easily accessible or non-existent.

      Angela Lloyd | 26 November 2020

      Think you’ll find this article of interest and no doubt agree with the points made, https://www.wine-business-international.com/wine/marketing-wine-tourism/six-easy-ways-improve-winery-website. I’m 100% with each of them.
      I have also suggested that individual websites should record milestone events, I’m currently researching the history of Cap Classique; it is only thanks to keeping some printed archives that I’m able to fill in a few gaps, but producers like Simonsig, Villiera, Boschendal & others should have a timeline, detailing milestone events on their website, as should the Cap Classique Association on their website. Yet there’s nothing, zero, zilch.
      Service is a very broad concept.

        Kwispedoor | 26 November 2020

        Thanks, Angela. I absolutely agree. Even if you are so production-driven that you don’t much care about the rest, it’s difficult to understand why more producers can’t just get these few things right.

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