The size of the SA fine wine market

By , 12 December 2023



Leo’s Wine Bar, Cape Town where they “pour low intervention wines from smaller producers”.

“Best of” lists are a great way to generate content as the year draws to a close and the news cycle typically slows down but when it comes to South African fine wine, this might be a rather dreary affair. published our Best Wines South Africa 2023 at the end of October – this was based on an assessment of 677 wines across 12 categories in our reports sponsored by multinational financial services company Prescient with Wildeberg emerging as our Winery of the Year for the second time in a row.

In compiling the Prescient Reports, we only judge paid-for entries and these tastings are conducted blind, labels out of site. Quite a few of the more high-profile wineries refuse to submit their wines but no matter, as the editor tastes as many of these as possible on a rolling basis throughout the year.

Who tends to come out tops in these sighted tastings? For the first time in five years, we conducted a poll of 25 selected wine professionals to determine the top 20 wineries, and the top five were somewhat predictably as follows: 1). Sadie Family Wines; 2). Alheit Vineyards: 3). Mullineux; 4). Kanonkop; and 5). Savage. If I were to attempt an editor’s “Best Wines of the Year” then these and many of the rest of the top 20 would have bottlings on that list and I wouldn’t be telling you anything you didn’t know already…

 “There’s a niche in the market for Wine magazine but is there a market in the niche?” as my late father Harold and founder of this title used to ponder. That we celebrated our 30th anniversary this year suggests that it is possible to eke out a living covering the local wine scene but make no mistake it’s a labour of love.

Consider the size of the market. I think we should all be chastened that more than three quarters of wine sold for under R50 per litre domestically in 2022. At the other end of the scale, just 8.7% sold for over R100 a bottle. How many people really care about local fine wine? has approximately 20 000 users a month. Of these, 75% are South African and 25% rest of world. Look at our user base more minutely and 32% of users are Cape Town-based compared to just 22% in Gauteng – it is well documented that Gauteng spends more money on South African wine than anywhere else in the world, but I suspect the stuff that gets featured on isn’t getting over the Vaal River (it goes straight to London and other export markets). This is a strategic issue that should exercise the minds of all concerned. Should broaden its editorial coverage? Perhaps but it could equally be argued that a lot of the South African wine industry could make more exciting, editorial-worthy wine.

For all the positive coverage that Sadie et al. has enjoyed in recent times, the industry is deceiving itself if it thinks it now has the same global recognition as countries like France, Italy, or Spain. The differential between a bottle of Paul Sauer and a bottle of Classed Growth Bordeaux is all that’s needed to demonstrate how the market really values this country’s wines.

Let’s not gloss over the role of apartheid, either. South African wines faced boycotts and trade restrictions in some countries, which affected their visibility, if not their standing. Today, South Africa still faces challenges in penetrating some international markets effectively. Of course, the Transnet debacle only exacerbates this.

How to achieve greater export success would, however, be a lot less relevant if the industry could build a more robust domestic market. Out of a population of 62 million according to Statistics South Africa, it’s humbling that only has 20 000 users a month. Part of the issue is undoubtedly the challenges that the transformation project continues to face. Despite efforts to promote diversity and inclusivity, systemic barriers remain. Limited access to resources for previously disadvantaged groups, and slower changes in ownership and management structures within the industry are obvious and it’s on all role players to first acknowledge this and then go about fixing it.

Ignore social injustice if you will but another way of looking it is simply in business terms. The SA middle-market is shifting dramatically. At the beginning of the year, there were 2.5 million earning R30K or more a month and more middle-class consumers drink wine than any other alcoholic beverage. Winemaking competence and therefore average wine quality is now a given, so surely all that’s left to be done is get the marketing effort right?


10 comment(s)

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    John Weaver | 14 December 2023

    My personal take on wines that are not rated in Platter is to not buy them. My interpretation is that the winemaker thinks his wines are better than they actually are. I trust the Platter guide.

    In fact, I recently cancelled an online order of Minimalist wines from Wine Cellar when I found out they do not submit to Platter.

