This morning, I talked to some of the young and aspirant winemakers in South Africa at a seminar aimed at young leaders in wine. Hosted by Industrial Psychologist, DB Hauptfleisch, I was delighted to join Charles Hopkins of De Grendel in giving an overview of our wine industry, and for me to be able to share some thoughts on how to be successful in the South African wine industry.
The first thing that came to mind was how to be enthusiastic while staying realistic. Understanding where you are, what you have, what you need and then applying creativity and enthusiasm in creating opportunities.
Twenty years ago the South African wine industry was a different place. Today we crush almost 50% more grapes than 20 years ago, we have had more than 110% growth in the number of wineries and our international sales have grown by more than 900%! (SAWIS statistics)
Over the last 20 years, we have been production focused. We have identified new terroir and planted grapes in the right areas. We have built new wineries and today have ample and modern cellar facilities. Since 2000, we have also picked up momentum in the development of products and in establishing a distribution network.
But did we do enough to market our brands and tell our stories? In my opinion, this is our new challenge!
Initially brand building in South Africa was held back by the system of cooperative cellars and diversity without focus (grapes grown in wrong areas, etc.). A brand shares its story with the consumer and it guarantees consistency, style and quality. That is why brand building, in my opinion, is what we have to focus on. We have to tell our stories.
Perhaps the development of our wine tourism industry initiated from a need to supplement income, but it now gives us an exceptional way to share our brand stories. And it is important that our stories are true and unique and reflective of our character. They do not all have to be the same. It has to be about your own fingerprint, what your passions are, what it is that makes your wine special.
There are plenty of opportunities for us to create new brands. Brands with a point of difference. While quality is not negotiable, we have to be innovative and package ourselves in a more approachable manner.
And of course we need to embrace the new customer interface and media landscape. Billboards and full page ads are not what it is about anymore – communicating with your customers and having a strong online presence, is.
I believe it is possible to be successful in the South African wine industry. Dream again. But at the same time, be creative, be realistic, know the market, identify what makes you unique and then focus on this with energy, flexibility and persistence.