“We shouldn’t waste a good crisis” says Gerard Martin of WineTechSA when asked about South Africa’s electricity challenge and its effect on the wine industry. Attending a bustling Cape Wine 2022 this week, I think his statement applies much wider.
This showcase of South African wine to the international wine trade was initially planned for 2021 but was postponed because of Covid. Hosted by Wines of South Africa in the Mother City this week, Cape Wine 2022 was introduced with the theme Sustainability 360 and with it, some high expectations.
Always one to be cautious when it comes to expectations, I was worried that the tough global economy might have a negative impact on visitor figures, but I do think the show was a big success – predominantly for three reasons.
- There’s a lot of love!
It was truly wonderful to see the faces of the wider wine industry. Other than perhaps the reps and winemakers that you might’ve run into at the few events that did surface post-Covid, it has been a while since we’ve seen many of our wine colleagues from other areas of the Winelands. There was a general excitement to see each other again. The support and collaboration in our industry have always been unique and to see it in action again this week, was a heartwarming sight.
- Our resilience isn’t a rumour
While the stalwarts were there, there was an exciting new energy as well. Not necessarily new wineries or new labels, but interesting collaborations and fresh ways of presentation. In last week’s blog we focused on the importance of rethinking Tourism and I think this is exactly what happened for SA Wine. Like Tourism, Covid’s liquor bans had a significant impact on our business and morale. I looked at the innovation and optimism this week and couldn’t help but smile at myself. We always say South Africans are resilient and it really is true.
- We are serious about Sustainability
There wasn’t a better theme for Cape Wine 2022, than Sustainability 360, an approach that focuses on more than natural conservation or place, but also on people and prosperity. The theme was a golden line through the whole event, from being visible in the Tasting Hall with stands and collaborations such as the WWF Biodiversity Champion Wine Estates, to the series of seminars.
I found the seminars very topical and interesting. Here are a few highlights.
The Black Excellence seminar focused on people. Presented by a minority group in the wine industry, it was touching to hear of their challenges, but also inspiring to note their persistence. All the presenters agreed that they don’t want their wine to only perform well or sell because of the black association, they want their wines to perform on merit. Like affirmative action, however, sometimes for everyone to be treated equally, they have to be treated differently. It’s an old and much-debated sentiment, but there’s no denying the passion and talent of our black winemaking community and I am so proud of what they achieve. I am privileged to know many of them personally, like my dear neighbour Paul Siguqa at Klein Goederust. They contribute a lot to SA wine and need the support of the bigger industry.
Regenerative farming was another seminar presented by those in the industry leading the way when it comes to focusing on soil, water and plants. For me, Johan Reyneke’s remark about land caring (regenerative agriculture) and land sparing (protecting biodiversity), hit the nail on the head. It is not one or the other, for sustainability to work, it is always about collaboration and balance.
We’ve come a long way when it comes to understanding farming organically, our real carbon footprint, etc. but we still have much to learn. We need to change the way we think about what successful wine farming/making/marketing truly is – for the long term.
Do consumers prefer products with green credentials? Do they choose organic or biodynamic wines because of their ethos? One might be critical of whether such accreditations make a difference wider than your website or the stories you are able to tell the media or guests to the estate. Does your WWF Biodiversity Champion status actually make a difference on the shelf? It seems younger generations are savvier and more willing to pay a premium when it comes to environmental issues and social upliftment.
But wine is not all about product, it is also about emotion and experience and the 55 WWF Conservation Champions are doing a phenomenal job not only conserving 25 000 hectares of critical Cape Floral Kingdom habitat, but also promoting biodiversity and sustainability to wine consumers in innovative and engaging experiences on the estates.
Does a crisis make you stronger? I guess not always, especially in the short run. But challenging times should make you wiser – whether you learn from your own situation or the experience of others. Covid was so unexpected and so unprecedented. It’s effect on people and business was cruel and, in some instances, conclusive.
SA Wine was also dealt a bad hand by Covid, but we’re fighting back. According to the organisers of the World Bulk Wine Exhibition, we have bounced back strongly, gaining some serious traction in the global bulk wine market. (Read more). And after what I’ve experienced this week, I think we can exhale when it comes to selling our brands and bottled product too.
Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done before we can really feel like we are close to 360 degrees of Sustainability, but if you’ve been to Cape Wine 2022 this week, I think you’ll agree with me, we have the mindset, the skill, the creativity and the passion.
Image: At Cape Wine 2022 with Shelly Fuller of WWF