What next for SA wine?
By Christian Eedes, 23 January 2024
Whereas the 2012 vintage of the white blend that is Aristargos from Swartland producers David and Nadia Sadie sold for R150 on release, the 2022 costs R415, an increase of 175% in 10 years. The reason punters are looking for new wine buying options is not simply because they are fickle and inconstant…
Where are the next generation of producers going to come from? The decline in total area under vine in recent times is well documented and this has corresponded to a drop in the number of primary grape growers, from 4 786 in 1991 to 2 487 in 2022, this exodus from the wine industry not going to end soon.
Initially, the decline in growers was matched by a dramatic increase in the number of wine cellars crushing grapes – from 212 in 1991 to 582 in 2011. However, this trend then went into reverse, and by 2022, the total number of cellars was 523.
Significantly, though, the number of commercially available labels has not decreased, one reason for this being that producers are increasingly inclined to share winemaking facilities to keep production costs down. Micro-cellars (vinifying fewer than 100 tons) make up approximately 46% of all producers and have become a powerful force in the industry. They are often the most cutting-edge in terms of both production techniques and marketing.
What’s particularly exciting is the knowledge transfer that is occurring between those who burst on the scene a decade or two ago and the youngsters that are starting to emerge now. SA’s very best cellars are serving as incubators of innovation, ensuring that the vinous revolution in this country is perpetuated.
Towards the end of last year, we published a list of South Africa’s top 20 wineries as voted for by a panel of 25 wine professionals. Check out the talent that almost all these establishments are promoting, and you will have a pretty good idea who SA wine’s rising stars are:
- Paul Jordaan who works alongside Eben Sadie at Sadie Family Wines makes his own wines under the Paulus Wine Co. label
- Franco Lourens of Lourens Family Wines cut his teeth as assistant winemaker at Alheit Vineyards
- Gynore Hendricks, assistant to Chris and Andrea Mullineux, is also responsible for Great Heart Wines, a brand entirely owned and run by the employees of both the Mullineux and Leeu Passant wineries
- Abrie Beeslaar, although hardly a spring chicken, is leaving Kanonkop to concentrate on his own label
- Banele Vakele, assistant to Duncan Savage, seems to be building something meaningful with his own stuff branded as Tembela
- Jean Smit of the very exciting Damascene project was previously winemaker at Boekenhoutskloof
- André Bruyns, now vineyard manager at Swartland property Lammershoek and who continues to make his own City on a Hill wines, was assistant at David & Nadia
- Albert van Niekerk, assistant winemaker to Peter-Allan Finlayson of Crystallum and John Seccombe of Thorne & Daughters, is impressing with his own kit under the Van Niekerk Vintners label, wife Anmar (who is winemaker at Gabriëlskloof) recently also coming onboard
- Nadia Newton Johnson, wife of Gordon Newton Johnson of Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley property Newton Johnson vineyards, will shortly be releasing her own wines
- Bruwer Raats and Gavin Slabbert of Raats Family Wines couldn’t contain themselves and make an explorative set of wines under their Bruwer Vintners label
- Adam Mason, now consulting to the likes of Terre Paisible in Franschhoek and Vriesenhof in Stellenbosch, had a substantial stint at Klein Constantia
- Natasha Williams has moved across from Bosman Family to Hasher Family Estate in Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hannes Storm of Storm Wines acting as advisor
- Callie Louw gets to geek out on Porseleinberg, the Swartland property owned by Boekenhoutskloof
- Lukas van Loggerenberg of Van Loggerenberg Wines shares his Paarl winemaking facilities with Franco Lourens of Lourens Family Wines – the conversations over lunch at nearby Noop restaurant must be fascinating [update: Lourens is making his wines at Brookdale this year]
- Reenen Borman is continuing the legacy of father Jacques at Stellenbosch property Boschkloof but is also making terrific kit (Patatsfontein, Sons of Sugarland) from bought-in grapes with partners, this project now called Saga Vineyards
- Jasper Wickens started out at AA Badenhorst before leaving to focus on his own Swerwer lavel
- Nuschka de Vos, former winemaker at Reneke Wines in Stellenbosch, has just launched her own label called Vulpes, maiden release being an outstanding Chenin Blanc 2022
The process of transferring leadership within the industry from one generation to the next can occasionally look rather haphazard but considering the above, the quality gains that has been enjoyed in the modern era seem in no danger of losing momentum. Change, as they say, is the only constant and adapting to change is one thing we do exceptionally well in this country.
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