With uncertainty about land reform and a lack of economic growth, it is easy to be negative about the bigger picture for South African wine in 2019. But the takeaways from the annual Vinpro wine industry day, makes me see a glass that is half full.
Although I couldn’t attend South Africa’s most important wine industry information day, I am so thankful for getting real-time updates from the enthusiastic Twitterati and after hearing the thoughts of colleagues who attended the event, I even dare to share some interpretations.
The 2019 Vintage
Vintage 2019 at this stage is looking positive / promising with the cooler conditions and we’re expecting average to lower yields and generally healthy grapes. #VinProDay (@Vinpro_za)
Many attend the Vinpro day to find out what is expected from the current vintage and Vinpro’s Francois Viljoen has become an institution at this January event. Not only for his insight into anything vineyard related, but also for his quick humour. Presenting the vintage forecast for the 14th and final time, his contribution will surely be missed in future.
After the very challenging 2018 vintage, we can take a breather in 2019. As part of a three-year drought in the Winelands, 2018 volumes were down 14% on 2017 – the smallest harvest since 2005. The wet and cold winter of 2018 was a lifesaver, but a hot spell at the end of July caused uneven growth and bud break while the exceptional cold conditions in October resulted in irregular flowering and fruit-set. Since 2007 the uprooting of vineyards had a serious effect on volumes, but it is good to notice that 2018 saw better plantings. While the overall volume forecast for 2019 is slightly better than 2018, it is still quite low because of the carry-over effect of the drought, the decline in hectares under vine and some climatic conditions such as the cold spring. Quality expectations are however high.
The South African Wine Economy
Business confidence is the cheapest form of stimulus to the economy – Larry Summers, President of Harvard, quoted by @WandileSihlobo from @AgriChamber talking about confidence, growth & jobs in SA Agri sector at @Vinpro_za @Nedbank Info Day 2019 #VinproDay #ItStartsWithYou (Wineland Magazine @WineLandSA)
I often quote or share the posts of the dynamic young agri-economist, Wandile Sihlobo and was not surprised to hear that his presentation was insightful with many positive takeaways. With confidence as the theme, he echoed the sentiments of the 2017 Vinpro Day that policy certainty is required to ensure business confidence. He sees climate change, uncertainty about land reform and a lack of direct foreign investment as the biggest challenges for Agriculture in South Africa. Although land reform policy is still confusing, he feels that it is already much clearer than in December 2017 when land expropriation without compensation was announced. He emphasised that vacant and under-utilised land – even government property – will receive the main focus, rather than commercial farming units. Taking inspiration from the theme of the day, “It starts with you”, he urged the audience to get involved. “As it starts with you, at least get involved!” says @WandileSihlobo #Vinproday (@MareliRoux)
South African Wine Marketing Matters
The @robertjoseph on Wine Education: You don’t need to educate people to buy Louis Vuitton sneakers for 875 dollars. Why do we feel they need educating on wine? #VinProDay (@emilejoubert)
Addressing the audience on how the future of wine has changed, this was another presentation I was really sad to miss. I always enjoy Robert Joseph’s thought-provoking insights. As much as I preach wine education, I believe in making wine less intimidating and his statement about the subject really made me think. It is so difficult to take your thoughts and ideas outside of your own head and environment. To not think like a wine person, to not care about the terroir, but only about whether it tastes nice, looks the part and suits the pocket. According to Robert, people make purchasing decisions based on rational, instinct and emotion and perhaps we should make it less complicated for them. Perhaps we should focus our attention on marketing.
Christo Conradie of Vinpro asking why, after the success of Cape Wine, S African wine is still among cheapest in the world. Marketing problem? #Vinproday (Wine Thinkner @robertjoseph) Robert Joseph answers the question himself: With low pricing and low margins, there is no marketing budget and the result is a weak brand.
The future of wine has changed, but Robert complemented the tenacity of the SA wine trade when it comes to quality and wishes for a future where there is less wine, where people pay more for it and where everyone is making more money from it. No other country in the world has changed so much in terms of quality of wine as this one. Well done #SouthAfrica #feelingproud #VinproDay Thank you for the compliment @robertjoseph (Porchia Adamas @CommsPH)
Mark Norrish of Ultra Liquors also focused on the customer and advised the industry to start with the consumer in mind. The consumer should drive the strategy and guide the tactics. Rule 1) Consumers are always the BOSS and are the most important person in any Retailing / Sales business. Rule 2) if in doubt, refer to Rule 1. @marnorr @#VinproDay (@Vinpro_za)
“For your business to be relevant, you have to be relevant in your own community.” @Wieta_za Linda Lipparoni on social dialogue. #VinProDay (@MareliRoux)
For me, this says it all. We all have a responsibility towards our communities and only by social upliftment will we be able to address so many of the daily challenges. Again, such a suitable topic for the theme of “It starts with you”. We should all make our communities our priority.
#VinproDay @MaxduPreez says it is time for us to take a long hard look at ourselves. @Vinpro_za (@farmbizmag)
Yes, the glass is not filled to the brim with champagne, but at least is not half empty either. Last year I have enjoyed Max du Preez’s sober account of what is happening in South Africa. At that stage of Ramaphoria, we were excited about the prospects and while he urged us then to be patient, this year he explained that we underestimate the impact of the “Zuma Tsunami aftermath”. Despite our worries about land reform and the slow pace of change, he said that South Africa is inherently resistant and that we need to see the glass as half full.