Diversity is one of the key descriptors when it comes to South Africa – for its people, landscape, culture and wine! As challenging as it is interesting, it is a concept we have to keep in mind when selling South Africa.
One of the ways Wines of South Africa introduces the unique diversity of the Winelands is through its fynbos, the smallest yet richest plant kingdom in the world and home to more than 9 500 plant species. While it might be considered too intricate a wine message for the average consumer, it does speak to the potential of the South African Winelands.
Terroir diversity comprises climate, soil and geography. While South African wine growing areas are identified by location, the terroir of the region is much more complex and there can be a multitude of micro-terroir within each area, even within the same vineyard. What makes this more interesting is that South Africa, other than France, for example, does not limit wine varieties to a specific region. This means that a cultivar is not necessarily planted in the area traditionally or scientifically best suited to it. It also means that there is a lot of variety and interest. Is this always a good thing? Is it not better to focus on getting the ultimate style, best suited to the intrinsic qualities of the cultivar, rather than variety and interest?
It is a difficult question. My immediate reaction is to stick to the classics – terroir, cultivar and style combinations that work. The evidence is there – Château Pétrus from Bordeaux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Southern Rhône, Pinotage from Kanonkop in Stellenbosch’s Simonsberg region… But on the other hand… The global wine world is expansive – at the 2018 Prowein in Dusseldorf, the industry was represented by more than 6,700 exhibitors from 61 countries and approx. 300 growing regions. Having a point of difference in the wine industry is important and winemakers enjoy being experimental. Then imagine the size of the community of wine drinkers globally! Within this community of wine drinkers there is of course also a wide variety of tastes and preferences. There is opportunity for something other than the classics.
From a wine-making and enjoyment perspective, I am excited by diversity, but I also know that messages and tastes that constantly change are not easy to communicate to the end-consumer. Some consumers might enjoy interesting stories and labels and are up for trying something unique, but many are not that confident and would rather go for a tried and tested wine. Diversity in wine makes for interesting talk among wine friends, but for the average wine drinker relying on retail purchases, diversity can be intimidating and confusing. The charm can become the challenge.
The diversity of the Winelands contributes to the success story that is South African Wine Tourism. Visiting wine estates, enjoying the variety of landscapes, experiencing the climatic differences and even the different approaches and styles between wineries when it comes to presentation and experience, keep tourists coming back. Through wine tourism, the wine industry can do a wonderful job of introducing South Africa’s diversity to the world. When experiencing the land and the culture in person, tourists can relate to diversity much easier than when standing in front of a wine shelf, continents removed from the experience.
Appreciating diversity is a challenge we face every day, but being open to new things and ways, keeps life interesting. The rather new but flourishing English Wine Industry will see some diversity in its offering when a South African-inspired wine destination – one that even plants Pinotage – opens in Sussex early next year! (Read more about The Benguela Collection’s plans in the UK)