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Cape bubbly gets repositioned as Cap Classique

We might have been bit slow off the blocks, but DRINKStuff SA has only recently become aware of this important wine marketing news, thanks to a recent article in the Mail & Guardian.

February 2023 marks 364 years since the first wine was harvested in the Western Cape by Jan van Riebeeck in 1655. A lot has changed since Van Riebeeck’s diary entry documenting the first vineyard planted on South African soil, and since another colonial Dutchman, Simon van der Stel established what is today Groot Constantia, the oldest winery in South Africa.

In the hundreds of years in between, South African wineries have perfected different methods and viticulture techniques of regions from other countries. Most notably, sparkling wine, or Méthode Cap Classique (MCC), has most definitely been mastered by South African winemakers since the first local one was crafted back in 1971.

South African bubbly follows similar methods as those in France’s Champagne region but cannot be labelled Champagne.

From ‘MCC’ to ‘Cap Classique’

“We refrain from using the acronym, MCC. We know that it is an easy way out, but we feel that the category can benefit hugely by referring to the product as Cap Classique,” says Pieter Ferreira, chairperson of the Cape Classique Producers Association (CCPA).

“Like the art of wine making, this shift from MCC to CC is a fine balancing act. When referring to the process the words — Méthode Cap Classique — may be used. However, the general language should be Cap Classique.”

“We take our time to craft Cap Classique, the way it has been done for centuries. And we are rewarded with a magnificent sparkling wine that’s a timeless classic, especially with the right reference, Cap Classique.”

Slowly shelves formerly lined with bottles of South African MCC are being swapped with bottles of South African Cap Classique.

“By doing it this way we will develop the behaviour and people will catch on to it, thus strengthening the brand Cap Classique, uniquely South African,” Ferreira adds.

 More on the change

Caroline van Schalkwyk

In another article, Caroline van Schalkwyk, head of marketing at the CCPA, had this explanation behind the MCC to CC development. 

“In a nutshell there are so many names and acronyms for Cap Classique it gets confusing for consumers. We want to have a strong positioning in the market with the name Cap Classique, which consumers can associate with quality.

“When a person sees a bottle of sparkling wine with the words ‘Cap Classique’, they know that they are drinking something that has been made in the traditional method that has been ‘perfected by time’.”

This marketing repositioning, she adds, has happened simultaneously with a drive for changes in local legislation governing the production of Cap Classique.

In broad terms, she explains, the law will ultimately make provision for at least two categories within the definition of Cap Classique that are based on the period the wine spends on the lees.

“We are moving from nine to 12 months on the lees which has been legislated, so consumers will know that when a bottle carries the Cap Classique name it has indeed been ‘perfected by time’,” she notes.

“It’s an important differentiator because it recognises the additional investment producers make in the pursuit of higher quality.

“It takes a full year to produce a single bottle of Cap Classique, even longer than to build a custom Rolls Royce!”

This move requires a large roll out for the industry with changes from packaging to communication, but producers will be given leeway in making these.

“We have advised our members that packaging changes do not need to take place immediately, but when a packaging update comes around they should move to Cap Classique on the labels and not MCC or Methode Cap Classique,” says Van Schalkwyk.

“Hopefully within the next five years almost all packaging will reflect the move to Cap Classique.”

What is MCC/CC?

It’s South Africa’s version of Champagne made using the age-old traditional method. The first Méthode Cap Classique produced in South Africa was released over half a century ago in 1971, and it’s since become the fastest-growing wine category.

For over three decades, producers have not been able to use the term Champagne for anything other than the bottle-fermented wine from the Champagne region in France.

What is the difference between sparkling wine and MCC?

It’s complicated! In a nutshell, you can tell the difference by the size of the bubbles. The South African CC has tiny, perfectly effervescent bubbles, while sparkling wine, such as tank-fermented Prosecco has bigger bubbles and a courser fizz. The MCC process is complex and lengthy.

MCC in the making 

Once the winemaker has created the bottled base still wine, they add the liqueur de tirage, a blend of wine, yeast and sugar that begins the second fermentation process. The winemaker seals the bottles, meaning that the carbon dioxide resulting from fermentation process cannot escape, forming bubbles inside the bottle. During this process, sediment forms from the yeast and needs to be removed to achieve a clear sparkling wine.

Every day for the next few weeks, the winemaker will turn the bottle in a process known as remuage. The bottles are carefully placed in boards with bottle-shaped holes known as pupitres; every turn is intentional and forces the sediment to collect in the neck of the bottle.

To remove the sediment, the maker places the bottle necks in an icy brine bath to freeze it; then, the bottle top is removed to allow the built-up pressure to shoot out the ice cube of sediment. This process is known as degorgement.

Finally, the bottle is topped up with liqueur de expedition, to replace the volume of wine that was lost in degorgement and sealed.

A top-quality Cap Classique is determined by its vintage, cultivar and sugar level. The cultivar refers to the grape type, whilst the vintage is the year the grapes are harvested from any of South Africa’s meticulously maintained vineyards.

Our premium CC is every bit as delightful as the finest Champagnes at a fraction of the cost.

Source: Mail & Guardian,,

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