Marthélize Tredoux: On moving SA wine forward

By , 25 October 2017

SA flagAs we approach the end of the year, I feel like I’ve run out of topics to tackle. Calendar-induced writer’s block.

I glance back at some of the issues discussed since January – both that I’ve written and those of others – to try and pinpoint what’s still relevant, what will still be relevant in the next year and if anything has changed or is worth rehashing.

One thing that seems clear to me is that the South African wine industry is hungry to move forward.

Our methods may differ, our strategies may be out of sync (and that’s a rather big problem right there) but we want to push South Africa as high as this ladder goes. And on days when I’m feeling rather low about the state of the industry, this encourages me.

So while it may be a little early for an end-of-year recap, I want to highlight a few points that have come to the fore over the last while and should be kept front and centre next year.

1. Science (and reason) – get with the program and stick with it
We are facing the largest and most dire drought situation in decades. Most viticulturists and winemakers seem to be preparing for this as best they can though there’s still a worrying misunderstanding of science in general – specifically relating to thinking around climate change. This way of thinking will hamper our resilience in the face of natural challenges in future.

We need more thinking about it, more talking about it and more writing about it (yes, I’m happy to jump in and assist with all three, but especially the latter).

We can overcome many internal struggles, spin PR disasters away and polish our image but if nature calls it quits on grape production, we are truly done for.

2. Digital Marketing – great power requires great scrutiny
The exceptionally large and diverse toy box that makes up digital marketing is incredibly exciting – and despite what many naysayers would suggest, it can be a powerful tool for both individual wineries as well as the industry as a whole. There’s potential for smoke and mirrors though – so be careful who you entrust your carefully budgeted ZARs with and make sure you understand what the potential is, how to measure it and how to mine real value from these methods.

3. Sell direct
I am hesitant for a country as unique as ours to just find and follow international trends – they are too fickle and we probably aren’t big enough to make a splash when we jump into the stream. One phenomenon we can and should embrace is focusing on direct-to-customer sales. Be it from the tasting room or online, the overall service to customers who seek out wineries is not always sufficient – or efficient. eCommerce setups are lacking in many aspects, with sales and service channels are functional but hardly optimal. We are missing the most obvious trick here – providing a customer that comes to your doorstep (be it physical or digital) with the easiest, simplest and most appealing way to purchase from you should be a no-brainer. And yet tasting room sales are often pushed but not prioritized, while online shops are barely functional and riddled with operational issues.

4. Less conversation, more cooperation
We have done a lot of talking this year, and last year, and the year before. We are good at talking. Masterful. And yes – we are getting better at putting those words into actions. Despite what often counts as criticism from opinion pieces such as mine, strides are being made. Often great ones. But we have miles to go before we sleep.

An area where we are still lacking a bit is on the cooperation side – it’s easy to talk endlessly about working together to move SA wine forward but when it comes down to it, there’s still an undercurrent of “me first”. Not surprising, considering the number of wineries who struggle to become or remain profitable. We will never make the great leaps we imagine we are capable of, if we don’t embrace a true sense of cooperation though – the logistics of which may not be easy to work out but it can be done.

We are driven by our hunger to succeed – our need to improve and push and innovate and lead. Despite our failings, or areas where we are still lacking or still growing – at least we have the hunger. Now all we need to do is feed it.

  • 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.


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