      Mike Froud of Top Wine SA | 14 December 2023

      Maybe, John. And maybe Platter’s boycotters also include some who know their wines aren’t among the very best. But even if you would rather not have what you make rated by their team of critics, why would you shy away from any sort of listing in a guide that sets out to promote you? Many would argue that Platter’s South African Wine Guide is too forgiving / kind / generous.

    Wessel Strydom | 12 December 2023

    Greg, you are surely very astute. I really enjoy your articles and comments

    GillesP | 12 December 2023

    From my point of view, Platter’s is very outdated. A least the book itself which for one is nothing appealing in its format and presentation with so many symbols that few understand. Comments and description are minimal. And too many wines highly rated doesn’t really help on credibility. I find more joy in reading and learning from the Wine Mag contributors.

    Duncan | 12 December 2023

    Perhaps part of the reason Winemag remains a niche publication is that many wine drinkers simply don’t know it exists. I have plenty of friends who enjoy wine, like learning new things about wine, and would be glad to read a daily review of an interesting bottle by a producer they likely had never heard of (say, delivered to their inbox). They may not care about the goings on of the industry or see wine as anything more than a tasty beverage that gives you a buzz – but they are discerning and curious regular consumers who value accessible advice.

    Chaswit | 12 December 2023

    How does one equate the proclaiming the “Best wines in South Africa” when the only wines assessed were those producers who paid an entry fee be part of the process? Surely the only people who can only do this with total credibility are the Platter Guide as they literally taste every wine available. Granted – one can argue that the “seeding” part of the process for the 5 stars wines is sighted, but since the next 2 hurdles prior to selection are “blind” and a bigger panel of judges.

      Udo | 12 December 2023

      Agree “Best wines South Africa” is a bs statement and should not be allowed.
      But even Platter’s is not tasting all wines, more producers are pulling out is my view. Only the wines which are submitted are tasted.

      David Clarke | 12 December 2023

      Hello Chaswit, just a quick note to say that Platter’s does not taste every wine available. As an example, the TESTALONGA Cortez 2023, recently awarded 98 points by this publication, was not tasted by Platter’s. We (Ex Animo) work with roughly 2 dozen brands, at least five of which do not submit their wines to Platter’s. They each have their individual reasons for doing so, but Platter’s is not tasting every wine available.

    Trevor Gray | 12 December 2023

    All fair points with one HUGE exception. Chile entered the market at the exact same time as S.A. For those of short memories, it was due to the demise of Pinochet. If we examine the current state of affairs, it would not be inaccurate to suggest they have outperformed us significantly.
    The reasons for this are varied HOWEVER my personal view is that a major issue is the adversarial attitude of Govt toward the industry as a whole. We need only look back at the Covid fiasco for proof of this.
    To blame Apartheid restrospectively is a red herring IMHO.One could postulate that the opening of the trade sluice gates resulted in a marketing own goal where our wines were quickly associated with cheap and cheerful despite even then a positive exchange rate for the Rand.
    It is not my intention to be quarrelsome but the essence of the piece is not sufficiently relative in the big picture.

      Greg Sherwood | 12 December 2023

      When you say Chile has outperformed South Africa, you need to qualify that statement. Do you mean in purely volume terms? Quality? Marketing? Consumer perceptions? Value? etc..

      While I don’t profess to be a mass market wine specialist, in the UK, South Africa’s biggest export market, South African “fine wine” is killing it compared to Chile, who with the exception of my good friend Eduardo Chardwick at Errazuriz (think brands like Chardwick, Sena and Don Maximiano) and perhaps a few periphery brands like Almaviva, Don Melchor and Clos Apalta… the Chilean offering is mainly sold in supermarkets and convenience stores at very low prices.

      If I was to point out South Africa’s wine industry failures, which to be fair there are many areas that need addressing, I don’t think I would hold Chile up as a great role model to mimic or aspire to copy… certainly not based on the structure of our wine industry, its past history, and its elevated production cost base.

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